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Any transfer of Dunedin's bus system to the city council would be up to three years away, but a decision about whether it happens will be made ''as soon as possible''.
The apparently conflicting messages came late yesterday after a long debate.
The council made it clear it would not take up an offer from the Otago Regional Council to accept governance of the system by July 1, 2013. Instead, councillors decided to discuss with the ORC ''the DCC's preference to defer any final transfer for up to three years''.
Mayor Dave Cull made sure the move towards governance would not stall, when the infrastructure services committee backed his motion that ''sufficient information to enable a decision to proceed or not with a change in public transport governance be brought to the council as soon as possible''.
In April, the ORC approached the DCC with an offer to transfer control of the system from next year. In May, city councillors voted 11-4 to support the transfer, in principle.
But a report to yesterday's meeting made clear the potential impact of a draft regional public transport plan the ORC was undertaking ''may be significant'', and recommended not taking over the system until July 1, 2017.
The draft regional public transport plan, required under the Land Transport Management Act, and necessary for government funding, opened for public submissions this week.
It would include faster and more direct routes away from smaller residential streets, and a central-city hub for a system set to cost more than $100 million over the next decade.
Acting chief executive Tony Avery told the meeting with the ORC's draft plan being developed, staff could not give councillors certainty on issues like fares, the effect on rates, and the cost of the new bus hub. The report allowed councillors to make a decision on the issue, understanding those matters.
Cr Richard Thomson said the draft plan meant the ''ground has shifted quite considerably''. The council was ''financially strapped'' and was considering taking on a major project with aspects it did not understand.
Cr Andrew Noone said the council needed ''breathing space to step back and absorb the draft plan''.
But Cr Jinty MacTavish said while she understood councillors' caution, there were ''a whole range of good reasons'' why the council had decided, in principle, to take over the system.
''Three years and an election before we make a decision would be the worst outcome.''
Cr Neville Peat said the bus system the ORC was developing under the draft plan would be ''a system we have not seen before''.
The council could not take it on before it saw how it would develop.
''It is probably two years before we can do anything like that.''
The committee voted to discuss with the ORC its preference to defer, though the two would continue to collaborate on the draft plan.
Mr Cull responded with his motion to get information to make a decision on the matter as soon as possible.
''All the reasons for transferring the bus service remain.''
He noted whichever council ran the service, the same Dunedin ratepayers would pick up some of the cost.