Scaled down transport plan to be put to public

Police responded to reports of an assault at the bus hub in Great King St on Saturday afternoon....
The bus hub. Photo: ODT files
A pruned vision for Dunedin public transport growth will be put forward for public consultation with some reluctance.

Otago regional councillors this week observed the signals that had been sent by the NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) and endorsed a reworked package much more likely to receive a national subsidy than that which they had backed in December.

This will result in a 10-year investment programme worth $291.2million for Dunedin public transport being identified as the preferred option in the Otago Regional Council’s draft 2024-34 long-term plan.

The council rescinded a resolution from December supporting a $461.7m package, which was based on a business case the council had recently been told was "very unlikely" to receive national funding.

Cr Alan Somerville said the information from NZTA was disappointing and the effect was to "restrict our ambitions" for advancing the cause of public transport.

The adjusted proposal looked like "the best we can do" for now.

Cr Elliot Weir described the situation as unfair on ratepayers but supported the new position after rhetorically asking what choice councillors had.

Cr Gary Kelliher said his rationale for reluctantly supporting the resolution was a bit different — he doubted fares should be kept so low, producing a low return from people who used buses.

The council had previously supported a $2 Bee Card adult fare and its position on this did not appear to change.

Council staff provided some context at the meeting for why revisiting the previous resolution about the scale of the proposed programme was considered necessary.

Transport manager Lorraine Cheyne said the "clearest indications" available were that the new government would invest primarily in roads, speed management for safety and public transport where this provided access to housing or supported new housing development.

The Dunedin business case had been based on transport choice, wider economic benefits and curbing carbon emissions, she said.

Chief executive Richard Saunders said the council needed to propose a package that had the best chance of receiving funding.

Staff had tried to assess service changes that would have the greatest likelihood of producing an impact on patronage and select those for targeted investment, he said.

The subsidy from the transport agency meets about half of the cost.

In their report for the meeting, staff characterised options put in front of councillors as "a step in the full investment package" of the business case they endorsed previously.

They favoured a package that would boost the frequency of the Pine Hill to Calton Hill and Opoho to Shiel Hill routes.

The council will have to formally consider its fares and tariffs in the next couple of months. Cr Kate Wilson encouraged the public to understand what was behind the council’s position and to respond during its long-term plan process.