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When the Otago Regional Council next calls for tenders for public bus services, it will give operators the chance to bid to two different standards.
The council's request to the New Zealand Transport Agency for a variation to allow it to continue its maximum 15-year standard for buses and a Euro IV emission standard has been turned down.
However, those standards have been included in its Regional Public Transport Plan, which it approved at a meeting this week.
It decided that the next round of tendering for contracts that expire on June 30, 2013 - which takes place at the end of this month - would be done under both the council's present procurement strategy and the New Zealand Transport Agency's requirements for urban buses: a 20-year maximum and Euro II emission standard.
This meant it would invite tenders conforming to both standards.
Cr Bryan Scott said the consultative process for the regional plan showed public support for the present council standards.
Chairman Stephen Woodhead said NZTA's response was disappointing, especially given the money ratepayers and the agency had put into getting the city's bus services to where they were today.
"Clearly the public ... has said to us to cement those gains."
Chief executive Graeme Martin said how the council would handle the outcome of the dual tender process was a "moot point".
"It might be a higher cost, it could be a lower cost or we could get no bids at all."
However, if the council chose not to go with NZTA's standard, it would need to talk to the agency.
Cr Sam Neill said having buses that were four years older was not a huge difference.
However, Cr Scott said there was a big difference in emission standards between 15-year-old and 20-year-old buses, and in things such as disability access and attractiveness.
Cr Michael Deaker said it would be interesting to see how NZTA's standards manifested themselves in the "day to day" reality of public transport.