'You will put us out of business' - bus plan slammed

A bus operator has slammed an Otago Regional Council transport plan, saying it would put his company out of business and result in drastic fare increases.

Passenger Transport Citibus director Kayne Baas told a council panel hearing submissions on its draft regional public transport plan that a requirement to replace buses after 15 years of services and stricter emissions standards would push fares up by as much as 100%.

"We believe that any policy that increases the cost of public transport and, subsequently, fares penalises the people that can least afford it. These are also the people who rely on public transport the most."

The plan would make it no longer viable for the company to operate in Dunedin, he said.

"If this plan goes through you will be less one tenderer ... here in Dunedin. It's not sustainable for us. You will put us out of business.

"I guarantee you that in five years time that you will only have Ritchies operating in Otago."

The stricter emission standards in the plan would mean all buses would have to meet Euro 4 or equivalent from mid-2019.

This meant the company would be forced to replace buses as young as 11 years old and require an investment of "at least $19 million" in new buses, he said.

He said the company had already made a large investment in more environmentally friendly buses and all new buses it had purchased in the last 12 months exceeded Euro 4 emissions standards. At the moment its fleet of 47 buses had an average of age of 7.1 years.

Mr Baas also said in his written submission that the plan did not meet the conditions set out in the Government's "requirement for urban buses" parameters, requiring bus services provide "value for money".

Council staff responded to this saying they were seeking approval from NZTA for the introduction of a maximum age of 15 years and stricter emissions standards.

Cr Michael Deaker thanked Mr Baas for his submission, but said it was "unlikely" the council was going to completely "back off" on its plans for stricter emission standards.

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead asked Mr Baas about an investigation the ORC carried out as a result of his written submission, which found their plans made economic sense and that running a a smaller, newer fleet would result in cost savings to the operator.

Mr Baas replied by saying the report was based on skewed figures.

Ritchies director Glenn Ritchie, which operates several Dunedin bus routes, said the changes were not out of the ordinary, compared to what other councils in the country were doing.

Having seven years to replace buses with buses that met Euro 4 standards was a reasonable amount of time and any fare increase as a result of that and other changes would be "minimal", Mr Ritchie said.

A total of 53 organisations and individuals made submissions on the plan. Among the submitters were Dunedin City Council, Central Otago District Council, the University of Otago and Queenstown Lakes District Council.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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