ORC criticises national bus standards

The quality of Otago regional bus fleets could be compromised by a proposed national standard for urban buses which ignores the gains in quality made during the past five years, Otago Regional councillors say.

The policy and submissions committee voted this week to lodge a submission which recommends changes be made to a proposed review by the New Zealand Transport Agency to implement mandatory nationwide standards for urban buses.

The NZTA proposal effectively removes the regional council's discretion to specify quality standards for its Dunedin and Wakatipu bus fleets, a report from ORC transport manager Dr Jane Turnbull said.

Committee members agreed most of the suggested changes to bus standards contained in the NZTA's proposed review were "reasonable", but they found fault with several of the requirements which would undercut regional improvements made during the past five years.

Cr Duncan Butcher said he was concerned the council would no longer be able to set the standards to monitor the fleet quality of operators contracted to provide bus services.

Cr Trevor Kempton said the existing NZTA bus requirements were a guideline for the council to set higher standards of quality, when calls were made five years ago to improve its bus fleet.

Councillors were concerned about the "big gains" in the quality of buses which might be compromised by a national set of standards which ignore specific conditions of regional operators.

NZTA public transport planning manager Michelle McCormick said all of New Zealand's regional councils currently specify different sets of standards when tendering and managing their urban bus service contracts.

The different standards meant increased costs for buses, less flexibility given buses could not be used in different regions without modifications, and minimal extra benefits for passengers, Ms McCormick said in NZTA publication Pathways.

ORC policy and resource planning director Fraser McRae said the council would support the majority of the minimum standards proposed, but would oppose four key mandatory points for individual buses.

Air-conditioning standards should not apply in cooler climates, although mandatory heating requirements should be implemented for Otago buses.

Regions should be able to set their own minimum standards for seat spacing and leg room and Dunedin's lower passenger rates dictated as such, he said.

"Our loadings do not justify taking the cattle truck approach seen in mass transit in large cities," Mr McRae's draft submission says.

The minimum requirement for luggage space was inadequate for a region such as the Wakatipu Basin, where passengers often carried bulky bags and ski equipment, and the council should be able to set standards which compensated for such conditions, he said.

A standard acceleration rate for buses nationwide would also hamper Dunedin's fleet vehicles, given the city's hilly terrain and traffic conditions.

- matthew.haggart@odt.co.nz


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