New Zealand

Local Democracy Reporting

The bus service that’s costing council $23 a passenger

Wed, Mar 22
The Blenheim to Renwick route operates three days a week.

The council has plans to cancel a Blenheim to Renwick bus service after it was found to be costing $23 a passenger.

By Maia Hart, Local Democracy Reporter

But transport to and from Renwick, about 12km from Blenheim, is not to be completely off the cards as the council is keeping an eye on a trial in Timaru using “on-demand” mini-buses.

The Renwick to Blenheim return service was first introduced as a trial in 2020, with four trips on Tuesday and Thursday, as well as two on Saturday. One of its stops is the Marlborough Airport in Woodbourne.

When the council recently crunched the numbers – it turned out, on average, just one person was catching the bus each trip.

A report prepared for the council’s annual plan budget meeting this month said the average cost per passenger for the service in April 2021 was $17.17.

Yet despite “additional advertising” and leaflets being dropped to Renwick residents, the cost increased to $23.46 per passenger. Between January 2022 to January 2023, 321 passengers caught the bus.

The report said while the service carried wheelchair users, the Total Mobility Scheme also operated in Renwick, and assisted eligible people with transport.

Marlborough deputy mayor David Croad said at the meeting the council saw this coming 18 months ago, when they reviewed the service, but they decided to extend the trial because of Covid-19.

He said the council should not be subsidising the service to that level.

He said he wanted the council to give feedback to Waka Kotahi on the “rigidity” of the trial. The agency had provided financial assistance of 51%, according to the report.

As part of that funding, the council could not use a smaller vehicle for the service, such as a minivan, as it did not have wheelchair access.

“For the trial it was a challenge,” Croad said.

“Whatever we may do, or decide to do moving forward, it would be good to have more flexibility."

Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor confirmed the council was following a trial in Timaru, using small “on-demand” shuttles for public transport.

“We’re awaiting the outcome of that and whether Waka Kotahi will consider rolling that out across the country to smaller regional areas, like Blenheim,” Taylor said.

She said the “model” Waka Kotahi had them work with for the Blenheim to Renwick service did not fit the region and its demand.

Blenheim man Malcolm Honour, who was the only person to catch the 9am bus at its first stop on Tuesday last week, said it was a shame to hear the service would not continue.

But he did admit it was the first time he had ever caught a bus out of Blenheim, as he had only recently found out the route existed.

“I’d love to see more people use it,” he said.

One more passenger, Stuart Verhey, got on the bus to Renwick that morning.

Verhey, who used a wheelchair, was headed to the Renwick Menz Shed. He said if there was an option to catch the bus more often, he would.

Meanwhile, the council looked set to make a Picton to Blenheim bus service a permanent route.

Council’s assets and services manager Richard Coningham told councillors at the meeting the cost of the Picton service was similar to that of two permanent Blenheim routes.

The report said the trial for the service, which started in August 2019, aimed to have a minimum of 192 passengers a month. The last financial year exceeded this, at an average of 257 passengers per month.

It meant passenger numbers had been “steadily increasing” since Covid lockdown ended, and lead to a decrease in the cost per passenger from $6.77 in April 2021 to $5.20 in January this year.

The service ran two return trips on Tuesday and Thursday, between 9am and 3pm.

The council voted to make the Picton service permanent from June 1, subject to final approval. This was budgeted at $29,400 a year.

The Renwick service would no longer exist from June 1.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air.


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