Napier's tourist buses cost ratepayers $1.3m and sold for $50k
Napier's disastrous art deco buses have been sold for just $25,000 each - meaning the short-lived investment has come at a cost to ratepayers of more than $1.3 million.
The buses were sold at auction by Turners Auctions last week. The Dominion Post contacted the buses' new owner, who did not wish to be identified, but confirmed he had paid "about" $25,000 for each vehicle.
He said the buses, named Veronica and Belle, were likely to remain in Hawke's Bay but it was uncertain how or where they would be used.
The council paid $837,000 for the two old US schoolbuses, which were converted into Deco City Discoverer buses in the United States and shipped to New Zealand.
The goal was to provide a tourist link between the popular seaside suburbs of Napier and the city centre.
But when they arrived in Wellington, the buses were found to be unroadworthy, and the council had to repair numerous faults. The total cost, including refitting, shipping, a feasibility study, repairs, bus fittings, and other costs ended up at $1.1m.
The buses were supposed to hit the road in late 2012, but did not get going until April last year.
They made their last trips on May 4 this year.
Over that period they ran at an operating loss of $323,000. It cost the council a further $16,800 to terminate the contract it held with the local bus company that operated them.
John Harrison, who was a Napier City councillor from 1995 to 2004, described the expense as "an outrageous abuse of ratepayers' funds in a failed commercial gamble".
"I rate the buses as one of the worst cases of a council ignoring its fiduciary duties. The fact that not a single staff member or councillor went to the US to inspect the buses is frankly outrageous," Harrison said. "If I'd known they were for sale, I'd have bought them to use as a reef to stop erosion at Westshore."
A report to the city council in March stated patronage had been "a long way short of projections" and the public perception of the buses had been "severely tainted due to the issues of poor workmanship of the bus builders in USA".
At that meeting, council tourism services manager Neil Fergus said he was unsure of the buses' current value, but said the new engines had a minimum value of $50,000 each.
Mayor Bill Dalton said the council did not want to continue using ratepayers' money to prop up the buses when they were running at a loss.
"We are pleased, however, they are going to a local operator and will stay in Hawke's Bay. If we had our time again, I don't think there'd be any doubt that we'd send someone to view the buses before the project commenced."
The Dominion Post