Cable car seeks broader funding

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 08:37 21/06/2014

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Wellington

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Wellington's historical cable car is looking to the region's ratepayers and nation's taxpayers for financial help to stop it going off the rails.

The renowned red trolleys, which have been carting passengers between the CBD and Kelburn for 112 years, will need much of their infrastructure replaced in the next few years at a cost of between $8 million and $10m.

Wellington Cable Car Ltd is owned by the Wellington City Council but it pays its own way. Last year it returned a dividend of $95,000.

But it has sounded out the Greater Wellington Regional Council about becoming one of the services it subsidises, much like the region's trains and buses.

Metlink services are generally subsidised to the tune of 25 per cent by taxpayers via the New Zealand Transport Agency and 25 per cent from regional rates, with fares covering the remainder.

In a recent submission to the regional council, Wellington Cable Car chief executive officer Simon Fleisher said that, without a subsidy, significant borrowing would be needed to cover the cost of new cable cars and a power supply in about six to eight years.

"Before this point, consideration should be given as to whether the cable car should be contracted-in to provide the possibility of public funding."

Doing so would enable the "iconic" public transport facility, which carries over 1 million passengers a year, to continue.

Fleisher told The Dominion Post he felt the cable car would survive without the regional council's help, but it would need to work harder to pay for the new equipment.

"It's running really well, but it's 35 years old now and we're in that decade when we're going to need to start spending."

As one of Wellington's feature attractions, the cable car would be a worthwhile investment for ratepayers and taxpayers alike, Fleisher said.

It currently generates between $2.5m and $3m in revenue a year, and roughly half of its passengers are tourists.

Wayne Hastie, Greater Wellington's public transport group general manager, said the council was open to the idea of a subsidy and would investigate it.

But with taxpayer money in the mix, the Government would have to be persuaded the cable car was a worthwhile spend, he said.

Andy Foster, the city council's transport and urban development committee chairman, said it was worth discussing whether the region's ratepayers should chip in for the cable car.

Compared with what the regional council already spent on subsidies, it would be a "margin of error" amount.

Foster acknowledged that, if the cable car had to borrow to pay for its upgrade, then that would push its books into the red, incurring costs for Wellington City ratepayers.

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But he did not see the idea of a regional council subsidy as the city council simply passing the ball to regional ratepayers before the cable car hit a financial wall.

"The irony is that they [Greater Wellington] may have also passed a ball to us in the form of having to pay to take down the city's trolley bus wires."

- The Dominion Post

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