NBus drop but council to persist

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Last updated 13:00 11/06/2012
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Passenger numbers have dropped one month into the new NBus service, and supporting revenue from central city car parks is also down, but the Nelson City Council is urging people to give it a chance.

Mayor Aldo Miccio has also assured ratepayers it is unlikely they will be left to make up the funding shortfall, but the council will continue to review the bus service.

Another quarterly report will be presented in July.

A report to the council last week showed that from March 5 when the new Nelson to Richmond route was rolled out, 8759 passengers used the service via the Bishopdale route, and 11,288 used the Nelson-Richmond route via Tahunanui. In April, the figure dropped to 6876 and 9215 users respectively.

New local routes were added to the network in April, which saw 748 people use the Atawhai route, 181 the Brook, 723 the Victory/hospital route, 61 Washington Valley, and 643 the Late Late Bus.

A council report said the drop from March to April was due in part to the number of school children who initially caught the NBus services and who then reverted to school bus services. School holidays also contributed to the dip in patronage.

Councillor Ian Barker, who did not support the introduction of the new service, said that by his calculations there was an average of fewer than seven passengers a trip across the network.

The council has supported a public bus service for several years, but earlier this year it increased its input into public transport as a result of extensive research and consultation.

In 2008, most of those who forwarded views to Nelson's draft regional land-transport strategy said development of affordable public transport should be given priority in solving Nelson and Tasman's traffic challenges.

The revised strategy, which followed 2007 work on the North Nelson to Brightwater corridor study, emphasised the option of better public transport as opposed to new roads construction.

NBus services are funded by increased parking fees in central Nelson that were to provide an estimated $550,000 a year.

However, the council recently reported that parking revenue was down $319,000 despite the increase from 50 cents to $1 an hour in the city's parking squares and a three-hour time limit placed on Wakatu Square, which was previously all-day parking.

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The council said in its draft Long Term Plan (LTP) document that the changes had not provided the necessary revenue to fund the upgraded service, and a rethink was now needed. The council is now proposing through the LTP to lift the three-hour time limit on parking in Wakatu Square.

Mr Barker said a shortfall in any situation, where there was only one source of funding, usually meant ratepayers had to make up the difference. In this case there was no chance the bus service would attract a Government subsidy.

"The NBus network is not sustainable, and it will have an effect on ratepayers if targets are not met.

"There's been a huge amount of money poured into public transport and cycleways, and it's disappointing to see it hasn't meant any fewer cars on the road," Mr Barker said.

Mr Miccio said patronage of the NBus had improved since the last figures were collated and it was important to give the service a chance. "We need to give it a go and see how it's working. We think it's going quite well."

Mr Miccio said the funding shortfall would have to come from somewhere, and that would be discussed through the LTP. It would not necessarily mean a rates increase. There was room to juggle expenditure in other areas.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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