Editorial: Bus service on track but boost is needed
Nelson's revamped bus service is showing steady progress two years down the track, but is still making little impact on traffic congestion.
The Nelson City Council took a calculated risk in 2012 by upgrading buses and adding new routes. To do so it had to subsidise a new contract with parking revenue and general rates, totalling around $380,000 annually.
Passenger fares and central transport subsidies make up the remainder of the funding.
The positive news from a review released this month is patronage on the NBus service is increasing about 15 per cent annually, and up to 25 per cent on the Bishopdale route to Richmond.
The two Richmond-Nelson routes - the other is via Tahunanui - make up almost 90 per cent of the total patronage, and are close to making a commercial return.
It's a different story on the four city routes. The Brook route covers only 15 per cent of its costs through fares, known as the farebox recovery rate, and has an average of 2.3 passengers per trip. The Washington Valley-Tahunanui route has an 11 per cent recovery and 5.1 passengers a trip.
A council report says they appear to have little potential to be improved, but they do cater for the "transport disadvantaged".
The public good and the environmental benefits are strong reasons to back buses, and the council will not make any major timetable changes yet. However, they are reducing the number of early morning and evening trips on the Atawhai, Brook and Victory routes, and increasing the weekend services to Richmond.
Overall, the strength of the Richmond routes means Nelson's farebox recovery is 77 per cent, the highest in the country.
But there are a number of reasons why the service can and should be improved.
At present bus passengers make up only about two per cent of people travelling between Nelson and Richmond, showing both the potential growth for the service and the challenge to get people out of their cars.
Rising petrol prices and congestion may play a role in encouraging the swap, but the Tasman District Council should also get on board.
New Nelson councillors were aghast to find Tasman contributed $10,000 to the late bus service only, prompting some to accuse their neighbours of "freeloading". With 30 per cent of bus travel beginning or ending in Richmond, and its population predicted to increase, there is a strong case for Tasman to pay its share - about $31,000 a year.
Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne says his district already contributes to a number of projects in Nelson City, both to capital and operating costs, and there were issues over the new bus service's "efficacy". But that has surely been proven, and it is in both councils' interests to keep improving a growing link between the centres while reducing congestion.