Editorial: backing the buses

03:37, Jun 12 2012

At first look, the numbers on the buses aren't great – especially an apparent decline in just the second month of the Nelson City Council's subsidised service. Many of the new Nbus runs look as if they'd struggle to pay for the fuel burned, let alone wages and other costs. On some, the drivers would be lucky to have anyone at all to talk to.

New ways can take some getting used to, and it is too early to push the panic button. However, the passenger trends don't yet inspire much confidence in the council's enthusiastic support for public transport. The benefit of the doubt needs to be given for a time, but not indefinitely.

The Nbus service is a good one, running regularly at peak times. It would be especially useful if sufficient regular commuters between Richmond and Nelson would use it to reduce pressure on the main road links and parking areas. Given that it is as much about getting Tasman people into the city than Nelson people out to Richmond, it would be useful if it had sparked more co-operation between the councils, but that is a vain hope on this issue.

However worthy the green thrust that seems to be driving city councillors, the reality is that road congestion is nowhere near the point where it would trigger a widespread swing to public transport. Ditto the cost of fuel and petrol, which has not behaved as the Peak Oil alarmists predicted it would by soaring to levels that would make operating modest private vehicles unaffordable for most of us. Not yet, anyway.

Any shortfall in funding the service most likely will have to come either from rates or at the expense of other projects.

Public transport remains a worthy goal, in theory, but devilishly difficult to persuade people to adopt in practice. As councillor Ian Barker points out, a lot of money has been spent on public transport and cycleways, with no apparent impact on the number of vehicles on the roads.

That point should not be glossed over when councillors come to evaluate the service. As always, they must do so with the best interests of ratepayers uppermost, rather than blind support for pet projects. Public support of the service, or otherwise, is very easily gauged.