Friday, April 9, 2010

Minister's public transport cherry-picking proposal puts services at risk

Transport Minister Steven Joyce has kick-started a Ministry of Transport review of Public Transport by calling for increased commercialisation of bus, train & ferry services.

His idea, supported by the bus owner-dominated Public Transport Leadership Forum, is to free up private PT operators to 'cherry-pick' profitable peak-hour/high volume services, leaving local authorities and ratepayers to fund the rest of the PT timetable.

This will inevitably lead to cutbacks in timetables and routes, as networks like Hamilton's lose the ability to cross-subsidise across different services. It is also likely to mean local authorities will lose control over the setting of fares.

Local authorities responsible for PT are increasingly turning to the 'gross contract' system, where private operators are contracted to run a route (covering all trips during the day), or a group of routes, and all the revenue from ticket sales goes to the local authority.

Waikato has run this system for many years, which has strongly contributed to the largest % growth in PT in the country.

Particularly in Auckland, private PT operators have had a history of jumping in to run profitable services and withdrawing from less profitable ones, leaving passengers in the lurch, causing major planning problems, and meaning ratepayers have to try and pick up the pieces.

The Minister's bright idea will be like Groundhog Day for all those who have worked to develop PT in New Zealand into a more planned, sustainable and fair system.


  1. At a time when PT is being encouraged as an alternative to the private car it seems rather short sighted to make it more commercial. To encourage take up, costs of PT for at least the individual, and preferably for 2 or 3 people, should be less than taking the car (including a modest parking allowance. So far we are only scratching the surface and subsidies will be needed for some time. As an electric wheelchair user who at some time will no longer be able to drive myself in a modified vehicle, it is also important to me to retain some independence using PT. EW have done well to encourage Go Bus and Pavlovich, who operate our buses, to make them accessible, and now they may have one of the largest percentages of accessible buses available. Increased commercialisation will slow up replacement of older non accessible buses, disenfranchising an increasing elderly and disabled population who depend on PT.

  2. I believe we should be going in the opporsite direction, all busses run by the council and funded by rates, free to users. this would mean rates in the rates we pay but we would have a bus service that we can use, look at what happens when the V8's are on and busses are free! The centre of hamilton virtually free of cars and full busses, wonderful economically and also for the environment and no parking hassles.
    Hamilton has a council that has always been able to think outside the box, now is our opportunity to lead the way for the rest of the country. We should start with a study of the costs and benefits etc.

  3. Ok if we want to keep the PT non comercial and you say you think that its better for the council to run and dictate the fee's then why are the Local bodies charging huge fee's for School holiday programmes to use their service? I feel if they comercialise the bus companies we, the paying public, will get whats called competition, and im sure the local council can also "tender" for this or raise and drop their charges as they see fit, so who really will be calling the shots? its interesting when one party who had a surplus of $9 billion one year suddenly has a deficit of $4 billion the following year oh and that being an election year and when the incoming party tries to get our country out of the S#@T people still find reason to moan about it. start offering solutions New Zealand instead if whinging about it

  4. Thanks Anonymous - I have no idea what public transport has to do with school holiday programmes, but I do know that fees for these programmes are NOT charged by local authorities, but by the organisations running them in the community. You seem to have a bee up your backside just because I have been critical of a central Govt decision, but if it is something that makes life more difficult for people I represent, then I have a responsibility to draw attention to this. In this case we have made positive suggestions for many years to successive govts to improve PT, some of which were taken up by the previous Govt, but none of which have yet been taken up by this Govt, who have so far worked on a roads 1st, 2nd & 3rd principle.

  5. Stephen Joyce, the Minister for New Zealand Limited - you would not expected anything less from one of 'The Hollow Men.'

  6. Commercialisation of buses was tried by Margaret Thatcher in Britain. It failed there too. What happened was that on some runs you had several companies competing, making it confusing for users and many routes lost runs.

    Congestion went up. They had to fix this, for example in London by taking radical congestion tolls.

    Bus maintenance and quality of service, particularly quality of drivers, also dropped as pay got screwed down.

    Efficiency is achieved by providing a quality service with the infrastructure to compete with car travel on key routes. High usage covers more costs and in conjunction with a focus on efficiency will lead to optimal outcomes. I know from running peoples businesses in the past that profit cannot be achieved without efficiency. We need to get past the weak-legged argument thats long since be proven to fail that we must privatise everything including flogging off our mother to the market.

    Bus services provide a service-stating the obvious that if efficient, slows congestion and improves land use, and reduces total costs of transport improving discretionary income and utilisable capital not spent on the most expensive form-private transport...but Im preaching and its Sunday so Ill get off the pulpit.....

  7. I agree with Sharpie on this, we are a car based nation and we need an incentive to change (at least in urban areas) if the market is opened up then Territorial Authorities will no longer be able to provide a service which will be a blow for the "transport disadvantaged". Public transport must remain exactly that, public. How else can Government hope to achieve any of its NZ Transport Strategy targets if there is no control on the service that is provided simply because some offshore investors want to make their buck?