Queenstown should get more frequent buses and cheaper fares later this year.
But it might take a hike in local parking charges to pay for it.
A report to today’s Queenstown council meeting says the Otago Regional Council (ORC) is developing a new bus network and fare system that will “aim to incentivise people, especially town centre commuters, to utilise public transport”.
“This new network has a planned roll-out date of July,” the report by Arrowtown consultants Rationale Ltd says.
ORC support services boss Gerard Collings – who says that timeframe’s “a little bit aggressive” – says there should be more direct services and quicker journey times on a new network, if approved by councillors.
He says public transport in the Wakatipu’s being held back by high fares, although bus operator Ritchies gets no public subsidy.
Another constraint is “relatively inexpensive and available carparking” in Queenstown.
“If the new network’s introduced it will need public subsidy,” Collings says.
“The current timeframe we’re working to we’re looking at the third quarter of this calendar year.”
Public consultation should start in six-to-eight weeks.
Queenstown mayor Jim Boult also warns public transport will only be effective if car commuters pay more for parking.
“My view is that public transport has to become the default method of getting around the district.
“At the present time there is a significant financial disincentive to take a bus rather than drive your car into town – that has to be reversed.”
Boult assures commuters that cars won’t being banned outright.
“We will have to open our minds to proposals around a large carparking area close to town.”
At present, Ritchies’ service is seen as too expensive and infrequent – even when the buses aren’t held up by congestion.
In its current annual plan, ORC public transport spending in Queenstown is $55,000 – compared to $3.4 million in Dunedin.
Queenstown’s council has made representations to ORC for an improved public transport system, Boult says – that’s more frequent, with more express services and “very affordable”.
“We await comment back from them.”
A cheaper, more frequent bus service will be a win for the new Queenstown council which, under Boult’s leadership, has been pressuring the regional council on many fronts, including work on improving the health of local lakes.
Council moves in recent years to extend parking warden hours and cut carparks have angered commuters but had little effect on commuter traffic.
Large-scale fixes, worth tens of millions of dollars – like a town centre bypass, a new carparking building and public transport interchange – are on the drawing board but a long way off.