Subsidised public buses in the Wakatipu – scheduled for the end of the year – won’t run till at least next July.
The hold-up is being blamed on persistent New Zealand Transport Agency delays with funding approval.
That’s the word this week from “frustrated” Otago Regional Council policy and resource planning boss Fraser McRae of Dunedin.
The delay is “pretty disappointing”, McRae says.
“We’ve been given several [funding approval dates by Crown entity NZTA] and all of those have passed.
We’ve put a lot of work into it and we were certainly hoping to have services running for this summer period.”
ORC originally announced the new service would launch before the end of this year but a NZTA delay scotched that so the start date was pushed back to next March.
With NZTA still duck-shoving on dollars, even March is now out the window and McRae says the launch won’t be until mid-2010.
The regional council must strike a Wakatipu transport rate to pay for what NZTA’s subsidy won’t cover and McRae says they’ll strike that rate to take effect next July 1 – when he hopes to launch the new service.
The new ORC-backed service would boost frequency on existing Connectabus routes plus add links to residential areas such as Arthurs Point, Kelvin Heights and Quail Rise.
Senior citizens would be on a win as well – holders of SuperGold cards will get free off-peak travel.
McRae says Connectabus – “as the current operator” – remains ORC’s preferred partner but that’s also contingent on NZTA approval.
A Connectabus tie-up can’t yet be “cast in stone” because NZTA may insist that ORC publicly tender the deal, McRae says.
Is there any risk NZTA won’t actually stump up with funding?
“We’ve had only positive feedback from NZTA to date,” he says.
Surprisingly, the ORC boss claims the lion’s share of Connectabus passengers are tourists – “absolutely” – and he hopes the new subsidised service will lure locals for commuting and shopping by “making it more available and accessible to residential areas”.
There’s a pay-off for the Wakatipu, he believes.
“It will cut down traffic on Frankton Road, cut down the need for parking and generally make the place a slightly more pedestrian- and visitor-friendly environment.”
That’s if Wellington ever sees the light.