Regional Council All At Sea: Now They’ve Hit A Rock

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regional council at sea

In my article ‘Regional Council all at Sea in its Dealings with NZ Bus’ I outlined significant failings of the BOP Regional Council’s new bus service. Council now claim to be ‘taking a hard line’ with its contractor NZ Bus but is not prepared to disclose details of the arrangements it has with NZ Bus.

The bus service has now hit a rock, the City Council has revealed it has no plans to provide the necessary infrastructure for the bus service to work well until it is sure it will not change again.

It’s a Secret

Regional Council’s Chief Executive Fiona McTavish is refusing our request for details of the service it has purchased in a nine-year contract worth some $130 million. McTavish has cited the reason for this is her ‘right to exclude the public from a meeting which would result in the disclosure of information for which good reason for withholding would exist.’ McTavish has also refused requests from BOP Times for details of contractual consequences of what we understand are significant breaches of the Agreement.

When It Suits

Suggesting that the secret may be more to do with face-saving of councillors and it’s executive team, McTavish then said to BOP Times that she ‘might release details in the near-future’.

Could we assume then that Council’s ‘good reason for withholding’ is a short-term reason, and rather than of commercial importance, maybe simply for its own benefit and to avoid embarrassment?

A Joint Effort

Provision of our public transport service has been a fractured arrangement under which Regional Council provide buses funded jointly from Government, rates paid by ratepayers to BOPRC, and from passenger fares.

Tauranga City Council is responsible for the provision of infrastructure to assist in making the bus service an attractive option for commuters. This includes bus interchanges, bus stops in safe and convenient locations, bus shelters, bus lanes for efficient movement of buses across the city, real-time information signboard and other features such as ‘park and ride’.

NZTA is responsible for bus lanes and bus stops on roads within the city designated as state highways.

Tauranga City Council has put a rock on the road. It has not provided the infrastructure to support a good bus service for commuters. Perhaps deviously, Tauranga City Council’s Mayor is claiming that ‘people are telling me that it is not the lack of infrastructure which has led to the failure of the bus service’. There appears to be disharmony between our two Councils.

Service Hits a Rock

This became obvious at the Regional Transport Committee meeting on 28 March when Christine Jones, General Manager Strategy and Growth at Tauranga City Council reported on the status of the infrastructure for the bus service. Jones explained that TCC has committed to funding interchanges and is progressing their planning. TCC wish to wait for a review of the bus service and routes before interchange plans are finalised.

Investment in bus priority measures and bus shelters are continuing.

The fractured relationship between these two Council’s means that the current service cannot be expected to perform well at the moment, and City Council is not going to even finalise plans for its contribution until the current service is reviewed.

Benefit of Hindsight

Perhaps what appear to be the City Council’s failing may, in hindsight, have a shiny side to it. Aspects of the ‘hub and spoke’ format and lengthy transfers between services at interchanges, merging of school bus services with commuter services, often dangerous location of bus stops and interchanges are not working and may have to be abandoned or significantly re-designed. Well done Tauranga City Council, just a shame for those who do rely on buses, and those who perhaps would otherwise be using buses.

Transport Committee Members

Paula Thompson, an experienced, no-nonsense Regional Councilor has previously admonished her own staff and councillors for the failure of this bus service and apologized to the public.

Thompson was disgusted by the City Councils failure to provide good infrastructure for the new bus service.

Councilor Jane Nees said it was ‘time for a stake to be put in the ground’. Disappointingly few others on the Transport Committee, Regional Councillors Crosby, Cronin, and Love, and City Councillors Molloy and Curach appeared to do so much as stir.

No Planning?

I thought that perhaps our Regional Council might have sent our City Council some guidelines on the infrastructure it required and timing for this to optimise the performance of its new bus service.

Namouta Poutasi, General Manager, Strategy & Science at Regional Council says this information was passed on to City Council.

Until such time as our Regional Council and our City Council, with head offices less than 800 metres from each other as the pigeon would fly can work together in a cooperative and constructive manner, boldly applying what is international best practice Tauranga’s bus service will never be a popular choice for commuters.

To solutions for many of our challenges, I feel too many councillors use excuses like ‘it won’t work here, we are different’. Yes, we are all different, and we need better leadership to make us one better place.

-By Peter McArthur