The lack of a public bus between Nelson and Motueka led a community trust to establish its own minivan service to transport people between the two centres.
It is hoped the government’s initiatives to reduce emissions and meet climate goals will see an investment in regional public transport in the upcoming Budget.
The Motueka Coastal Bus – a minivan with 11 seats – runs three times a week and is driven by volunteers.
Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust service coordinator Rachel Mason said the service started six months ago, due to the demand for a connection between the centres.
“It goes through villages without public transport so it goes through Motueka, Tasman, Māpua – there is no public transport whatsoever in any of those places.”
At $10 a return trip, it is cheaper than making the 70km round journey in a private vehicle.
Rachel Mason said the service would be used more if it had a more comprehensive schedule.
“At the moment, it goes at times, where really only retired people can use it or families at the weekend can use it, it doesn’t go at commuter time, so it’s one of those chicken and egg situations – you want to increase the service but that costs money and if you increase it and what if nobody uses it?”
She said there should be funding for public transport in regions where there were currently no services.
“I think if the community are having to do it for you, there’s something wrong. Not all communities have this hardy band of people that are willing to give up their time and so they just miss out.”
The trust also runs a community bus route between Wakefield and Richmond, through Brightwater and Hope, as well as a car on demand service in Māpua, called Willing Wheels.
Public Transport Users Association Jon Reeves wants the government to commit to a nationwide public transport service so that people living in regional New Zealand, not just those in the cities, can access public transport.
“We’ve got climate change emission goals, we’ve got connectivity goals, we’ve got problems with inflation and cost of living for both lower income and also middle income New Zealanders so it’s only fair that the regions get delivered some public transport and we’d certainly like to see this government deliver in this Budget.”
Kate Malcolm of the Nelson Tasman Climate Forum’s transport group and Nelsust, which advocates for sustainable transport, said it was not just a case of getting more funding and increasing services.
“The people in our district are very attached to their cars and we’ve already had failed bus services in the Nelson area so we don’t want to see this huge amount of money spent and a lot of time and effort put into a revamped service if people aren’t going to use it.”
She said fuel rationing, increased fuel excise, congestion charges and changing regional parking strategies were all potential measures to incentivise public transport.
But they were likely to be unfair and certain to be unpopular.
Last year, Tasman District and Nelson City councils created a joint Regional Public Transport Plan. From 2023, new public bus services will be introduced to connect Wakefield and Motueka with Richmond and Nelson.
“We just can’t afford to see these wonderful new low emission buses that so much thought and money’s gone into not being used, that’s our greatest fear and so we want to see disincentives to driving.”
Malcolm said for some, the inaction around climate change was too much.
“There are some in the climate forum who’ve just given up hope and despair and say, the government needs to close all petrol stations now.
“There’s that feeling that it’s almost too late and the government will not act decisively enough and so they’ve just given up, they are in despair.”
Tasman Deputy Mayor and chair of the Regional Transport Committee Stuart Bryant said it was supporting the community run bus services with up to $20,000 a year, until the council-run services began in 2023.
Bryant said international research had shown improvements in bus frequencies were more effective in getting more people to use public transport than free fares.
“That is not to say that cheaper fares is not effective, but there is diminishing benefit as fares get cheaper. For the 50 percent off fares to be most effective, there needs to be useful services in the first place.”
He said fare reductions in conjunction with the new services next year to Wakefield and Motueka and the wider Richmond area would make a significant difference to people choosing to use public transport over taking private motor vehicles.