A business case to explore whether ferries could become part of Tauranga's public transport network has been proposed just weeks after a study revealed it was viable but came with risks - including a potential $17 million set-up cost.
But it will be local residents who get to steer whether the business case goes ahead.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council is seeking feedback on its Regional Public Transport Plan, which proposes developing a high-level business case to establish a new ferry service connecting Ōmokoroa, Mount Maunganui and Tauranga CBD.
Such a service was already identified two years ago in an Urban Form and Transport Initiative (UFTI) Connected Urban Villages programme.
At that time, Western Bay economic development agency Priority One led work on new ferry service plans but these have since sat with the regional council, which oversees local public transport and sourced its own research.
Last month, the regional council's Public Transport Committee heard and accepted an internal Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty Ferries Feasibility Study that found a "clear and compelling case" for a ferry service, albeit with no "risk-free, low cost" option.
Now, its draft Public Transport Plan 2022/32 shows the regional council plans to move forward with a business case for a new ferry service, if public consultation is supportive.
In the view of those who had already explored the idea, the move has been a long time coming.
Former Waitakere mayor Sir Bob Harvey told the Bay of Plenty Times: "It should have happened already."
Sir Bob helped liaise between Tauranga City Council and Fullers "to do this" and he was hopeful the city could make a ferry service happen.
"I think Tauranga is an ideal place in an ideal situation because it's had a great history of public [marine] transport. There's a big willingness from the Fullers company ... as we move to electric ferries, it's the ideal situation, to me," Sir Bob said.
"Tauranga deserves better."
In 2020, while she was a serving city councillor, Heidi Hughes travelled with then-mayor Tenby Powell to Auckland to meet with Fullers for such plans.
Hughes said, in her view, plans to establish a new ferry service needed to be accelerated.
"I think you can spend a long time doing feasibility studies on it but there's quite a bit of evidence to show that when you do projects like this, they actually create their own demand that might not have been there before."
One of the risks highlighted in the feasibility study presented last month was the Takitimu North Link plans, which could impact demand for a ferry from Ōmokoroa.
But Hughes said having a service and a good transport service encouraged people to live in those areas where those services existed.
Councils could either react to this in due course "or we can help create that demand by doing it early", she said.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said the ferry service needed a business case before there could be a discussion with local councils and Waka Kotahi, entities responsible for needed infrastructure such as wharves and parking.
"The way I feel is, I don't know whether ferries will work or not but the [background] work needs to be done. It's pretty clear we have a transport problem in this city. Doing the same old thing isn't going to work."
Tutt said the latest feasibility study did not "tell us anything that we don't already know".
Another risk highlighted in the study was that it could cost up to $17 million for set-up costs alone for what some considered to be effectively two bus routes.
"The capital cost it takes to run it is a drop in the bucket compared to transport costs in general," Tutt said.
"It's much much cheaper than building a road. We have to have a look at it."
Sustainable Bay of Plenty director Glen Crowther said last month he was torn by the study's findings.
While he wanted to back the Ōmokoroa-CBD route as an alternative transport option, logically he could not see how the investment stacked up. He believed there was more feasibility with a Mount Maunganui -CBD journey.
Sustainable Bay of Plenty had previously canvassed Ōmokoroa residents about preferred transport options and most respondents wanted rail, he said.
The draft Public Transport Plan 2022/32 states that the regional council assesses the viability of proposals for new ferry services through the development of business cases where appropriate and ensure this integrates with the wider public transport network.
The draft plan can be viewed via the regional council's website.
Submissions close on July 29 and hearings into the plan are expected to be heard from August 22.
Future ferries, by the numbers
- For an Ōmokoroa-CBD route, estimated capital costs to establish the service ranged from $4 million for an hourly peak time weekday service to about $9m for a 30-minute daily service. Operational costs varied between $1.5m and $7m a year.
- For Mount Maunganui-CBD, capital costs range from about $5m to about $8m, with operational costs between $1.3m to $4m a year.
- Capital costs are estimated to be between $8.8m-$16.9m, with an operating subsidy requirement of between $1.6m-$7.8m.
- Tauranga's population of 190,000 was expected to increase by an additional 200,000 over the next 30 to 70 years.
- Local proposed ferry fares were $8 for the Ōmokoroa run and $5.50 for Mount Maunganui, which were in line with comparable Auckland ferry services.
Source - BOPRC