By Lauren Crimp of RNZ
An on-demand bus service trial in Hastings has put a “significant load” on the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s call centre, and is double the cost of a regular fixed-route bus.
The MyWay trial kicked off last year, allowing people to request a ride in a Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit through an app, or by calling the call centre.
It had gone “reasonably well” and increased bus patronage which was the aim, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council policy and regulation manager Katrina Brunton said.
While the cost of a trip was just $2, it cost the council twice that of a fixed-route bus service, and also required access to technology, she said.
That was an issue for a “significant proportion” of the community, particularly the elderly.
“We’ve had to work quite hard to work around that for that part of the community.
“It has put a significant load on Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s call centre, they spend a lot of time taking phone calls from customers who want to book a MyWay trip.”
A final report weighing the costs and benefits would go to the regional transport committee in February 2024.
“What we need to consider is, would the MyWay trial still be useful when compared to a more frequent fixed route service,” Brunton said.
Public transport changes off to a slow start
In the 10-year public transport plan put out last year, the regional council promised a “step change” in the entire network, including more frequent and reliable services, and more direct routes.
“The simple fact is that public transport in Hawke’s Bay has not served our communities as well as it could in the past and will need to in the future,” wrote transport committee chair, councillor Martin Williams.
Bus patronage had almost halved in the last decade - dropping from a high of 800,000 in 2013/14, to just over 400,000 in 2022/23 - and the number of boardings per capita were much lower than similar-sized regions like Otago, Bay of Plenty and Waikato, the regional council said.
The big changes were not expected until 2025, when a new bus operator contract was due to kick in.
That was not to say current operator GoBus was doing a bad job - but that the changes planned were so big, that it would have been too complex and costly to change the current contract, Brunton said.
Driver shortages were also a big issue.
“You’ve got to have the drivers to implement the frequency model, you need more drivers.
“And at the time, and still currently, we wouldn’t be able to enable to that to happen.”
In the meantime, council planned more simple service improvements to tide the region over, like improved journey times and reliability, and public transport for Wairoa.
But those were off to a slow start.
Improving journey times and reliability had been “really, really difficult post-cyclone”, and would be worked on in the new 2025 contract, Brunton said.
The idea for Wairoa - which is currently without public transport - was to “support the establishment of a trust to run community transport services” by 2024, the transport plan said.
But again, things had changed since the cyclone, Brunton said.
“Their priorities are really getting a resilient road that doesn’t wash out or become blocked anytime there’s a significant rain event,” she said, which meant public transport would take a back seat to roading improvements.
The three key problems the regional council was trying to solve, as outlined in the Hawke’s Bay regional public transport plan, were:
- Driving increased over the last decade which was “inconsistent with national and regional targets to reduce emissions from transport”
- Transport planning was focused on improving roads, leading to “a suboptimal transport system that does not effectively integrate public transport and is inequitable for those who cannot drive”
- Public transport was not seen as an attractive or viable alternative to driving, due to the limited frequency and accessibility of the network