In July a petition calling for an upcoming free school bus trial to include all children, at all times, and the wider Bay of Plenty, was launched by transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga. The petition attracted more than 1000 signatures and the interest of 23 business organisations. This week, the Bay of Plenty Regional Council considered what they would do with the petition, prompting concern from those who started it as to when it would actually take effect. Reporter Kiri Gillespie investigates.
A petition aimed at extending a 2020 bus trial throughout the wider Bay of Plenty is unlikely to happen in time.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council Public Transport Committee heard on Tuesday the "Heidi Hughes petition" would be included as part of an upcoming fare review next year.
Last month, Greater Tauranga's Heidi Hughes presented a 1093-signature petition to the regional council. The petition called for the upcoming Tauranga-wide trial to be extended to the wider Bay of Plenty. It also called for school-aged children to be able to travel for free on buses at all times, including weekends.
At the meeting, regional council general manager of strategy and science Namouta Poutasi told the meeting there was a process the petition would need to go through before potentially changes could take effect. The petition was also not the only request regarding changes to bus fares, she said.
"In order to look at all of those pieces together, we have a fare review planned for early next year, which will take a comprehensive review of the fare requests and put that back to the Public Transport Committee. Then any recommendations that come from that ... will then need to go through to council and fit into the Annual Plan."
The rollout of any potential changes are not expected to take effect until late 2021 at the earliest.
Hughes told the Bay of Plenty Times after the meeting that because the upcoming Tauranga-wide trial was already approved and decided upon, opening it up to weekends and holidays should not require such a drawn-out process.
"The buses are already up and running, so we feel this could happen in the short term and actually start making a success of our bus network," she said.
"It's very frustrating."
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Hughes said she appreciated implementing changes to the wider Bay area might require more process.
"It's great to see that they are definitely considering it. It's not being ignored. But I'm frustrated that it can't happen earlier."
Sustainable Business Network's Glen Crowther said the "slow-tracking" of the petition did not make sense.
"We've been in close collaboration with 22 other organisations in Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty who, for the last year-and-a-quarter, were calling for free fares for all children at all times.
"We are now in a position ... to make that happen but ... it probably won't roll out until late 2021 or the start of the 2022 year.
"We think that's just crazy."
Crowther said the whole point of the petition was to have it tie in with the 2020 trial already in place.
Poutasi later told the Bay of Plenty Times said the earliest new fares could be implemented would be July 2020. However, if there were significant changes the more likely date would be early 2021 to allow for preparations such as the contracting of additional buses and drivers.
"With regard to Heidi Hughes petition we appreciate that it is frustrating for those seeking change, however, council must follow due process."
The regional council considered various options for free school buses through the 2019/20 annual plan and decided against funding free trips for children all day, every day as this would come with cost not currently budgeted for "nor has any consideration been given to whether this would be the best use of council funds".
Requests for changes to public transport fares include:
• Free fares for ratepayers
• Concession or free fares for those with disabilities
• Concession or free fares for carers of disabled people
• Free or reduced fares for school students, tertiary students across the Region
• Concession or free fares for community service cardholders
• Reduced fares generally