Support for better bus services in Whanganui is gaining momentum and Horizons regional councillor Nicola Patrick is hoping to see a decent increase in the Government's 2022 Budget for regional public transport.
Patrick is coordinating a push to get better public transport in the regions and a letter to Transport Minister Michael Wood is supported by more than 100 regional, district council, and community representatives nationally.
"As representatives of the provincial heart of Aotearoa New Zealand, we want to be part of a better future where we have user-friendly, affordable, and convenient public transport so we stay connected without costing the earth," the letter states.
The letter has also been signed by Grey Power's national vice president Peter Matcham.
Grey Power Wanganui president Ross Fallen said he had no difficulty convincing the national organisation to support Patrick's letter.
"The limitations of bus timetables and the infrequency of services are frustrating for Grey Power members and for other public transport users," he said.
"Older people do like to go out at night and it's hard to enjoy a meal at a restaurant if you have to hurry and finish it before the only available bus leaves," he said.
Councillor Sam Ferguson who chairs Horizons Regional Council's passenger transport committee said smaller cities and towns had been missing out on Government support for public transport for a long time.
"Bigger cities receive far more support and higher funding rates per capita [for each person] and it's time the regions were better supported," he said.
Ferguson said even though regional councils are responsible for public transport improvements it would be a slow and frustrating process without more financial support from the Government.
Anthony Tonnon is Whanganui District Council's representative on the passenger transport committee working with staff from the two councils.
"The difference in per capita funding between the regions and larger cities is big," he said.
Tonnon said while the Manawatū-Whanganui region received per capita funding of $10.19 from NZ Transport agency Waka Kotahi for the 2018-19 year, Wellington received $175.41 for the same period.
Next year, Whanganui will see the start of a new high-frequency bus route between Aramoho and Castlecliff which resulted from a working group proposal led by Tonnon.
The way funding was factored into Horizons' long-term plans meant the service was unlikely to start until early 2023 however Tonnon said the timeframe allows for better planning.
"It gives us time to ensure we have a really efficient design and make sure we have factored in all the requirements," said Tonnon.
Patrick said it was important to think about climate change solutions and while improvements in rail, cycleways and other solutions were hugely important buses were fundamental as Whanganui faces being left behind by larger cities.
"We're conscious that with Covid ramping up, people may be less likely to take the bus but with mask-wearing and keeping distances, buses are still a good option to get around town," she said.
"It shows how we need more in the way of Government support and my goal is a decent increase in the May Budget so I really appreciate the support from Grey Power."