Greater Wellington welcomes government backing of regional ownership of transport assets
Greater Wellington has strongly welcomed the announcement by Transport Minister Michael Wood of the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework.
The announcement comes just over a year since Greater Wellington called, in its submission on the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM), for significant change to bring transport assets under the control of regional councils to create greater flexibility in delivering quality public transport services.
“We strongly held then, and still do, that for regional councils to be truly strategic in planning and providing world-class public transport, we need to have stronger control of critical infrastructure such as buses, depots and charging infrastructure,” says Greater Wellington chair Cr Daran Ponter.
Owning, or at least controlling, these assets is key to minimising the risks to delivering public transport, which has been badly affected in the Wellington region by driver shortages which have hampered service provision.
“We are pleased to see a strong signal from the Government that it will back regional council ownership and allow the sector to re-set public transport.
“Strengthening our communities’ confidence and pride in our public transport is essential to growing patronage and generating mode shift, which will only come with us changing some of the underlying frameworks.”
Greater Wellington’s early focus will be on prioritising strategic assets needed for ownership and provision by the regional council – which will initially include bus stabling and bus charging infrastructure.
Cr Ponter also agreed with Minister Wood that change would lead to more stable services underpinned by better terms and conditions for drivers, and more innovation in service delivery.
“As a regional council we have had to operate under PTOM, but we’ve moved gradually from its strictly commercial, low-cost, principles to a more hands-on approach to supporting bus driver terms and conditions to support a sustainable service.”
Greater Wellington’s move to support driver wages to $27 per hour was essential for driver retention and managing – as far as possible under current conditions – cancellation rates. Under the new framework there may be the flexibility to make driving an attractive career.
Innovation in service development is also vital and has also occurred outside PTOM. The new On Demand service trial in Tawa for example, has the potential to take public transport to the next level. It is hoped the new Sustainable Public Transport Framework will give regional councils the tools to further innovate in developing a transport network communities want.
According to Greater Wellington’s Transport Committee chair, Cr Roger Blakeley, eventual ownership of the bus fleet, either directly or through a council-controlled organisation, could provide benefits such as greater flexibility and agility in distributing the bus fleet to meet demand.
“It’s a long-term aspiration, but ownership will enable a more strategic and financially beneficial approach to procuring and financing fleet purchases, reduce private profit margins and provide security and continuity of fleet availability in our region.
“We are looking forward to building a model based on more active ownership by councils of key public transport infrastructure, which will better balance the risk profile for the public good. The overall outcome will be a stronger, more reliable and more resilient fleet and service,” says Cr. Blakeley.
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