Its time for a national public transport network

Published on 21/09/2023 at 8:00 am.

Public transport in New Zealand could be passenger focused, well co-ordinated and provide great regional connectivity.

ThatÔÇÖs our vision.

Sadly, it is not the case at the moment. Public transport in Aotearoa New Zealand is currently uncoordinated, haphazard, not user friendly and lacks regional connectivity. Due to the current  legal requirements of the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM), each regional council through their respective Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), develops and grows their own 'commercialised' public transport services.

They are required to use competitive tendering. The aim was to increase fare revenue and reduce reliance on rate and taxpayer subsidies. The result has been  little or no inter-regional cooperation and planning, creating inequalities between regions. To say nothing of the race to the bottom in driver wages and working conditions by the outsourced companies.

Aotearoa New Zealand has 16 local government administrative regions with varying populations:

more than 1´╗┐,000,000 - Auckland
5´╗┐00,000 to 999,999 - Canterbury, Wellington, Waikato
3´╗┐00,000 to 499.000 - Bay of Plenty
2´╗┐00,000 to 299,999 - Northland, Horizons, Otago
1´╗┐00,000 to 199,999 - Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, Southland
L´╗┐ess than 100,000 - Gisborne,Tasman, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland

Since most regions have a wide spread of low density semi-rural towns and rural communities, the cost to each region with a population of less than 500,000 to maintain and operate a regional public transport system is expensive, especially for those regions who have populations less than 200,000.

More densely populated regions like Auckland, Wellington and lessor extent Canterbury and Waikato regions, have better 'urban metro' style public transport services. Less populated regions like the Westland region have little or no public transport services. So it is time to reform public transport in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In October 2022, the government announced the introduction of a national 'open' integrated 'tap and travel' payment/ticketing system from 2024, for use on all subsidised 'turn and go' urban metro rail, bus, ferry, on-demand buses and regional passenger rail services across the country's 16 regions, creating a framework for an integrated national public transport network.

Fortunately, in August 2022 the Government announced that the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) will be replaced with a sustainable public transport framework. Key changes include removing the obligation on councils to contract out their public transport and encouraging greater collaboration between regional councils. Work is ongoing but no implementation dates have been announced.

I´╗┐n September 2023, Parliament passed the Land Transport Management (Regulation of Public Transport) Amendment Bill, that changes the Land Transport Management Transport Act 2003, allowing regional councils to work together in providing better inter-regional public transport services.

Why a National Public Transport Network

Aotearoa New Zealand population is expected to increase to 6 million by 2030, which will require major rethink and reform on how public transport is planned, funded, procured and operated.

Under the Emissions Reduction Plan, the government is committed to develop a national public transport strategy by 2025. This raises the question, why can't Aotearoa New Zealand have an integrated national public transport network to connect communities across the country from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island?

We could have a sustainable, environmentally friendly, easy to use 'door to door' subsidised 'turn up and go' national public transport network that reduces non essential personal vehicle travel and our toxic fossil fuel induced emissions by 2030.

How would it work

The National Public Transport Network would operate as an integrated national urban metro, regional and inter-regional bus, passenger rail and ferry public transport network. It would link Aotearoa New Zealand's six main cities with provincial cities, major towns, semi rural towns and rural communities, across the country's 16 regions.

The already planned 'tap and travel' payment/ticketing system will be part of it. Other components are likely to include a national information and timetable website and associated smart phone travel app containing all turn up and go and book and travel bus, passenger rail, ferry services and other public transport modes under one brand.

Who would operate the National Public Transport Network

We envisage that the National Public Transport Network would be administered by a dedicated national public transport funding and development authority.  This authority would absorb all subsidised public transport planning, development and funding functions, either as a separate entity in Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency or as a 'not for profit' state entity under Aotearoa New Zealand's Ministry of Transport.

As well as responsibility for subsidised 'turn up and go' urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional bus/coach, train, light rail, ferry and other passive passenger transport services and good passenger facilities like stations, bus/train interchanges etc, across the country.

The National Public Transport Authority

T´╗┐he Authority would develop, fund, help in the procurement of public transport services using existing or new public transport assets, establish national operating guidelines and procedures. This could be done┬ánationally or in partnership┬áwith regional councils┬áthrough their respective Regional Land Transport Plans and their own or outsourced┬á transport service providers.

The National Public Transport Authority would encourage its city, district and regional council partners to prioritize good public transport services, public transport infrastructure design and access in their future urban planning and design.

How will the National Public Transport Authority be funded

Currently, the government has budgeted for the 2021 to 2024 period, $2.6 Billion ($867 million per year) for subsidised public transport services and $2.3 billion ($767 million per year) for public transport infrastructure.

The current funding model under the Passenger Transport Operating Model (PTOM), after fares have been deducted, the costs is subsidised on average by a 50:50 split between regional councils (ratepayers) Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency (taxpayers).

Hence those regions with populations over 500,000 have better public transport services and smaller regions have moderate to no public transport services.

Under a more 'open' funding policy like the recently announced - Sustainable Public Transport Framework, the National Public Transport Authority would receive funding from the National Land Transport Fund and fares from the national 'tap and travel' payment/ticketing system and will be able to tailor funding solutions based on what a regional council public transport plans will be, the region's population density and rate payer public transport subsidies.

In some cases where a region has low population density and rate payer base, funding could be up to 95% of a region's public transport services, like the Westland region.

W´╗┐hat is the difference between 'subsidised' and 'non subsidised' public transport services

-´╗┐ 'subsidised' public transport are service/s are funded by Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency and the respective regional council rate payers. They operate as non bookable, frequent 'turn up and go' timetabled services.

These services are usually urban. metro and/or regional passenger transport services operating within a regional council boundary.

-´╗┐ 'non subsidised' public transport is were service/s receive no funding from Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency and the respective regional council rate payers, operating as scheduled 'book and travel' services.

These services are usually inter-regional and long distance passenger transport services, as they cross regional council boundaries.

How will this affect the traveler

The traveler will see more frequent, better co-ordinated services - eg trains that meet busses and in particular more services crossing regional boundaries.

By traveling on a National Public Transport Authority funded bus, light rail 'tram', passenger train and/or ferry service/s, a traveler will be able to 'tap' and travel from Kaitaia in the North Island to Oban in Stewart Island and most communities in-between.

What about regional and inter-regional passenger train services

Existing regional and inter-regional passenger trains as well any new ones will form the backbone of the national public transport service even though they are likely to be responsible for only 40% of the travel.

Examples of inter-regional trains are - the Capital Connection train between Wellington and Palmerston North, the Wairarapa Connection train between Wellington and Masterton and the Te Huia train between Hamilton and Auckland.

Those regions who currently have connection to the national rail network, their regional councils will include urban metro, regional and inter-regional passenger rail services into their respective Regional Land Transport Plans, as subsidised 'turn up and go' schedule public transport services.

Inter-city regional and inter-regional passenger trains will be modem, quiet, fast, using clean renewable energy environmentally friendly powered train sets with on board toilet and disable facilities, power points at seat, wifi and some cases an on board Cafe facility.

F´╗┐or further information concerning inter-city regional and inter-regional passenger trains.

What about the electric trains in Wellington and Auckland

The current electrified metro rail networks in Wellington and Auckland, will be funded by the National Public Transport Authority in association with the respective regional councils.

What about travel on long distance buses and passenger trains

These services will not be funded by the National Public Transport Authority, as they are non subsidsied, commercial 'book and travel' services, where a passenger will have to make reservation/s and pay directly with the bus and/or train operator they are planning to travel on.

If any 'book and travel' bus and/or train service operating any route/s, that is providing essential rural community connections, like between Fox Glacier to Wanaka,  it would receive funding from the National Public Transport Authority, as these services would be deemed to be essential service/s.

Aotearoa New Zealand National Public Transport Network consists of the following components:

F´╗┐or further reading concerning issues surrounding┬ápublic transport in Aotearoa New Zealand:

´╗┐- Rise and Decline of Public Transport in New Zealand

-´╗┐ Public Transport 2045

Aotearoa New Zealand National Public Transport Network is one of the components of L´╗┐ets Connect Communities

For further information concerning the points raised in this discussion concept plan:

If you support a national public transport network concept, have your say or become proactive by getting involved in local better public transport campaign groups.

The creation of a National Public Transport Network is one of the initiatives of the Public Transport Forum New Zealand.

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