Public transport in Aotearoa New Zealand is currently uncoordinated, hap hazard, not user friendly and lacks regional connectivity as it is currently based on regionalised and commercialised procurement through the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM), where each regional council develops and grows their own 'turn up and go' public transport services using competitive tendering, to allow increased fare revenue whilst reducing reliance on rate and taxpayer subsidies, that has resulted in little or no inter-regional cooperation and planning, creating inequalities between regions.
Aotearoa New Zealand has 16 local government administrative regions, with 1 region having a population over 1 million, 1 region having a population over 600,000, 2 regions having populations over 500,000, 1 region having a population over 300,000, 2 regions having populations over 200,000, 4 regions with populations between 100,000 to 199,999 and 5 regions with populations less than 99,999.
Since most regions have wide spread of low density populated semi rural towns and rural communities, the cost to region's with a population 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 'metro' style public transport services and less populated regions have little or no public transport services like the Westland region, so it is time to reform public transport in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In August 2022, the New Zealand government, has announced the end of the current Public Transport Operating model (PTOM) and replacing it with a more flexible planning, funding and procurement model - Sustainable Public Transport Framework, giving regional councils more flexibility to plan regional public transport services within their region's and work with neighbouring regional councils for better public transport connectivity.
With the announcement of the Sustainable Public Transport Framework, allows for a possible creation of a national public transport authority.
What is a National Public Transport Authority
A National Public Transport Authority would be an independent, national public transport development and funding entity, taking over public transport policy, planning and funding functions, either as a separate division within or separate from Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency, as a separate 'not for profit' entity under the Ministry of Transport.
The aims of the National Public Transport Authority would be:
- to remove the current regionalisation and commercialism for public transport services
- allowing city, district and regional councils to plan better public transport services with less bureaucratic procurement and funding processes
- providing dedicated funding for public transport services and infrastructure
- standardised national procurement and operational guidelines, employment contracts, working conditions, etc for public transport services
- creating more connected public transport services between regions and greater utilisation of public transport assets such as buses and passenger trains
- operating an open 'tap and travel' payment/ticketing system that is operative across all 16 regions in Aotearoa New Zealand
- a national information and timetable website and associated smart phone travel app that contains all 'turn up and travel' and 'book and travel' bus/coach, rail and ferry travel
How will the National Public Transport Authority operate
The National Public Transport Authority in association with city, district, regional councils and transport service operators, would plan, fund and procure public transport services where necessary, established national operating guidelines and procedures, operate an 'open' national 'tap and travel' payment/ticketing system, a national information and timetable website and associated smart phone travel app, in association with the National Public Transport Authority's city, district and regional councils and transport services partners under one brand – Public Transport Aotearoa New Zealand.
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 future urban planning and design.
What services would the National Public Transport Authority fund
The National Public Transport Authority, in association with its city, district and regional council partners, would provide funding assistance for subsidised 'turn up and go' urban, semi rural, rural, regional and inter-regional bus/coach, train, light rail, ferry and other passive public transport services and good passenger facilities like stations, bus/train interchanges, bus terminals, etc across the country.
The National Public Transport Authority would not fund commercialised 'book and travel' regional, inter-regional and long distance bus, coach and passenger train services, like 'InterCity' brand bus/coach services and Kiwirail's 3 long distance passenger train services, who operate on a 'for profit' business model, as these services cross multiple regional boundaries requiring advance reservations.
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, would receive funding from the National Public Transport Authority, as these services would be deemed to be essential service/s.
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 subsidize 'turn up and go' 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 is on average, after fare income has been deducted - a 50/50 split, with regional councils marking up their 50% of funding from rate payers and the remaining 50% from Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency.
More the regional councils contribute, less funding from Waka Kotahi/New Zealand Transport Agency, hence those regions with populations over 500,000 have better public transport services and those regions who have populations less than 500,000 have moderate to no public transport services.
Under a more 'open' funding policy of the 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 would 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 have low population density and rate payer base, funding could be up to 95% of a region's public transport services, like the Westland region.
For further information concerning the points raised in this discussion article -
- New Zealand's National Public Transport Network
- New Zealand's New Regional Passenger Rail Network
- Lets Connect Communities
- Future of long distance passenger rail services in New Zealand
- Can semi rural towns and small rural communities have public transport?
The creation of The National Public Transport Authority is one of the initiatives of Public Transport Forum New Zealand.