Free buses kick off new public transport plan consultation

Public consultation opens today on the draft Regional Public Transport Plan, and Environment Canterbury has announced that this Saturday, 22 September, travel on its bus network will be free.

Saturday is World Car-free Day. Greater Christchurch Public Transport Joint Committee member and Environment Canterbury chair Steve Lowndes says that it is an ideal way to celebrate the beginning of public consultation on the Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP).

"This RPTP is vastly different to previous plans, containing for the first time the visionary change needed to create a healthier and more environmentally sustainable city and region," he says.

"The plan includes proposals for more buses on more high frequency routes, introduction of measures to free up the passage of buses along their journeys, and a transition to zero emission vehicles. It's all about making public transport a much more desirable option, and setting up Greater Christchurch for a sustainable transport future."

Steve Lowndes says that providing free public transport on World Car-free Day is an opportunity for people to try their local service, leave the car at home for the day, and to think about the sort of public transport system needed in Canterbury.

Have your say on public transport

"Everyone is invited to have a say about the options outlined in the RPTP. For the first time, the Public Transport Joint Committee agencies* have worked together to develop a significant component of the Plan, asking residents about their appetite for an increased investment in public transport," he says.

"If this future vision is to become a reality, we are going to need substantially more investment from the early 2020s. How fast we can make this transition will depend on the rate of funding available, coming from a combination of fares, rates and Government grants. The feedback from this consultation will guide us in determining how quickly Greater Christchurch should make the transition to a better, faster, and less carbon-reliant network," says Steve Lowndes.

The plan also contains new ways of thinking about the delivery of public transport in Timaru and provides an opportunity to have a conversation about transport services in the smaller communities in Canterbury.

Tony Henderson is Environment Canterbury’s community transport advisor in Timaru. He says that the draft plan proposes a real focus on innovation and environmental sustainability.

"It's covering everything from improved trip information to low emission vehicles, easier payment methods to alternative ways of looking at public transport," he says.

"For several years now, the number of people using Timaru's buses has been declining, and the cost to the ratepayer to cover this essential service is becoming unsustainable. We don't believe that simply reducing the service or increasing rates contributions is the way to resolve this, so we are working with Timaru District Council to investigate options for a system that suits people better," says Tony Henderson.

Consultation has now closed.

*The Greater Christchurch Public Transport Joint Committee comprises representatives from Environment Canterbury, Christchurch City Council, Selwyn District Council, Waimakariri District Council, the Canterbury District Health Board and the New Zealand Transport Agency. It was established in mid-2016 to foster collaborative and decisive leadership regarding the provision of public transport services and infrastructure in Greater Christchurch.