Timaru on-demand public transport given green light

A trial of on-demand public transport in Timaru will go ahead early in 2020 following today’s confirmation of funding by Environment Canterbury Councillors.

“We are pleased to announce that the Council has today confirmed our share of the funding required, ensuring that a full trial will go ahead next year,” said Environment Canterbury Chair Steve Lowndes.

Environment Canterbury’s Senior Manager Public Transport, Stewart Gibbon, said that the trial, also funded by NZTA, will ensure that the service is easy to use and that this new form of public transport provides greater access to the community.

“We’ve done a great deal of work in the community over the last few months and we are confident that on-demand public transport is a logical response to Timaru’s declining fixed route public transport service,” he said.

“We’re very conscious that the new service requires people to think differently about getting around. It offers so many opportunities, because rather than going where the bus route goes, you can go where you want to go, and arrive when you want to arrive.”

Timaru’s on-demand public transport will start early next year with a two-month, closed group pilot to fully test the systems.

After the pilot, the service will be introduced for a trial period of 12 months, during which time the community will be supported to use the new service. During the trial, the Timaru Link, the Temuka service, and scheduled school services will continue to operate as normal, while on-demand transport will replace the Grantlea, Watlington and Gleniti services. Later in the trial period, if it is going well, the on-demand trial may also replace the Timaru Link.

With funding now confirmed, Stewart Gibbon says that the next stage is a competitive bidding process for the appointment of technology and operator partners, with the pilot of the on-demand public transport system expected to start early in 2020.

“While we will continue our work with the community throughout the rest of the year, it’ll be a wee while before we start marketing on-demand public transport. For now, we want people to be assured that there will be plenty of time to understand the new service before they come to use it. We’re committed to getting this right,” he added.

Frequently asked questions

Find out more about what will be changing, and when.


The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) will fund 51% of the project’s pilot and year-long trial after a business case for funding was presented to NZTA earlier this year.

NZTA Director Regional Relationships Jim Harland says that the agency’s investment supports a regionally and potentially nationally significant project.

“The potential to transition to a more sustainable public transport model, using an on-demand service, is a really interesting proposition, and one we have been working closely with Environment Canterbury on. This approach is also consistent with the Government Policy Statement on land transport which includes creating more accessible and affordable transport choices and investment in public transport.”

Once contracts have been awarded, total project costs will be able to be confirmed and communicated.

“We know how important it is that we get this right. An on-demand service offers outstanding opportunities for people to get around Timaru more easily, so we need to make sure we’re making sure this service works for everyone,” said Stewart Gibbon.

As a strong advocate for on-demand public transport, Timaru District Council has been closely involved in the project’s development, and will be responsible for providing the required infrastructure, as well as community advocacy and engagement.

Land Transport Manager Andrew Dixon says that his team is excited about the upcoming launch of the service and has been working closely with Environment Canterbury and NZTA.

“We are very committed to the successful delivery of the pilot and trial, particularly recognising that a realistic alternative to the current bus service is needed. An on-demand service opens up many new opportunities for our community, making it so much easier to get from point to point,” he said.

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Community invited to name the service

A competition will be held to name the service, with the Timaru community invited to submit ideas to Environment Canterbury later in September.