Bus routes, fares & rates proposed to change

The consultation period to make a submission on the Long-Term Plan 2018-28 has now closed. 

Public transport plays a vital part in connecting communities and enabling work and social travel in the region.  Public transport in Greater Christchurch and Timaru is managed by Environment Canterbury, under the Metro brand.  It is very important that we hear from public transport users, and the community in general, about what you need the network to deliver, particularly when we are proposing changes. 

The public transport network is still facing challenges resulting from patronage numbers in Christchurch not yet returning to pre-earthquake levels (they are currently back to about 80% of pre-earthquake numbers). As a result, we need to make some short-term and longer-term changes. Ensuring sustainable service is part of our role at Environment Canterbury.  Public transport is the largest single part of Environment Canterbury’s budget and we are now consulting with the public on our Long-Term Plan 2018-28 and the financial implications of this.  

As part of this consultation we want your feedback on proposed changes to the public transport service, in particular the options put forward around routes to be discontinued and fare/rates changes. Below you will find the proposals being put forward for public transport funding and further information on how to submit your feedback via the Long Term Plan process.

Public Transport Background

Public transport is the largest single part of Environment Canterbury’s budget. It covers buses, ferries, and the Total Mobility schemes for people who are unable to access regular bus services. Satisfaction levels by those who take public transport are high, with 97% satisfied or better with the service. 

The key objectives for the Long-Term Plan timeframe are to restore the financial position of the network, execute the new Regional Public Transport Plan and ensure new data and ticketing solutions meet the future needs of the network. 

The Greater Christchurch Public Transport Joint Committee, with representatives from multiple agencies, oversees the public transport services.

The Challenges

The public transport network is still facing challenges resulting from patronage numbers in Christchurch not yet returning to pre-earthquake levels. Levels have returned to around 80% of pre earthquake numbers.  There are many factors that play into patronage rates, such as high car ownership in the region, people living out of town following the earthquakes, bus routes compromised as a result of rebuild work, even the low price of Christchurch city parking. 

As a result, the programme has been operating with a shortfall of approximately $4 million in recent years, with the loss being covered by New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) supplementary grants and from reserves.  It is no longer possible to operate this way and, without achieving a net positive financial outcome that can be used to support development of a better network, achieving significant patronage growth is unlikely.  In order to address the immediate financial position of the public transport network, it is proposed to make changes to routes, fares and/or rates.

Providing a sustainable service 

We are not aiming to operate the public transport service at a ‘profit’ – it is acknowledged that grants from NZTA will be used to support the routes offered in the community. We do, however, need to look at viability of the routes and their service and financial performance.  One of our Levels of Service in the current and proposed Long-Term Plan is to have the entire service with approximately 50% or more of the costs covered by user-pays i.e. income from the bus fares. 

Some of the current individual routes run much lower than this e.g. at 10% or less of the cost of the route being covered by the fares received. This means for some routes ratepayers are subsidising each passenger journey by up to $20.  There are also a small number of routes that run much higher than this, at 70% or more of the cost being covered by fares on that route. 

Public transport is a key part of connecting communities and enabling work and social travel, and we welcome submissions not just on the immediate options presented here but also on longer-term innovative solutions for public transport in the region.

The proposals in summary:

The Proposals in detail:

Option 1

This is Environment Canterbury’s preferred option. To resolve the $4 million shortfall, keep our income aligned with projected inflation, and ensure we have money to invest in the service, we propose that:

We introduce an annual increase in total fare revenue of 2.5% each year for the next three years. This % increase is to total fare revenue and the actual increase to individual fares would vary. Fares may increase from $0.05 to $0.15 per trip depending on how this is applied.

We introduce a standing increase in total targeted rates income for public transport services of 2.58% each year. This could mean, for example, if you are paying $25 of your rates to public transport now, you may be paying $25.66 in 2018/19.

The maximum Total Mobility subsidy per vehicle trip is reduced from $35 to $30. This change would impact 3% of Total Mobility trips, and would ensure continued viability of this important service.

The six lowest performing bus routes are discontinued. Removal of these six routes would save $2.7 million, with actions 1, 2 and 3 above making up the remaining $1.3 million.

The six lowest performing routes are:

  • 107 Styx Mill – Northlands 
  • 108 Casebrook – Northlands 
  • 135 Burwood Hospital – New Brighton
  • 145 Westmorland – Eastgate
  • 150 The Palms – Spencerville
  • 535 Eastgate – Lyttleton and Rāpaki
The ‘free transfer window’ of four hours on the Timaru network be reduced to two hours. Given the size and travel time in the Timaru network this would not adversely affect the majority of transfer customers.

Option 2

It is possible to achieve the $4 million required through different fare and rate increases.  Option 2 would see the same six routes discontinued, and the Total Mobility subsidy cap reduced to $30, but by increasing targeted rates by 3.64% each year it would be possible to achieve the required savings without increasing fares. 

This does mean that fares would not be rising with inflation and that we would be keeping them artificially low, but it would alleviate any impact of fare increases in the short-term. 

To have your say, you will need to give us feedback via the Long-Term Plan submission process. You can just give feedback on the public transport section of the plan (and/or any other sections). A ‘consultation document’ is available online – or in letterboxes from early March – that outlines the options for public transport. 

Option 3

Another option would be to increase fares by 5% in the first year (2018/19) and by 2.5% each year thereafter – and apply a 1.51% increase to rates. This option would also see the under-performing bus routes discontinued and the Total Mobility subsidy cap reduced to $30.

We recognise that in any scenario there will be people affected by the proposed changes. We are looking for the right balance so that we can maintain a sustainable service for the majority of users at the best value.  Your feedback is invited via the Long Term Plan submission process.

The consultation period to make a submission on the Long-Term Plan 2018-28 has now closed. 

Frequently asked questions

Which bus routes are you proposing to discontinue?

  • 107 Styx Mill – Northlands
  • 108 Casebrook – Northlands
  • 135 Burwood Hospital – New Brighton
  • 145 Westmorland – Eastgate
  • 150 The Palms – Spencerville
  • 535 Eastgate – Lyttelton & Rāpaki

Why are you proposing to discontinue my bus route?

The routes we’ve proposed to discontinue are the lowest performing routes in the greater Christchurch network. These routes have a cost recovery from fares lower than 20% of the cost to operate them. Patronage on these routes is very low, and the cost to run them is very high, therefore the level of community engagement with these services is not high enough to continue running them. Currently, these six routes cover 2.3% of total but cost 6% of the total network cost to operate.

Will there be alternative routes provided?

At this there are no alternative services proposed. We encourage you to tell us how this proposal will affect you by submitting on the Long-Term Plan. We also encourage you to share any ideas you have on how to make these services more successful, or ideas for alternative options.

Are Metro school routes in the same areas affected? 

No. Specific Metro school routes would continue to operate as they do currently. However, students travelling on the urban route 150 to Avonside Girls High School would no longer be able to do so if the route was discontinued, as this is part of the urban route.

Why are you proposing to increase fares and rates? 

The total funding bucket for public transport is made up of a combination of rates, fares and government funding. To cover the $4 million, and cover the rise each year in inflation, each component of funding needs to go up. There are different ways to achieve this, as set out in the three different options. Our preferred option (option one) is to share the increased costs between both ratepayers and public transport users. 

I don’t use public transport, why are you increasing my rates? 

There is a wider community benefit to having public transport and that is why contribute towards the cost of running public transport in Canterbury. For example, people using public transport reduce the number of vehicles on the road – which is good for all road users.

How did we end up with this $4 million shortfall? 

The 2010/11 Canterbury earthquakes had an enormous impact on residential and commercial activities and necessitated changes to peoples’ travel patterns. The public transport network has been severely impacted by the CBD closure and slower than anticipated regeneration, and there has been an impact on service reliability due to the ongoing. While network changes have been implemented to respond to this and reduce cost, this has not been enough. To cover the shortfall, we have been using reserves and other supplementary grants. Essentially, until now we have had the ability to continue funding services, we have reached a point where we can no longer financially sustain this. 

Why was this situation not addressed earlier? 

The city rebuild has been slower than initially expected, with the city worker population only recently reaching 60% of the pre-quake level. It was believed that the city regeneration would be faster, supporting higher patronage levels, it has become apparent that this is not the case. There is a Long-Term Plan cycle each council needs to and now is the opportunity in this cycle to consider it. Bus patronage is currently at 80% of pre-quake levels.

What is the Greater Christchurch Public Transport Joint Committee’s role in this? 

The Joint Committee, established in July 2016, is responsible for leading the strategic discussion and strategy development for public transport in greater Christchurch, through collaborative engagement across the parties directly involved in the delivery of public transport services. Public transport funding and rating decisions have not been delegated to the Joint Committee, as it has no powers. Funding and rating decisions for the provision of bus services are determined under the Environment Canterbury Long-Term Plan. 

Why don’t we go back to the pre-earthquake network? 

The city is no longer the same as it was before the earthquakes, with many residents and businesses relocated to new areas. The pre-quake concentrations of travel demand activity (employment, social, sporting and educational) are now significantly more distributed, making a radial network focused on the CBD inappropriate. The pre-quake network cost more to operate than the current one, and any potential incremental gain of that network would not be sufficient to offset the additional cost.

Why is the Total Mobility subsidy being reduced from $35 to $30 per trip?

The funding provided for the Total Mobility scheme is not enough to cover the costs of trips now being taken across the region. There has been an increase in the costs to deliver the service, driven by inflation and changing usage patterns. To maintain the Total Mobility service for everyone eligible, we need to reduce the trip subsidy cap.

How many trips will this reduction affect?

Approximately 3% of all trips taken in the entire Canterbury region.

How many trips in my area will this affect?

  • Greater Christchurch = 2.86%
  • Ashburton = 0.49%
  • Timaru = 0.51%
  • Waimate = 0.08%

*% based on total number of trips taken in 2016/17 financial year

Why are you shortening the free transfer window in Timaru?

This will help ensure that the free transfer window is used for its intended purpose – to transfer between buses. Some passengers are currently using it for return trips instead of transfers. The reduction of the transfer window from four to two hours also brings it into line with the greater Christchurch transfer rules.

Why are Timaru’s rates and fares included in these proposals if the issues have come from the Christchurch earthquakes?

Inflation costs rise across the board every year, and we need to ensure we move with these inflation increases. As well as inflation costs, the farebox recovery of the Timaru network is low, so we also need to increase the revenue received from fares on Timaru services.