On-Demand Public Transport in Timaru?


Timaru’s public transport – why change?  

We know that many people in Timaru rely on public transport as an essential service. However, for several years now, the number of people using the service has been declining.  Because of this, the cost to the ratepayer to cover the services is becoming unsustainable. Rather than reducing the service or increasing rates contributions, we have looked at a range of options.  

We are investigating whether an on-demand, ride-sharing public transport system could work as a viable alternative to the current service, so that we can continue to offer public transport in Timaru.   

What is on-demand public transport?  

Think of it as a corner-to-corner service at times that suit you. You’d be picked up nearby and then dropped off near to your requested destination. On-demand public transport could provide a timelier and more convenient journey when compared with the current bus service. The on-demand service would not replace the school services or the Timaru-Temuka service, and we expect to provide an enhanced school service that would replicate what some Timaru Link services currently cover at school times. 

How would I book my ride?  

Passengers would be able to book a trip via a smartphone app, or by calling a customer service centre. You would enter your pick-up and drop-off locations into the app, or by informing the customer service representative, and a vehicle would pick you up nearby. Off peak travel will remain free for SuperGold Card holders. 

What’s happening now? 

Update: May 2019 

Over the last few months, our focus has been on reviewing the findings from robust community-based engagement and prototype testing that took place in late 2018 and early 2019.  

This analysis has been an important focus of the business case, which has been presented to NZTA for funding. The time spent working with members of the Timaru community was invaluable in helping establish demand for an on-demand service and to ensure the proposed systems and technology would be appropriate for Timaru, if an on-demand service goes ahead.  

We worked closely with NZTA, testing various elements of the proposed on-demand public transport system with members of the community, including a mock contact centre, a mobile app and in-vehicle testing.  

The purpose of this was to take an in-depth look at the proposed system and understand how it would work for the different areas of the Timaru community. It’s important to us that we invest the time in doing this now so that the community is taking this journey with us as we progress further along in the project. 

NZTA’s service design team partnered with Environment Canterbury staff to conduct this phase. The teams spent time with a wide range of people from the community including high school and tertiary students, retirement village residents, existing bus users, members of the Aoraki Migrant Centre and CCS Disability Action. Many had been involved in the earlier community research and engagement phase of the project.  

Key findings  

This work has helped us to understand the needs of the different groups who would use the service. It has left us in a position to develop something that will really work towards resolving the issues they face now with the current system, and as a result, enable more people to use public transport more often. 

​Overall, people responded well to the mock call centre and prototype app. It highlighted that reducing the barriers to understanding and using the service, by making the process clear and simple, was essential. 

Running a mock call centre highlighted the importance of providing a smooth phone booking service as well as an app. Customers frequently mentioned the importance of having staff with local knowledge handling the calls. 

We also understand that providing options when it comes to payment is important to people, with a preference to be able to integrate credit cards and Metrocard into the app, as well as being able to pay by cash at times. How we might be able to integrate SuperGold cards to an app is another important consideration. 

A real-time trial run of service was undertaken, working with Ritchies and staff from Environment Canterbury, NZTA and Timaru District Council to execute this. As the current service operator, Ritchies were involved to ensure the service test was as realistic as possible.  

Testing in-vehicle helped to identify elements of the service that worked well, as well as challenges and issues to resolve such as accurate pick-up locations and setting realistic and accurate expectations of the journey time. 

Engaging with employers  

In April, Environment Canterbury attended the South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce’s annual Innovate Conference. This was an excellent opportunity to understand from different businesses in Timaru how an on-demand public transport system could benefit their workforce. 

General feedback on the concept of an on-demand public transport system was very positive. Businesses in Washdyke responded positively to the opportunity for an on-demand public transport system to serve their location. 

We look forward to keeping the business community informed as the project progresses and potentially having further discussions on how they could become involved during a trial or pilot of an on-demand service if it goes ahead. 

Next steps  

We expect to provide a further update after a full analysis of the engagement and testing results is complete, and there is an outcome to the funding application.  

Depending on the outcome, Timaru’s public transport could progressively migrate to an on-demand service later in 2019, eventually replacing the existing service, with the exclusion of school services and the Temuka service. 

If the on-demand service does not go ahead, current funding sustainability challenges are likely to lead to an overhaul of the Timaru bus service, potentially resulting in reductions to frequency and coverage. ​

Previous updates 


If you have any questions, please contact us at metro@ecan.govt.nz​   

As our research proceeds, we will update this webpage. ​