On-Demand Public Transport in Timaru

Date: 29 August 2019

Timaru’s On-Demand Public Transport has the green light

A trial of on-demand public transport in Timaru has been given the go ahead to launch early in 2020. It’s an enormous opportunity for Timaru citizens, and it’s going to mean thinking a little differently about how you get around.

Why change?  

For the last year or so, we’ve been grappling with the best way to improve public transport in Timaru.  The reality is only a few hundred people regularly use the service and it’s not making ends meet.   

We think there’s a real opportunity to introduce a service that helps a far wider cross-section of our community get from A to B in a really convenient way.  And of course, it’s important that any public transport service is sustainable and fair for the ratepayers funding it. 

What is on-demand public transport?  

Think of it as a corner-to-corner service at times that suit you. Instead of going where the bus goes, you can go where you want to go, and arrive when you want to arrive. 

You’ll be picked up nearby and then dropped off near your requested destination. Pick up and drop off spots will be a mix of existing bus stops (in town, for example), your local street corner, and landmarks.  

What will change?   

During a 12-month trial, starting no earlier than April 2020, on-demand public transport will replace the Grantlea, Watlington and Gleniti services.   

The Timaru Link, Temuka service, and scheduled school services will continue to operate as normal. Later in the trial period, if it is going well, the on-demand trial may also replace the Timaru Link. However, additional school services would be provided immediately before and after school, to cater to school students currently using the Timaru Link.  ​

What’s happening now?

Appoint partners: Between now and October 2019, we will manage a competitive bidding process for the appointment of technology and operator partners. 

Pilot: Early in 2020, we intend to run a two-month, closed group pilot to fully test the systems. This will operate with a small group of around 150 people representative of the Timaru community, both bus users and people who don’t currently take the bus. All services will operate as normal during the pilot. 

Trial: The on-demand service will be introduced for a trial period of 12 months, during which time the community will be supported to use the new service.  This will happen after the pilot, and no earlier than April 2020. 

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. We are aware that several children use the scheduled bus service to get to and from school, and will make sure that the on-demand service caters to them.

We are aware that several children use the scheduled bus service to get to and from school, and will make sure that the on-demand service caters to them.

Using the service 

The appointment of the technology provider and the vehicle operator is the next step. Once these are confirmed and on board, we will be able to confirm details and start promoting the service.  It will be really important that the service is easy to use, and that its benefits are more accessible by people across the community. For now, here’s what we know: 

How will I book my ride?   

You will choose whether to book your trip on a smartphone app, by calling the customer service centre, or by using the website. You would advise your pick-up and drop-off locations, and a vehicle would pick you up nearby at an arranged time. You’ll be able to prebook minutes, hours or days in advance of your trip, and you’ll be able to set regular trips too. 

There will be plenty of information available well in advance of the service starting.  

What hours will the on-demand service operate? 

The service will operate for longer than the current bus service. We expect this to be 7am to 7pm on weekdays, and hours to be confirmed on weekends.  If the trial goes well, the hours can be extended to include later evenings. 

What will i​t cost and how will I pay? 

The cost of the service will be confirmed before the pilot launches in the new year. As a public service, the intention is to keep the costs as low as possible. 

If you’re using the app to book, you will be able to pay via the app as well. We will also accept all current methods of payment: Metrocard and cash.   

Off peak travel will remain free for SuperGold Card holders.  

How accessible will it be?

The service will offer room for wheelchairs, prams, walking frames and so on. We expect that it will offer much greater convenience and flexibility for people with accessibility difficulties than the current service- for instance, home to a hospital appointment, or to visit a friend across town, without relying on bus routes or schedules.

Will the service work for people without smart phones?

We know that some people don't use a cellphone or smartphone apps. The service will also have a call centre, a website for bookings, and community-based freephones at key locations, and people will be able to book multiple trips in advance.​ 

Who will the transport operator be? 

Several transport operators have already provided registrations of interest in operating the services.   

Now, Environment Canterbury will invite these companies to apply for the transport contract. The successful company will provide the customer service and vehicles for the on-demand operation. 

School services and the Temuka service will not change, and the Timaru Link will operate through the trial.   ​

What happens after the 12-month trial? 

Long before the 12-month trial is up, we will review the use of the service to understand whether it is sustainable.  We’re hopeful that as well as appealing to people who use the bus system, it will also appeal to a wider cross-section of the Timaru community, bringing an element of real convenience. 

If the on-demand service isn’t well supported, current funding sustainability challenges are likely to lead to an overhaul of the Timaru bus service, potentially resulting in reductions to frequency and coverage. ​This would be addressed before the completion of the on-demand service trial. 

Supporting our community 

We’re working through the best ways to support everyone in our community to easily use the on-demand public transport service. We expect this will include plentiful information in the media, advertising, and people on the street offering assistance. 

Need to know more?

We will keep this webpage up to date as things progress. You can also email us on ask@metroinfo.co.nz or call 03 688 55 44. 

Keep up to date with Timaru’s on-demand public transport project by subscribing to our mailing list​.

Read the latest media release​.

Previous updates 

​​​​