by Greta Yeoman
A flexible taxi-style bus service could be the future of public transport in Timaru.
Environment Canterbury announced the potential change to Timaru’s public transport system last week, suggesting it could shift from the standard fixed-route, timetabled bus system presently in place to a more flexible service.
Senior public transport manager Stewart Gibbon said the alternative could involve small to medium vehicles, which users could book via an app or through a call centre.
Mr Gibbon said a 2017 survey of Timaru residents about public transport had showed that, besides school services, big buses on fixed routes were not meeting the transport needs of Timaru travellers.
Timaru Senior Citizens Association manager Robyn Baldwin, who is also part of the Timaru Public Transport Advisory Group, said the group had been “concerned” about the town’s public transport system for a while.
She said the group – which included district and regional council representatives, along with disability, elderly and migrant advocates – had been advising ECan on the town’s transport services.
The provision of public transport in Timaru was “vital”, so anything that could potentially increase patronage would be beneficial, Mrs Baldwin said.
“If we don’t use it, we’re going to lose it.”
Bus Go Canterbury spokesman Nick Stoneman said the bus users’ advocacy group, which is based in Christchurch, supported the change.
“Maybe changing it to this system might encourage a bit more use.”
South Canterbury ECan councillor Peter Scott said the call for expressions of interest had gone to the international market, because it involved developing software that could provide a flexible transport service.
Mr Scott, who had also attended several TPTAG meetings, said the drop in patronage indicated that an adaptation to services was needed.
It could be an opportunity to look at something different, he said.
Mrs Baldwin said while she supported the proposed shift from a timetabled, fixed-route service to more of a flexible system, it would be a “big step” for the community to get used to.
“[It is] never going to suit everybody.”
A trial of a book-a-bus service would start late 2018-early 2019 at the earliest.