On-demand public transport in testing phase

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STAFF REPORTER

Community consultation over proposed changes to Timaru’s public transport services has included a mock call centre and mobile app.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) senior manager public transport Stewart Gibbon said the council and NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) staff had spent time with members of the community to better understand what would be involved in establishing an on-demand public transport service for the town.

The change, first announced in mid-2018, would shift Timaru’s public transport services away from large buses on fixed routes and timetables to a more flexible service, using smaller, wheelchair-accessible vans.

These could be booked via an app or through a call centre, using New York-based ride-sharing app company Via.

Mr Gibbon said the consultation with Timaru residents – including high school pupils and tertiary students, retirement village residents, existing bus users, members of the Aoraki Migrant Centre and CCS Disability Action – had trialled booking trips via an app, a mock call centre and actual trips.

He said overall, those involved had “responded well” to the mock call centre and prototype app, highlighting that making them easy to understand and having call centre staff with local knowledge would be essential.

Mr Gibbon said depending on the outcome of further trials and research, Timaru’s public transport could progressively switch to an on-demand service later in 2019.

This would eventually replace 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, he said.

While most cities use Via as one option for transport around town – such as services offered in New York, Singapore, Berlin, Los Angeles and Sydney – other cities, including the town of Arlington in Texas, in the United States, have chosen Via as the city’s sole bus-style transport provider.

The ride-share service was also adopted in Queenstown, under the name Savy, last year.

The scheme, which is a partnership between Via and nationwide bus company Go Bus, offers an alternative to the Otago Regional Council-subsidised Orbus public transport system, managed by Ritchies.