Nelson Area Community Trust establishes own transportation service

The lack of public buses between Nelson and Motueka led a community trust to establish its own minibus service to transport people between the two centres.

Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust Services Coordinator Rachel Mason, right, with the Māpua Willing Wheels car, which people can book to access transport.
Photo: Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust

It is hoped that the government’s initiatives to reduce emissions and meet climate targets will lead to investment in regional public transport in the next budget.

The Motueka Coastal Bus – an 11-seater minibus – runs three times a week and is driven by volunteers.

Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust service coordinator Rachel Mason said the service started six months ago, due to demand for connections between centres.

“It goes through villages without public transport, so it goes through Motueka, Tasman, Māpua – there is no public transport in any of these places.”

At $10 round trip, it’s cheaper than doing the 70 km round trip in a private vehicle.

Rachel Mason said the service would be used more if it had a fuller schedule.

“At the moment it’s ok sometimes, where only pensioners can use it or families on the weekend can use it, it’s not ok on the hour of the journey, so that’s one of those situations chicken and egg – you want to increase the service but it costs money and if you increase it and what if nobody uses it?”

She said there should be funding for public transport in areas where there was currently no service.

“I think if the community has to do it for you, there’s something wrong. Not all communities have that robust group of people who are willing to volunteer their time and so they’re just missing out.”

The trust also runs a community bus route between Wakefield and Richmond, via Brightwater and Hope, and an on-demand car service in Māpua, called Willing Wheels.

The Jon Reeves Public Transport Users Association wants the government to commit to a nationwide public transport service so that people in regional New Zealand, not just those in cities, can access public transport.

“We have emissions targets related to climate change, we have connectivity targets, we have inflation and cost of living issues for low and middle income New Zealanders, so it’s fair that regions get public transit, and we would certainly like to see this government keep its promises in this budget.”

The new 11-seater Motueka Coastal Bus runs three times a week between Motueka and Richmond.

The new 11-seater Motueka Coastal Bus runs three times a week between Motueka and Richmond.
Photo: Nelson Community Transportation Trust

Kate Malcolm of the Nelson Tasman Climate Forum transport group and Nelsust, which advocates for sustainable transport, said it was not just about getting more funding and increasing services.

“People in our district are very attached to their cars and we have had failing bus services in the Nelson area before so we don’t want to see this huge amount of money spent and a lot of time and effort spent to a service overhaul if people aren’t going to use it.”

She said fuel rationing, increasing fuel excise duties, congestion charges and changing regional parking strategies were all potential measures to encourage public transport.

But they were likely to be unfair and certainly unpopular.

Last year, Tasman District and Nelson City Councils created a joint regional public transport plan. From 2023, new public bus services will be introduced to link Wakefield and Motueka with Richmond and Nelson.

“We just can’t afford to see these wonderful new low emission buses that so much thought and money has gone into not being used is our greatest fear and so we want to see disincentives to drive.”

Malcolm said for some, inaction on climate change was too much.

“There are some in the climate forum who just gave up hope and despair and say the government needs to shut down all gas stations now.

“There’s this feeling that it’s almost too late and the government won’t act decisively enough and so they’ve just given up, they’re desperate.”

Tasman Deputy Mayor and Regional Transport Committee Chairman Stuart Bryant said he was supporting community-run bus services with up to $20,000 a year, until the services run by the council start in 2023.

Bryant said international research has shown that improvements in bus frequency are more effective in getting more people to use public transport than free fares.

“That’s not to say that cheaper fares aren’t effective, but the benefits diminish as fares get cheaper. For the 50% discount on fares to be most effective, there must first be to have useful services.”

He said the fare reductions in conjunction with new services next year to Wakefield and Motueka and the wider Richmond area would make a significant difference for people choosing to use public transport rather than take vehicles at private engine.

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