Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Regional bus service in Otago to be disconnexed, fifteen jobs lost

Tranzwatching in Central Otago, Te Wai Pounamu, New Zealand

Passenger Transport Ltd, the deep south NZ bus company established by brothers Kayne and Tony Baas, back in 1991 has steadily grown, now operating about 50 school runs in Southland and contracted urban bus services in Invercargill, and several contracted routes in Dunedin. A few weeks ago the Dunedin arm of PTL purchased CitiBus Dunedin, a Dunedin City Council operated Local Authority Trading Enterprise, picking up many more Dunedin Citibus bus routes in the process. DCC had recently recorded losses of over $8 million on operating CitiBus.

The Citibus site, originally contained this link to Connexions, which conveys the unusual extent of services owned and operated by a company whose prime shareholder was Dunedin City Council

An unusual aspect of CitiBus was that the city owned and based company also ran a range of regional services deep into the Otago hinterland, between Dunedin and four major tourist areas under the branding Connexions. These ran from Dunedin to Invercargill, Dunedin to Middlemarch (and the famous Central Otago Rail Trail), Dunedin to Queenstown, Dunedin to Wanaka, and - not least - connected Wanaka conveniently to Queenstown airport and Queenstown. In direction schedule and presentation it seems an attractive service. As a long distance-bus gadabout myself, this blogster has had it earmarked to use for a sunny blue "central"  holiday at some time. Alas no longer.

The 15 employees of Connexions have been told the company will be discontinued.

A copy of the letter sent to employees who have been told the company will cease to operate after June 30th, in nine days, was emailed to the Otago Daily Times. It said since Invercargill Passenger Transport had taken over Citibus it had been "urgently reviewing aspects of the business".  The letter noted it was well known Citibus was "incurring significant losses" which required "significant changes", the letter said.  "We have looked closely at the Connexions operations and, unfortunately, have concluded that we cannot hope to reshape them into a sustainable operation."

NZ in Tranzit - opinion on these sad disconneXions

As attractive this regional bus service Connexions appeared, without the international profile generated by larger bus and shuttle networks, such as InterCity Coachlines, Naked Bus or even Atomic to really pull the non-local punters, losses occurred in this sector probably seemed, all along, to most observers as one very likely source of the DCC CitBus hemorrhage.
Also as Passenger Transport run the Naked Bus franchise (or whatever it is) south from Christchurch, and also operate the Dunedin-Invercargill Atomic franchise (or whatever it is) there could be an element of competing against themself. Bus users can only hope something else may be on the drawing books!

It is inevitable a private company must follow sound business practice but it is also hugely sad, more links are falling from our regional and long distance bus and coach network.

I wrote to the NZ Bus and Coach Association of NZ some years ago, suggesting a national network framework, by the association acting to forge a working agreement between independent operators. This would offer composite timetables [service quality identified] for all services in each area in booklet and website formats, with phone, web links to each supplier company, linked to a distinctive profile standardised national bus network bus stop signage and stops and other facilities. My aim was to float the idea, but it sunk without trace. I received no response at all (not uncommon when you campaign from the consumer sidelines!).

Understood,  the big companies aren't very likely to want to share the roost, but this said we are a small country whose remarkably high standards of living and, I believe, hundred year lucky run no longer appears to be fully sustainable. Lifting the profile, status and facilities of regional and distance long travel. shifting coach travel up a gear across the whole nation, stands to make New Zealand hugely tourist friendly for the whole middle to lower end of the market, from town to town, from terminal to accommodation, all taxi numbers and bus services link on the same page, literally and metaphorically. Half of good transport is good information.

Likewise, just as Britain, or Germany etc with their large populations and densities can offer train travel at frequent intervals just about everywhere, a national network would work to establish criteria and support providers, to create a consistent daily platform of services nationwide. This might, for example in effect guarantee at least three bus services a day (at spaced intervals) between any of the adjacent twenty largest centres (and of course, many smaller centres en route). Locals and tourists a like would know, could depend upon knowing "Yes, there is sure to be a bus from here,  to X or Y, there are always morning,  noon and late afternoon services  in any larger place in NZ". A framework of expectation is first step towards a sale.
I believe we as a nation need to lift the spread and frequency of all services, and to promote what already exists far far better, including TV advertised links to a key site offering  a one-stop shop, to every bus service, city and country sites.

I say and I say and I say [a major motivator of this blog!] .....we are under-estimating buses, the high quality of service they are now capable of delivering, the technology now available, particularly land use and lane segregation, upcoming wire less electrification of buses. and potential towards greater bucket seat and belted comfort as the norm.

We are throwing away the incredible flexible but significant capacity of bus and coach services to play a major role in cushioning oil rise impacts, reducing congestion, absorbing increased costs of living, and supporting the huge social costs of an aging population. Throw out all this sentimental crap about passenger rail - it is a huge drain on the countries resources,  Auckland and Wellington probably swallow 75% of every transit dollar. Light rail as promoted by the Christchurch Mayor is pure snake oil that doesn't sell for anything less than $40 million dollars a kilometre, anywhere I can find!

The relevance of rail to a country that rarely ever sees a thousand commuters pass through one spot in an hour is minimal.

Why is so much money being poured into a small portion of urban routes and areas? The GDP per capita is not significantly different from the hinterland and prosperity generated in regional key industries such as tourism, dairy, forestry, coal, and agriculture.  It is incomprehensible that billions of taxpayers money is being sought (long term) to take rail to Auckland airport but that the town and vital tourist industry of Wanaka  gets nothing, not a bloody razoo, to support a Wanaka-Queenstown - airport bus link.

A framework of expecting buses to be big players is first step towards vastly improved land based public transport service levels and quality across NZ, urban, regional and long distance.

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