Dunedin bus services: the community needs to be involved

Like most Dunedin residents I too am shocked to see that the DCC is in the final stages of selling Citibus. Is it really that urgent that we the ratepayers of Dunedin find out on Thursday that a sale is mooted, and are informed now that there is a conditional deal? That the council is still holding closed meetings because “it’s a non-public issue” is ridiculous. It is a public issue and the council needs to talk with the community about what is happening.

It has never made much sense to me that the Dunedin City Council controls the planning of the road network, including parking and zoning amongst other transport focused things but the Otago Regional council controls the bus services. This might make sense if like Wellington and pre super city Auckland the public transport network spanned several city councils, but Dunedin City? Staunch and luscious it certainly is, but actually not that big.

This decision is a critical social and environmental one that our community deserves to be part of. With rising petrol prices can we afford to see bus fares increase any more?

“In the case of the 2008 price spike, residents reported riding the bus, but then the fares increased substantially so people went back to private vehicles.” – DCC Peak Oil Vulnerability Analysis Report

This report also highlights that,

“Travel behaviour change in private transport could easily respond to a major fuel crisis without disrupting social or economic activities, as long as the bus system could continue to function.”

So having a back stop of a community owned bus service will be important if we see the price of fuel spike suddenly.

Some might remember when the DCC owned a power station. We all know how power bills increased following electricity market deregulation. Might we expect an increase in bus fares? Previously there have been basically two bus operators in Dunedin, and this sale would see them combined. While Ritches have won some contracts off Citibus this is still a very small market. One assumes that Invercargill Passenger Transport Ltd are buying Citibus because they think it will increase their profitability, despite Citibus posting losses.

So either:

  • By running a bigger operation they are going to lower overheads reducing total staff numbers, reducing working conditions, lower wages; and/or
  • By reducing competition they will be able to put in higher tenders and increase their margins.

We are being told that the sale will not result in a reduction in services or staff. This is what concerns us. We need to keep jobs in Dunedin, we need to lower transport costs for families in Dunedin.

So why is Invercargill Passenger Transport Ltd interested in buying Citibus, and why is our council selling off our assets without talking to us first?

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