The debate between the Otago Peninsula community and the Otago Regional Council over the provision of bus services for school commuters has been a long and arduous one. Recently, local parent Jason Graham and I presented a petition of nearly 1000 signatures seeking three very simple things;
A timetable change
An additional bus to create a half hourly service like the rest of the city
A minor route change that caters for all users.
Over the course of the bus argument the way in which the community has presented well researched, reasoned and pragmatic solutions has been difficult for the Regional Council to answer. Combine that with a sympathetic media and the campaign has been very effective. However, what has also been effective is the way the community removed the emotion from the debate. That has allowed a far more compelling and coherent argument to be presented. Whether that will be successful is now up for debate. The community has been united over this issue and has shown considerable resolve. I can only hope that it’s not in vain.
The Otago Peninsula deserves better service from public transport provided by the Otago Regional Council. However, we are not the only community that are not having the appropriate service delivered in the community. Its not about asking for special treatment, but asking for what is fair and reasonable to get our kids to school, people to work and our elderly to essential services.
Its been an interesting last few weeks locally as the City Council deliberates over the Annual Plan. I managed to catch a couple of submissions from Peninsula residents on the Portobello Road widening schedule. Most speakers spoke well and passionately about the road issues, but one question that was raised regularly by Councillors was whether Peninsula residents would support a targeted rate.
It’s not the first time that the financial issues around the use and development of Portobello Road have caused consternation on the Peninsula. In 1888 the Portobello Road Board instituted a toll on the low road from Waverly ostensibly to raise revenue for maintenance and development. The toll was universally disliked by local people particularly dairy farmers who took their milk to town daily. The Peninsula community felt the toll had been undertaken without consultation and in 1891 a petition was presented by residents to Prime Minister Richard Seddon who recommend the toll be reduced by half. During the 1890’s the Portobello Road became popular with cyclists who lobbied the Road Board to reduce the toll from 5 shillings to sixpence. There were a number of prosecutions of residents for evading the toll or refusing pay. The favoured method was to claim that wagons were being used to convey children to school as this use of the road was exempt from the toll. As motor cars became more common they too were banned by bylaw on the Portobello Road until nearly 1910, though they did regularly use the road and arguments over the toll continued.
Today it seems that the schedule of which areas of Portobello and Harington Point Roads are to be upgraded is a tough decision, with Peninsula residents feeling that their individual community needs should come first. That’s probably a fair assumption given that as ratepayers they already contribute financially to the project. The Peninsula Road is one of the Council’s key priorities of the Strategic Cycle Network . At no time during the development of that strategy was the notion of a targeted rate ever raised as the project is being funded by rates and subsidy funding from the NZTA. Historically, attempts by local authorities to ask Peninsula residents to pay above their normal rates contribution for roading have been unpopular. I suspect that a targeted rate to accelerate this project today would meet with the same response.
With the Otago Regional Council looking at transferring the management of the bus service to the Dunedin City Council. . While no timeframe has been given for the proposed transfer of management its probably a good time for Otago Peninsula residents to consider their use of the current service and what their needs are. Public transport services are important for our area and especially for the many high school children who use them. Currently, the Peninsula service is heavily subsidised and that means that our level of patronage is low. People who rely on the bus should be keeping a “weather eye” on the future management of the service and whether changes to its current format are made in the future.