Thursday, 22 October 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Town bus service for Whitianga proposed

Support appears to be growing for a government subsidised public bus service for Whitianga that would improve access to services and reduce isolation in particular for older residents and people with disabilities.

The Thames-Coromandel representative on Waikato Regional Council, Councillor Denis Tegg, has been canvassing interest from communities around the Coromandel in relation to connector shuttles similar to the one that already operates in Thames. The Thames Connector, which has been running since 2018, is coordinated by WRC and jointly funded through fares, the Thames Community Board and the New Zealand Transport Agency via the National Land Transport Programme.

A similar service for Whitianga already has the backing of Whitianga Social Services and on Wednesday last week, Mr Tegg outlined a proposal to members of the Mercury Bay Community Board. Using the Thames service as a model, Mr Tegg estimated the cost to Thames-Coromandel District Council would be approximately $44,000 a year, which he equated would be around $5per ratepayer in the Mercury Bay ward.

“The Thames connector runs Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 3:00pm and does five circuits a day from the north to the south of Thames,” Mr Tegg said on Wednesday. “SuperGold Card holders are free and otherwise the fares are $2 for adults and $1 for children. The feedback I get from the community there is that it has been a huge success. One example is a lady who lives on one side of the town, but her husband is in a rest home on the opposite side. She has recently had her driver’s licence taken away and if it was not for the bus, she would not be able to visit her husband. That’s the kind of benefit we are talking about.”

Mr Tegg noted that public transport was defined as a core service under the Local Government Act and pointed to obligations under the Land Transport Management Act to ensure that people were not “transport disadvantaged.” Given the high percentage of older people living on the Coromandel, which would continue to rise in the future, he said there were large numbers of people already experiencing isolation due mobility problems.

“We know many of our older people do not have driver’s licences or they have had to give up their licenses for medical reasons,” Mr Tegg said. “This has a huge impact on them, many of them are stuck at home and we all had a taste of what that feels like during the COVID-19 lockdown, so you can imagine if you were living like that all the time.”

While options for inter-town connections such as linking Whitianga and Thames are also possible, Mr Tegg said, based on the feedback he had to date, he did not believe there was a lot of appetite for that and local services were likely to be the way to go for people on the Coromandel.

The next step is for the Mercury Bay Community Board, with the support of staff, to determine if the local bus service is something they want to investigate further. More accurate costs could then be assessed based on proposed routes and other details. TCDC’s share of the funding would then need to be included in the Long Term Plan 2021-2031 which will be subject to a public consultation process beginning early next year.

Pictured: Councillor Denis Tegg, the Thames-Coromandel representative on Waikato Regional Council.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.