This is a post by Paul Callister and Heidi O’Callahan

Imagine a New Zealand where you can…

  • knock off work and escape the city for a long weekend, without having to drive on dangerous roads, bleary-eyed from a week at work…
  • grow old in your hometown, knowing that even if you become too disabled to drive, heading to the nearest large centre for a doctor’s visit isn’t a transport hassle…
  • take the overnight train to Wellington for business, so you can stick to your no-flying commitments without it eating into your working week…
  • travel to regional tournaments safely by public transport (while teammates are still gaining experience as drivers)…
  • visit grandchildren in other regions travelling on high quality buses equipped with onboard toilets and fast wifi, enjoying vegan and gluten free options at refreshment stops…
  • have seamless door to door travel between cities and small towns using a mix of trains, buses and electric vehicles, with the help of accessible technology…

This is the New Zealand we’ll enjoy if vague calls to “Take Action on the Climate” are heeded. With an ageing population, fewer young people gaining their licences and a growing awareness that road trauma is avoidable, it is also the New Zealand that an increasing number of people will be relying on.

We have laid out some environmental reasons for investing in A National Public Transport Network. Here we present some reasons of access.

Access is one of the two key strategic priorities in the Government Policy Statement on Transport.

Access in GPS 2018 has a new focus that prioritises…

  • regional development that supports thriving regions, for example through the Provincial Growth Fund

NZTA’s Statement of Performance Expectations says that one of the significant challenges for the sector is providing “inclusive access”.

Our position is that everyone should have fair and equitable access to the transport system… There needs to be improved management of transport demand and operations and transport investment must take a mode-neutral approach, enabling wider and longer-term social, cultural, economic and environmental outcomes in cities and regions.

Huge change will be required if NZTA are to successfully rise to the challenge of providing mode-neutral inclusive access in the regions. NZTA will need to question long-held assumptions around who their work in the regions is serving. They’ll need to try new ideas and technologies, and invest in some long-neglected basic infrastructure.

For Aucklanders, the idea might seem trivial – why live there if you don’t drive? But there are numerous reasons people live in small towns or rural areas yet don’t drive, or don’t often drive.

They may be unable to afford a car. They may be adults who were drivers, but can no longer drive due to:

  1. medical conditions or vision impairment, sometimes brought on by the ageing process
  2. side effects of medication
  3. fear, having had a crash, experienced a crash, or having lost a loved one
  4. loss of their licence
  5. loss of their car

The level of ageing and disability in the country is possibly underappreciated in Auckland.

At the 2013 census, Auckland was the region with the lowest proportion of the population 65 and older. Northland had a significantly higher proportion in this age group. Ageing of the population is projected to continue in all regions with the national percentage of the population aged 65 and over going from around 15% in 2018 to 21% by 2033. By this time, the low income Kaipara district is projected to have one third of its population in this older age group.

Chart credit: Paul Callister, from Statistics New Zealand data

The Auckland disability rate (19%) is also significantly lower than the national average (24%). Bay of Plenty and Manawatū-Whanganui (both at 27%), Northland (29%), and Taranaki (30%) all experienced disability rates that were significantly higher than average. Not all disabilities mean one cannot drive, but of those that do, many are invisible to the casual observer. See the Statistics New Zealand’s 2013 Disability Survey.

Adding to the mix of ageing and disability, Northland, the Ruapehu area, the East Coast of the North Island and the Taumarunui area stand out as the most deprived areas of New Zealand. Mode-neutral inclusive access throughout the country, and especially in these deprived areas, would further NZTA’s work to achieve the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.


A recent Canterbury study into elderly people, falling and the benefits of regular walking recommended:

People reported driving to pleasant places for a walk… Recreational walking can become more difficult once people are no longer able to drive. So, it is important that urban environments are more safe, pleasant and comfortable for walking.

Yet in small towns, which often only have very short lengths of footpath and few parks with well-formed paths, we’ll need different solutions, including public transport to larger, walkable towns.

We highlighted in our post on the history of the sector, that in areas with poor public transport provision, some gaps have been filled with services such as:

  • Subsidised taxi fares for elderly or people with reduced mobility;
  • Health shuttles to help people needing to access health services, often provided by volunteers.

There are multiple problems with providing stop-gaps instead of a more comprehensive service.

First, the burden on volunteers (whether friends or part of a service) will gradually become more onerous, with the ratio of older disabled people to volunteer drivers increasing steadily.

Secondly, if public transport isn’t available for elderly or disabled people, it’s also unavailable to other people who need it.

Children, for example, have no choice about where to live, and in rural areas and small towns, have little transport independence. Children may need access through public transport because they simply want to keep contact with both their parents who now live in different towns. The lack of it may mean they are growing up with limited parental or wider whanau contact. Others may need to travel to and from boarding school, or to further an area of interest.

In the towns Ohai and Nightcaps, this research found:

Single women and the elderly are particularly disadvantaged in their access to private vehicles. Some older local people, especially women, do not have driver licences and are unable to drive even though they may own a serviceable vehicle.

NZTA has the opportunity now to address the issues of the 2011 ITF report, Transport and Gender, which said of developed countries:

in suburban and peripheral areas around towns women are often forced to travel on foot due to having no access to private cars, or poor public transport service…

Decisions regarding transport policy are generally taken by “mature” men, precisely the age group that mainly travels by car.

Youth may feel they’re better to stay out of the big city, and want to be able to take up employment or training opportunities that come up in nearby towns, but don’t feel confident driving on rural roads. People providing access for youth in the regions have focused on helping them achieve their driving licences.

“The number of people who drive up the Coast without a licence, or drive on their learner licence, is unbelievable. That’s largely because of financial reasons — the cost of the test, petrol to get to Gisborne to sit the test, and getting their vehicle legal.”

“Getting a driver’s licence improves our young people’s access to education and employment, removes the isolation barriers in a rural community with limited public transport and improves safety on the roads for all of us,” says Central Taranaki Blue Light Ventures Coordinator Saskia Mills.

These programmes should be supported. But youth have limited funds, and drive older cars on rural roads posted with unsafe speed limits. This isn’t ‘access’. It’s a lack of transport options, and it leads to a tragic waste of young life.

And then there’s tourism. International tourism in its current form is an unsustainable industry. Yet tourists travelling around the country could be accommodated with minimal safety and emissions burdens. Both international and domestic tourism could be well-served by an improved public transport network. If small towns become easy to reach, there is better potential for community-supporting, local economies to develop.

Other modes

Long term, we may see some rail lines revived, connecting main rural centres, but the majority of smaller towns are unlikely to ever be connected by rail. We may see safe paths allowing active transport and electric micromobility throughout the countryside, serving shorter journeys and the first and last legs of longer journeys. Either mode will require significant investment, and long timeframes.

Media discussions currently focus on regional air links, driven largely by Regional Development Minister Shane Jones. He has criticised Air New Zealand for dropping regional services and attempted to garner support from the Provincial Growth Fund to boost two small regional airlines. More recently Jones suggested that the government should offer support to struggling regional airports such as Whanganui, an airport that is within an hour’s drive of Palmerston North airport.

Here’s a picture of the bus stop in Whanganui:

In the North Island, Wikipedia shows 20 airports with scheduled air services.

Masterton has closed. Hamilton and Palmerston North no longer offer international services. Paraparaumu, North Shore and Great Barrier don’t serve any other towns on the North Island mainland. Whitianga only has one service per week to each of Auckland and Great Barrier, and only in summer. Many small towns are not near airports. Where airfields exist, the runways are often too short to accommodate modern domestic aircraft, and are not sealed. Sometimes difficult terrain means extending the runway would be prohibitively costly. Essentially, most small towns are unlikely to ever have air links. As the NZ Airports position paper noted:

small airports are inherently unable to operate commercially without subsidisation.

Services linking smaller centres generally only link them with Auckland or Wellington, too.

There are two flights per weekday from Taupō to Auckland but none will take you from Taupō to Hamilton. Intercity, in contrast, has five daily services from Taupō to both Hamilton and Auckland.

There are three flights per day from Whanganui to Auckland, but there are no flights to Wellington. InterCity provides three daily services from Whanganui to Auckland, and four from Whanganui to Wellington.

The government needs to explain how providing more aviation subsidy helps in our response to climate change. Taxpayers deserve evidence-based and mode-neutral analysis before deciding how to subsidise regional access. (See this article for the UK situation).

In contrast to the 15 airports that link North Island towns, InterCity has 277 designated stops in the North Island, and other towns are connected by smaller operators. InterCity bus stops beginning with the letter ‘A’ in the North Island:

While it is far from being a perfect system, buses already link most small towns across New Zealand to each other, including in some of the most deprived areas, and connect them with large cities. In most small towns they are now the only form of public transport.

With good planning and not huge amounts of money, the public transport infrastructure and services could be significantly improved, bringing stronger regional access in the short term. This investment will serve our long term needs too, even after other modes are improved. Benefits include regional development, increased social and economic opportunities, and improved wellbeing and equity. Will NZTA, and Regional Development Minister Shane Jones, recognise the opportunity?

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86 comments

  1. Offering vegan options is only promoting violence towards farmers, we need to be very careful when talking about vegans because we will soon see the ‘vegan terrorism’ that is currently seen overseas affect farmers over here too.

    1. One of the very best troll comments I have ever seen is by the master KenM who went onto a sausage company website and suggested people scoop out the meat and fill the skin flopper with healthy veggeble (sic). That man is my hero.

    2. Take a visit to an abattoir and check out the violence there. Definition of an abattoir: – a place where animals are butchered : slaughterhouse.

    3. What has this got to do with providing better transport choice?
      Can’t grandparents “visit grandchildren in other regions travelling on high quality buses. . . . , enjoying *a range of food-options* at refreshment stops…”?

    4. So true,it’s started already,what are we going to do ?All eat plants,no thanks.And as far a us rural dwellers,transport is a joke now,no such thing

  2. The Regional plan is a good start to this, and getting the ‘Golden Triangle’ hooked up.

    Similarly, down south (NI) – expanding trains from Wellington to Palmy, and possibly beyond will help in terms of getting rail back into the regional frame of mind. But for many journeys, rail will never viably return.

    I’d love services from Wellington to Hawkes Bay again for instance, but they would need to be pretty quick. Some stretches are incredibly straight, and newer DMUs would be awesome. Even with a few stops at Pahiatua, Woodville, Dannevirke, Waipukurau and Waipawa… for argument’s sake. Those are the main towns along the way, and it would service a broad rural catchment. Wellington to Woodville routing – I’m not sure what the quickest and most useful route would be on a fast service (say 1-2 stops before either Palmy/Masterton) with good DMUs.

    And on the South Island, linking Canterbury to Invercargill is a must. Again I think a new national fleet of regional DMUs would completely change the business case for rail in many cases.

    1. Enlarging the reach and quality of the regional and national bus network back to an modern day equivalent of the old NZR road services plus Newmans Coachlines would require only modest investment and operational subsidy.
      If we think Aucklamd is car dependant we should look out to the provinces.
      Sure driving there might be easier, less congestion and easier parking but on the other side, so much more can only be accomplished by getting into a car. Without access to a car, life out there, must be frighteningly dependant on others and isolated.
      Gareth Morgan’s advocacy for a level of property tax to force retirees out of city homes, where they have access to public transport options, to exile, out in the provinces would be dire for these people once they had lost their ability to drive.
      Not for me, I much prefer big inner city life within easy walk of just about anything, and a gold card to roam further. A car and ongoing ability to drive it is just an optional extra.

      1. A property (or better still land) tax isn’t directly to force people out of Auckland. The problem is that Auckland has a lot of 3-bedroom houses with 1 or 2 people in it. A land tax makes the tax-system fairer and pushes a more efficient use of scare property.

        There should be plenty of options for a person to move out of a place like that to a smaller property nearby. Some people with good health may choose instead to buy a better house in outside of Auckland.

        1. I certainly don’t want a house with less then the two bedrooms we have now for when my children and grand children visit.
          Certainly we could buy a newer building (house) outside Auckland if we sold up and moved. One that’s durability is at best suspect. We could not though hope to have anywhere near the quality and quantity of amenities within easy walking distance, and beyond that frequent public transport that we have here. This would mean we would be severly worse off in the future once the almost inevitable old age health issues remove our ability to drive. Sorry us moving to a new house, with secure garaging in a nice new subdivision on the outskirts of a provincial town would not solve anything, our carbon footprint would rise. Retirement village life actually becomes quite insecure if health issues mean you no longer meet “management” requirements for independent living.

        2. We have a two bedroom terrace house on a small <200m2 block of land. But due to it's central location the land is now very valuable, so as pension dependants we would be vulnerable if a land tax was adopted as a means of moving us out, given that in NZ generally there is actually very poor provision of transport alternatives to the private car. If we moved out it would not meaningfully increase land use efficiency.
          When we bought we could not have foretold the massive increase in local property prices which when, we had not even paid the Auckland City average. Fashions change. Our purchase decision was though very largely based on local walking distance amenity and public transport options.
          There is however an equity case for comprehensive changes to the tax system to include an exemption free Capital Gains Tax and perhaps asset taxes, including property, to broaden the tax base. However political realities means that however desirable, such radical changes are unlikely in the forseeable future.
          Certainly we want the resources to live comfortably here for our remaining time, and we intend that to be quite a few more years yet. Providing an inheritance? nah for us a very low priority, just mean we had run out of time before money.

        3. People moving house in their retirement makes sense from a less connected to a more connected environment, but one of the points of the post is that what happens instead is often simply a lack of access. Ideally, people will not feel forced to move at all, and will have choices.

          I’d use the word vulnerable when people recognise their options are reducing but have no financial means to improve their situation.

          https://i.stuff.co.nz/national/114170719/a-kuia-lives-in-a-garage-and-uses-a-long-drop-while-above-her-people-enjoy-modern-luxury

        4. We simply *must* break out of the car-dependency trap that the last couple of generations have allowed New Zealand to fall into. It is costing us dear, causing us massive human, social, and environmental problems, and delivering a truckload of inequitability.

    2. I’m not sure what a DMU is but the most efficient passenger carrying vehicles the “Time to Eat the Dog?” Book found was batter electric railcars in Germany mid last century. They were called Limburg cigars. Perhaps these would be the thing for the regions with zero emissions 400km range back then from memory 70years ago with lead acid batteries presumably. So with LiFe batteries and modern tech. backpacking on freight railway expansion. And of course it’s zero carbon electric travel.

  3. This is the most ridiculous post this blog has ever posted, I would hate to live in a New Zealand where I would be expected to use public transport as envisaged by the bloggers.

    Why would I want to base my travels around bus or train timetables? This summer my family drove 3300 km, we could not have gone to the places we went to and did what we did if we had to travel by bus or train. We stopped when and where we wanted to, we changed plans part way through, can’t do that on public transport.

    If this is the future I don’t want to be part of it, I want freedom of movement, I want to go where I want to go when I want to go without having to rely on anything other than myself.

    1. ‘This is the most ridiculous post this blog has ever posted’ – How can you make that claim when it is obvious you haven’t even read the post?

      Nowhere does this post say anything about people not being allowed to drive if they want to, this is about providing choice and freedom for people who don’t want to drive.

      My parents are in their late 60’s, they probably have 10 – 20 years of being able to drive ahead of them but struggle with driving the longer distances they used to. They would definitely benefit from improved bus services even though they are still relatively active.

      1. Heidi’s anti private transport, it oozes out of every post she makes.

        Our roads aren’t as dangerous as they used to be, cars are also safer, apart from last years blip the road toll has been reducing for decades, despite there being significantly more cars on our roads. That said toughening up on driver training and making it a lot more difficult to get a license along with zero tolerance would also make an improvement.

        My grandmother drove until her mid 80’s, my nana drove until her early 90’s. My grandad had to sip driving due to vision issues in his 70ms, but his wife and children took him everywhere he needed to go. My dads 74, he still drives.

        1. Heidi is very focused on private transport, she rides a bike everywhere. She’s so into private transport she doesn’t even share a vehicle with her children, she makes them follow on their own personal vehicles.

        2. We haven’t suggested anyone would restrict anyone’s freedom to drive. We are keen to see circular regional economies provide better social outcomes, and this will involve better multimodal transport systems, including safer roads. We have said we support the driver training programmes.

          Your emotional response was to an imagined threat. When Jezza pointed this out, the threat was apparently ‘oozing out’ of my posts. We don’t need misinformed comment like this. Keep to the facts.

        3. Hiedi may well have an aversion to private transport but that is irrelevant, this post has two authors and provides a reasoned argument for regional public transport without one mention of pushing people out of cars.

          The road toll rose every year between 2013 and 2018, you have a very interesting definition of a one year blip!

          You mention making it harder to get a licence, this by definition will mean more people wont be able to drive, which is exactly the target market of this post.

          Your comments just confirm what most of us have already figured out, you are only interested in what works for you (and maybe your family at a push) and couldn’t care less about what works for anyone else.

        4. Masterchief think through what you are advocating and be careful what you wish for.
          Tougher driver licencing will deny driving to more for longer increasing the need (and call) for viable alternatives.
          Then imagine yourself sitting your driving practical re-licencing test with Heidi as the inspector. I’d love to be in the backseat watching that one play out.

        5. Its amazing how hysterical people get at the mere suggestion of offering choice other than the private car. Especially when that additional choice won’t stop anyone using their private car. Bizarre how such an approach makes you “anti private transport”.

          Talk about throwing your toys out of the sandpit.

        6. What’s wrong with tougher licensing requirements, it’s pretty easy to get an NZ license. Our drivers aren’t trained properly and parents should not be allowed to be the primary instructor of there children.

        7. Jezza historically the road toll is low, throughout the 80’s and 90’s the road toll was anywhere between 400 and 800 deaths annually. Deaths per 100,000 is a lot lower, somis road deaths per 10,000 vehicles, despite our population being higher and the number of cars on the road increasing.

          So when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s riding my bike to school the roads were far more dangerous than they are today.

          There’s always room for improvement but it’s not worth getting hysterical about.

          https://www.transport.govt.nz/mot-resources/road-safety-resources/road-deaths/annual-number-of-road-deaths-historical-information/

        8. There always seem to be those who interpret calls for more and better public transport as meaning “we want to ban you from driving”!

          What causes this level of insecurity and paranoia in such folk?
          – Are they worried that their cherished way-of-life is under threat (which of course it is, though not for this reason)?
          – Do they resent the concept that others may have different ideas and preferences in life?
          – Or is it simply that they have grown so used to feeling entitled to the lion’s share of the transport-funding ‘cake’, that the idea of ceasing to spend all of it on moar roads for their own personal use causes them major disquiet?

          They are a good case-study in the oddities of the human condition.

        9. MC – I agree that the road toll is lower than it was 30 to 40 years ago, my comment was about your claim that it has gone up for just one year, which is clearly not correct.

          However, I don’t agree that roads are safer for kids cycling to school than they were 30 years ago, I say they are worse. The reason for the lower road toll is the improvements in the abilities of vehicles to protect their occupants, and improvements in emergency services in rural areas, namely rescue helicopters. None of these have done anything for kids cycling to school.

        10. Yes, Masterchief needs to provide evidence to support his claim that there was only one year’s blip.

          He also needs to provide evidence to support his claim “in the 70’s and 80’s riding my bike to school the roads were far more dangerous than they are today.”

          Danger to people riding bikes then was lower because the traffic volume was lower. The vastly reduced rates of children riding bikes today is responsible for cycling DSI not being higher than it is. And overall health is much lower too.

          Failure to provide this evidence is in breach of the user guidelines. This is a formal warning, Masterchief.

    2. Nobody cares what you do or expects you to do anything. This post is about a greater range of options, you can do with them whatever you like.

      You position is, frankly, idiotic. Being able to drive independent is ‘freedom of movement’, agreed.

      Yet somehow being able to drive independently and having a good choice of viable public transport options as well is not freedom of movement? Under what logic is having a greater range of options less freedom?

      1. The entire post is full of what ifs and maybes. It’s well below this blogs usual standard.

        The idea about keeping people living in the regions is a good one, but transport isn’t going to make any difference if there are no jobs. But urban drift has already happened in NZ, that horse has already bolted.

        1. “transport isn’t going to make any difference if there are no jobs.”

          Please provide evidence, so we can have a proper discussion, or keep your opinions to yourself. Stating them as if they are fact is in breach of the user guidelines.

          During colonial times, communities campaigned for new railways or roads, and the choice of where they were put in was very much a political one, because the economic consequences were large.

          Today, NZTA research shows: “In rural New Zealand, lack of access to transport is not intrinsically problematic: it is only an issue where people cannot get to the goods, services and activities they need to sustain themselves and their communities. Unfortunately, in many rural communities there is an observable spiral of depopulation and associated loss of such services, activities and opportunities. This has been occurring in all types of rural areas except those ‘with a high level of urban influence’… Decreasing access to transport, whatever its causes, is most likely amplifying existing poverty and adding to the challenges of sustaining rural communities.”

        2. Heidi New Zealand’s depopulation of the regions ie urban drift started after WW2, people relocated for work, money and pleasure. It accelerated though the decades as dairy factories and freezing works closed down, we used to have hundreds of dairy factories and freezing works, the final nail was when the govt in 84 eliminated about 30 different agricultural production subsidies and export incentives. Farmers faced without a guaranteed income sold up and moved, this caused a trickle down effect with the towns servicing the farming sector, people living in these towns moved as well.

          No amount of public transport to the regions is going to reverse that.

    3. Where does the post say that you wouldn’t still be able to drive if you wanted to?

      The focus of the article is on providing alternative transport options for those who can’t drive (or don’t feel confident driving) due to age, finances, disability etc so that they too can enjoy regional access.

      And yes, some of these new transport options may persuade some current drivers to switch but it wouldn’t mean that everyone would be forced off the road. You’d still be able to have your road trips if that’s what suited you.

    4. MasterChief – Planet warming and its resulting erratic and disruptive weather patterns doesn’t care a damn about you wanting the freedom of movement, wanting to go where you want to go when you want to go without having to rely on anything other than yourself. The message to all humans adapt or face the consequences that your children and grand children will face.

      Just think of the CO2 that your 3300kms summer road trip put into the atmosphere unless you used an EV.

      1. IMO NZ can’t do anything about the planet warming, that horse has bolted, I believe we would be much better off preparing for the inevitable.

        1. Preparing for the inevitable includes preparing society to care for its people, socially and economically. That means no longer wasting money on widening roads, by instead using more space efficient transport systems. It means having policy that reduces the combined public and private spend on transport by investing in the most cost-effective transport modes, thus minimising tax burden and private car burdens on households. It means minimising our reliance on international markets. And it means making policy that brings people out of a state of vulnerability so they can best contribute to society.

          All that is assisted through the re-establishment of a national public transport network. It would also have the result that anyone with the means to travel 3300 km in a summer for pleasure, but also with the understanding of the damage this would do by private car, has the opportunity to do so in a more responsible way than you chose to do.

    5. Totally agree,they need to stop telling us what to do all the time especially when I am one of the many paying for the right to use the road

    6. Transport policy is not so much about models and economics, but the world you want to live in. What is paradise for one person is hell for another.

      However, in some worlds there is far more inequality than in others. And decent public transport does provide more equality. For many reasons that’s the world I’d rather live in.
      Well, regional New Zealand is not hell – there’s far too much there, but it could be made a whole lot better for a whole of people by providing such public transport. For some people the very sight of people waiting at a bus stop or needing to slow down for a bus in their restless pursuit of happiness does prick their bubble.

  4. I wonder if Heidi and friend have ever been on a sleeper train? I used the Caledonian sleeper from Edinburgh to London last year, I had my own compartment, there was nothing relaxing about it, the experience was not one I would want to repeat.

    As for freshening up in the morning I had a sink, no toilet or shower, the toilet was down the corridor, there wasn’t a shower and it had to be shared with a lot of other people. Maybe the new luxury trim being outfitted at Hillside Engineering will have en-suites in each cabin but I doubt any Auckland to Wellington sleeper will.

    1. I don’t think Heidi mentioned sleeper trains at all, did you actually read the post before commenting?

      Anyway, I wouldn’t use a British railway as the gold standard for anything.

      I have literally travelled around the globe by surface transport, including 30 odd nights in a sleeper train. Indeed the quality can vary greatly, but you can’t beat a private cabin with ensuite. Even a night in a simple cabin with shared facilities is preferable to a night in business class on a plane, in my opinion. At least you can stretch out properly, take a shower if you want to, or go to the restaurant car to eat a proper sit down meal with your travelling companions.

      However, I’m not sure if it would be much good on Auckland to Wellington, it’s hard to beat a 55 minute flight, and if you did want to take the train you’re either in it for the scenery or you are stopping at some intermediate town on the way. Neither much good in the middle of the night.

      It might make sense as an option using convertible carriages, effectively bringing the day train back at night. At least that would be efficient on fleet and infrastructure, so shouldn’t cost too much.

      1. Agreed. I travelled from Bucharest to Osnabruck by sleeper trains and it was the greatest trip I have ever done. I loved it.

        Maybe Master Chief just loves his creature comforts too much. I am more of a roughing it person.

    2. I love sleeper trains, have used them a number of times. The best one was four days and nights. Perhaps you should try not having a cabin. I could see the people with cabins had less opportunity for social contact – they sat alone, and could only see out one side of the train. We met lots of people and soon knew who was willing to learn a new card game, who was the best 500 partner, whose conversation was the most interesting…

    3. I am old enough to have been taken as a child on the overnight train to Auckland in a sleeper. When the Silver Star train was still running i used a sleeper to get to and from Auckland a few times for business trip. I have also been on sleeper trains in Australia. They were all good experiences.

      1. Fantastic journeys across Russia and the USA by trains on which one sleeps for multiple nights, with various accommodation-options to suit the constitution and the wallet. Somehow the diddly-dum diddly-dee of the wheels seems to lull you into blissful sleep. Unless that is, you have over-stimulated yourself beforehand, drunk too much caffeine or alcohol, or made up your mind in-advance that since it is a public-transport service the experience will be no good no matter what.

        MasterChief – how did you manage to get from New Zealand to Norway without at least one rather uncomfortable night in a plane that I assume you would not want to repeat?

  5. Master chief, I am glad you can so confidently predict that your ability to drive will remain for the rest of your natural life. If so, you are unusual.
    For the rest of us it is prudent to consider options for our time on earth beyond our ability to drive.

  6. So what you are after, transport wise at least is the central government model that replicates subsidised PT in the cities but links them for social and transit purposes. Exactly as per AT for example.

    Its got merit except for one major hurdle. The central government is welded to the 1980’s era of “fiscal responsibility”, profits and immediate dollars and cents spending. It cannot get its head out of its arse and see that subsidising PT on a nationwide basis should, in theory, assist our climate change asperations and help socially by offering timely regular pleasant options to private travel because of the fear of it running at a loss. Hell, it might even fit into Shane Jones regional spending to encourage growth outside the main centres.

    Its definitely politically sellable but it depends if they are real about climate change or not.

    1. From what I can see so far most of the money from the Regional Slush Fund has gone into business cases prepared by consultants in Auckland and Wellington.

    2. How about a national version of PTOM to ensure that connections between the provinces (and especially smaller communities off the beaten track) can be maintained and subsidy provided if needed?

    3. The challenge with introducing a new central model is that it will likely just add another layer ontop of what already exists with all the inconsistencies and gaps that will entail. The complete lack of any coordinated regional transport implies we need to have a proper rethink.

      We need a new central body to set minimum standards for passenger transit (frequency, coverage, wages, vehicle quality etc.). The new body would operate some services directly, subsidise or subcontract others and the rest would be devolved back to the councils. Funding for the operating costs of devolved services would come from central government and councils would be free to provide more services via rates.

  7. Whilst InterCity national bus services are privately operated and received no government or regional council funding, their business model allows them to service 500 odd rural, semi rural communities, town, provincial cities and main centres within NZ with frequent daily bus services and connecting inter-island ferry services. At least InterCity as a private operation is doing a better job that what NZTA in their public transport dithering mode and regional councils in their penny pinching modes are currently doing .

    What is missing is a national regional rail network and supporting within region bus services and integrated ‘tap n travel’ payment/ticketing similar to Myki in Victoria that compliments InterCity services.

    NZ needs to looking at building a more integrated National Public Transport Network, as planet warming is going to make owning a car a privilege not a right.

    1. InterCity bus connections are OK, but only just OK, for the main routes. When you want to get off the beaten track the options are seriously limited. For example you could not realistically expect to travel around the Coromandel on the basis of the current service: literally a single bus service per day, in one direction only, on Thames-Coromandel-Whitianga. For a significant tourism gem this is appalling. I’d suggest that at a very minimum, PT routes in rural areas should be 3x daily (morning, noon and night) to enable a return trip between nearby towns to be made in a half day. That’s not going to happen without government support (and possibly using smaller 15-seat buses). But if government is serious about support for rural communities, support for their transport needs is paramount.

  8. Itd be better if the long diatance trains and buses worked as a network rather than just competing with each other. Trains may not be be viable to rural NZ but two hours by rail and two hours by bus sounds a lot better than four hours on a bus imo.

    1. Yes. When we get a stronger rail network it will make a big difference. Coordinating them is a good task for central government.

      1. Could probably learn a bit from Victoria and NSW in this regard, coaches connecting to trains rather than coaches all the way.

        1. A couple of years ago i caught a train from Sydney to Dubbo. There were buses waiting at all significant stops to take people out to smaller rural towns. I caught a bus to Broken Hill. It was a modern bus with onboard toilet.

  9. Good post. A family member is now getting affected in the category of: Aging populations retired in small seaside towns with not much access to decent medical & other facilities while the use of a private vehicle is becoming pretty much a local only thing now.

  10. Remember, InterCity services are not funded by district and/or regional councils, as InterCity is a privately owned commercial operation and operates on inter-regional basis. Under POTM rules that district/regional councils pay subsidies but commercial services are exempt unless they are under a region’s public transport plan. This is the issue that Waikato Regional Council has under their 10 year public transport plan has with InterCity, as the regional council would have to contract bus services that would compete with existing InterCity services within the Waikato Region.

    To operate under any a region’s transport plan, InterCity will have to change their business model including their reservation yield management and distribution system, which will be costly for InterCity, as all InterCity services are on ‘bookable’ basis only, so drivers know where to pick and drop off passengers on route, which is different to urban and infra-regional services which is ‘unbookable’ and ‘pay as you board’ system.

    Since the Coromandel Peninsula is part of the Waikato region, the Regional Council 10 year public transport plan is to increase local bus frequencies for the Peninsula to connect with proposed increased Waikato regional bus and train services.

  11. I’m not sure actually, that might be the worst of both worlds. Sure better than sitting in a chair for ten hours overnight, but those aren’t quite beds and they have no privacy. I do prefer the classic two and four bunk cabin arrangement. China is doing some really interesting things with modern higher speed sleepers, classic style carriages on faster new trains. For example Shanghai to Xian, 1,400km in about 11 hours.

    1. i rode 1241km/ 10hr sleeper beijing-harbin. -20 temperatures outside and it was like a 4 star hotel. i wonder how hegemonic nz would take to shared cabins.

  12. Overnight train to Wellington from Auckland?
    When we enter th 20th century a train-service between the two cities should, with stops in Hamilton, Taupo and Palmerston take around 2.50. Thats when we have alternatives.
    There has to bee an understanding for what the speeds is that the rest of the world has started to grow accustomed too and actually demand the same stuff for NZ. I want fast trains. I dont care f the Chinese builds it (let them – as long as can export processed dairy products back) as long as we take the step from 19th century railways to modern ones.

    1. Even with our narrow gauge, we should be a to average over 100kmh including stops. That would be about 6 hours. That starts to be competitive with flying on a time+hassle basis unless you are starting or ending very close to the airport!

  13. Ironically some of the places with the highest deprivation are also places where tourism is significant_- The Far North, Eastern Bop-East Coast, Southern King Country (skifields). A local subsidised bus service (fare subsidies under the Health vote, vehicle and driver subsidies under Provincial Growth ) is also a service for tourists coming in to for example, the Hokianga, East Cape and so on. The subsidy might enable a company to keep on winter services knowing the profit will come from summer tourists.
    The Golden Bay shuttle which I have used, is a local service connecting to Nelson and a tourist service for Abel Tasman, Heaphy Track and so on.

  14. A small point, but in my opinion it would be beneficial for inter-city services to describe themselves as ‘coach’ rather than ‘bus’ services. To a lot of people ‘bus’ likely conjures an image of a relatively cramped and uncomfortable journey with little to no space for luggage – it would be worthwhile to emphasise and promote the added space and comfort of a ‘coach’ for long-distance travel.

    I certainly see an improved bus/coach network as being low-hanging fruit as far as improving regional transport options – something that could be greatly improved without too much difficulty.

  15. I’m a big fan of getting more passenger trains on the network, but I remain dismayed at the near complete lack of interest from advocates for first changing the framework by which those trains are expected to operate within.

    The proposed Hamilton train serves as an example of why the current framework is a disaster for expanding passenger train service. At $9m per year per train, it will be the most expensive regional passenger rail service anywhere on Earth. This is because the framework is overly bureaucratic and tightly wrapped in a thick layer of red tape. KiwiRail will operate the train with Transdev staff, overseen by Auckland Transport and funded by NZTA, fares, and multiple councils. KiwiRail and Transdev will both be required to make a profit.

    There’s a lot of unecessary costs added into the system, but for it’s part, KiwiRail’s passenger service policy is the biggest hurdle, as it is rather ingeniously designed to double-dip into the public purse to maximize profit.

    KiwiRail intentionally prevents its passenger business from owning their own locomotives and employing their own drivers, so that it must hire both locomotives and crew from the freight business. The freight business does not do this cheaply, or at-cost in recognition of both departments being part of KiwiRail. Instead, it treats it as though they are hiring out to an outside business. Using the Capital Connection as an example, KiwiRail freight charges KiwiRail passenger $3,000 per day to hire the locomotive and driver. This is why the Capital Connection went from being profitable under its previous owner (Tranz Scenic 2001 Ltd) to being loss making under its current owner. It’s also why the Hamilton trains are going to be so very expensive to run (and in my opinion will fail upon change of government).

    So, KiwiRail passenger’s profit needs to be high enough to provide themselves with a return, AND the freight divsion with a return. The end result is that they need to set fares at a high level, and since the only travellers willing to pay those high fares are tourists, not domestic travellers who have much cheaper buses and planes to choose from, KiwiRail only targets affluent tourists.

    It’s not an all too unreasonable thing for KiwiRail to do, because the truth is those locomotives and crews earn more revenu from hauling freight trains than they do passenger. To allocate resources to trains that generate less income makes the overall business less viable.

    What needs to change before we see new domestic passenger trains established is an open access network with other railway companies on it. Specifically, we need a dedicated passenger rail business. A company that runs freight trains will never be in a position to run domestic passenger trains due to the loss of income from reallocating resources away from freight. They will always face an opportunity cost.

    I would like to see GA, and other groups, start campaigning for the rail network to be opened up to other users. It’s publicly owned and it’s usage should not be determined by a monopoly, and an inefficient state-run monopoly at that.

    1. It shouldn’t require opening the network to other users to achieve this. Tranz Rail, prior to its dismemberment by Messres Fay and Richwhite, had a thriving passenger division within it. When Toll Holdings took over they openly declared that they had no interest in running a passenger business and the enthusiastic team was disbanded.
      Currently the vision is only for a premium tourist experience, but if KiwiRail was tasked with running a proper passenger-service and resourced not only with the requisite funding but also with people having this kind of vision then I am sure it could be made to work. But the initiative needs to come from the government as owners of KiwiRail, and so far, despite some early exciting talk of revitalized regional rail services, little has actually happened on the ground. And what little has happened would be very easy for a less-enthusiastic government to put the kibosh on. It all feels a bit uncertain at the moment, but not because the need for passenger services is not there.

      1. Dave, the reason Toll had no interest in passenger trains is because they saw the locos and drivers would generate more revenue if used on freights instead. When they cancelled the Northerner, they started a new freight train each way at the same time. The locos and drivers were still plying the trunk, just hauling freight instead of people.

        It’s no different for KiwiRail today. In order to run passenger trains, they either have to intentionally give up revenue, or make sure those passenger trains are generating enough cash to make it worth their time, which means tourists.

        Domestic passenger trains won’t be financially viable for a business that runs freight trains. Yes, it used to happen, but then revenue was lower then for precisely that kind of reason. We can’t really go back to that way of doing business because it won’t be entertained by every government.

        A dedicated passenger business would have its own locos and drivers, and therefore lower cost structure. It can be put in place by a left-wing government, and may just survive a right-wing government if the cost recovery is good enough, even if not 100%. But under the current model, it would have no chance of surviving. The Hamilton trains will demonstrate this quite nicely when they fail, and the right-wing government in power at the time puts an end to the unacceptably high subsidy.

        1. I agree with your assessment of why Kiwirail currently have little interest in running passenger trains. However, I think there are a number of possible models that could be used to bring them back. All of these will inevitably involve government money so will be at risk of change from a future government.

          I’m not as pessimistic about a future National government changing these though, as National governments a generally not change governments. Their impact is more likely to be through slowing down further improvements to regional rail at a time when numbers are growing.

        2. I have fears the planned Hamilton to Auckland train services will struggle under the proposed timetable and operational structure by terminating the service at Papakura.

          Currently InterCity Group (now called Entrada Travel Group) already has a 6.30am 1 stop express Skip service (Hamilton/Manuaku/Auckland – Skycity) and all they have to do is add a 7.45am non stop service (Hamilton/Auckland – Skycity) using an InterCity double decker coach and re-introduce the Hamilton Connection Pass it will screw the the Hamilton/Auckland-Papakura train service.

      2. Dave B – a lot of the dismemberment had already occurred on Michael Beard’s watch before Toll arrived (I was working at the time for the Passenger Team). The services were IIRC covering their costs, but the rolling stock was getting very long in the tooth, and it was thought that there was no way that any new investment would cover its costs. Remember too that in the previous few years, Air New Zealand had discovered a ‘low-cost’ aviation model which grew its business 20 percent overnight – and a lot of that was at the expense of the long-distance rail market.

        So, yes, we could invest in intercity rail, but the maximum speeds possible on the New Zealand rail network – especially compared with driving – still makes me ask where the market for intercity rail would come from.

    2. Geoff – I agree with you the national rail network should be opened up.

      I do believe that the government should separate the rail infrastructure (the track, bridges, tunnels, signalling, etc) and train control into a separate entity that operates as a non-profit, cost recovery operation. The income for this separate entity comes from track access charges, fuel tax and RUC’s.

      Kiwirail freight, inter-island ferry and current scenic long distance passenger train services operates as a profit making entity that is either fully own by the government or a government (51%) and private (49%) shareholding operating on a business model similar to Air NZ.

      By doing this, allows for the re-introduction of a national regional rail network that operates on a public service cost recovering basis as a PPP (public private partnership) with the government provide the initial finance to set up the network and the private partner would a be a train manufacture like CAF, Alstrom, Siemens, Bombardier, etc who would provide, maintain the rolling stock and train the necessary train crew on a long term contract.

      FRONZ (Federation of Rail Organistation of NZ) have said to me that their heritage train members find it difficult to deal with Kiwirail in its current form due to the bureaucracy of Kiwirail and would to see a more open access as their members had in the days of Ontrack.

    3. Great comment, but I’m interested to see your maths for this ” At $9m per year per train, it will be the most expensive regional passenger rail service anywhere on Earth”. To .y knowledge, the scheme includes two trains operating for 5 years each and station upgrades for $72m.

  16. Heidi – agreed, thank you – this needs to be highlighted.

    I am still not sure of the case for more inter-regional rail – the real challenge is that most of the New Zealand system is single-track, and that limits the operational choices quite significantly. This is not a New Zealand thing, as can be illustrated from the regions in Great Britain. And rail, for all its benefits, is expensive to provide.

    But there does need to be a way for the Government to work in with Intercity to bolster inter-regional bus services. What matters isn’t mode, it’s direct services, and service frequency, and this is where the money should be spent.

    Example: Scotland’s population is somewhat higher than New Zealand’s, at 5.5m or so. The national coach company handles 5m passengers per year, many of whom are subsidised via the local equivalent of Goldcard, but it shows what can be done. In many cases it is competing against an extensive regional rail service, but it still has found a niche.

    1. NZ has a bigger land mass compared to Scotland and nearly 60% of the population is located in the six main centres with large distances between these main centres.

      I am not sure what the government can do for interCity due to InterCity business model and infrastructure.

      1. Kris – yep, fair point.

        After some more thought, I think the focus should be on a “3-hour rule” – that is, the focus should be on improving frequencies where the bus trip can be completed in three hours. So, Hamilton-Auckland and PN-Wellington; Rotorua-Auckland and Tauranga-Auckland (as expresses); Whangarei-Auckland (ditto). Nelson-Blenheim-Picton could also do with more services.

        Beyond a three-hour journey time might be another matter, but here you would be looking at Napier-Wellington and New Plymouth-Wellington, CHC-Dunedin and Blenheim-Christchurch.

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