MyWay trial extended but success dependent on support

Published 4/03/2021

A decision on the future of Timaru’s MyWay by Metro on-demand public transport will be made in June this year as part of the Long-Term Plan process, following an extension of the service trial beyond April 2021 by Environment Canterbury and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.  

The trial public transport service was fully introduced in June 2020 after beginning during lockdown in April. Environment Canterbury Councillor Peter Scott says that due to the disruptions of the COVID lockdown and alert level changes, enough information has not yet been gathered for an informed decision on its success.

“What is immediately clear is just how well the MyWay service has integrated into the community, and how it has provided a demonstrable improvement in accessibility and community connection for many people in Timaru,” he says.

“MyWay by Metro offers far greater convenience and flexibility, without the need to rely on bus schedules or to travel fixed routes. Nearly 80,000 rides have been taken since the full service began. However, its success is also reliant on uptake from people who didn’t previously use public transport, and we need more data to accurately assess this.”

Cr Scott says that as a subsidised service, Environment Canterbury is looking for a mandate from the people of Timaru if it is to be continued.

“There’s no doubt that this is a good service, and that it can work well for Timaru, as demonstrated by the extremely high ratings it receives through our app feedback. However, through these last few months of operating the service, it has become clear that the increased convenience comes at a cost; it is more expensive than a standard public transport system.”

The cost of running the service between 22 June 2020 – 30 January 2021 was $922,132.14, covered by the revenue from fares of $125,979.61, and ratepayer and NZTA funding of $796,152.98. This is in addition to around $500,000 per annum for the fixed route Timaru Link and school services.

The total trips taken on Timaru’s public transport for that period were 110,000 compared to 95,000 for the 2018/19 year; an increase in patronage of 15%, in a period which included several COVID alert level changes.

“Public transport is funded by users, ratepayers and NZTA. So, during our 2021-2031 Long-Term Plan consultation this March, we will be asking Timaru’s ratepayers whether they value public transport for their city,” says Cr Scott.

Growth still required

Cr Scott explains Environment Canterbury is looking closely at the MyWay service to understand whether it will be able to grow to a level where the fare contributions bring in what is required for financial sustainability.

“We’re looking at needing around 100 more riders each weekday, for the service to realistically be financially sustainable. Ultimately, it will be a community decision whether to support this service, but for now, we have a responsibility to do all we can to give Timaru’s on-demand public transport its best shot at success,” he adds.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How many people used Timaru’s public transport service before MyWay was introduced?

There were approximately 190 public transport users a day in January last year (excluding the Timaru Link) before MyWay was introduced. Now, we regularly have between 400–460 users on MyWay service on any weekday, and for several days have carried near to or over 500 people. This demonstrates a considerable uptake of public transport across the community.

Would Timaru return to the same fixed routes if MyWay is discontinued?

It is unlikely we would fully reinstate the unsustainable fixed route bus service if MyWay funding does not continue.

Many people in Timaru rely on public transport as an essential service. However, for several years, the number of people using the service had been in decline, and it was clear that it was not meeting the needs of the Timaru community. MyWay was introduced to understand whether on-demand public transport could work as an alternative to simply reducing the fixed route service.