South Canterbury’s highly successful and expanding network of community vehicle trusts is attracting nationwide attention.
There are four such trusts in South Canterbury, operated in conjunction with Environment Canterbury, and a further two elsewhere in the region (North Canterbury and Leeston). Their success is encouraging other communities to seek advice on how to get similar services up and running in their districts.
Environment Canterbury’s Transport Officer (Southern Region) Tony Henderson has been fielding an increasing number of inquiries from throughout New Zealand. Recently he was invited to Palmerston North to talk to representatives from Horowhenua and Wairarapa who were keen to hear more about how to establish and operate community vehicle trusts.
“I think one of the reasons for the rise in inquiries is that many rural communities and small towns are experiencing similar situations to our region which include a lack of public transport and a decreasing number of private taxis.
“Canterbury seems to be leading the way with the concept and successful operation of community vehicle trusts and now word of that seems to be spreading.”
Mr Henderson says the provision of this transport service (which also includes groups or individuals being able to hire vans) has wider benefits than just solving day-to-day demand for affordable transport.
“By providing transport options to elderly people or the disabled for example it often enables them to stay in their homes in their own community. This in turns helps the sustainability of the local infrastructure such as medical services and supermarkets so keeps rural areas and small town viable and thriving.”
Geraldine has one of the longest operating vehicle trusts in the region. It began about 15 years ago with one van, and now has five vehicles including two vans especially equipped for disabled passengers.
Geraldine Bus service Trust chairman Alister France says the fact that often none of the vehicles are parked up at the trust’s premises during the day is a clear indication of the services’ importance and popularity.
“I know too that when I’m driving I’m constantly hearing people say: ‘I don’t know how I’d get on without you’.”
Mr France says that although the service is well used by the elderly they are by no means the only patrons.
“Schools, pre-schools and sports clubs are all regular users and we also find the vans are popular with people needing to hire larger vehicles for family groups or other events.”
Geraldine has about 20-25 drivers who often do far more than simply transport patrons from place to place.
“Usually drivers are not under any time pressure so often they can wait for someone at the doctor’s or bring the supermarketing inside, put the meat in the fridge…the whole service is part of what makes a caring community.”
Fairlie’s community bus service is the newest in the region having started operation in December 2012. (The two other South Canterbury services are in Waimate and Twizel). Chairperson of the Fairlie Community Vehicle Trust, Ross Brown says Fairlie was in real need of a service and had seen how well Geraldine’s worked.
“We have no taxi and Mackenzie College for example was finding it very difficult to transport pupils. Already the service is attracting not only schools but sports and farmer groups and clubs.
“Providing transport enables not only people in Fairlie to get to Timaru for appointments but it also helps those living in rural areas but who either have no car or can’t drive, to stay in their communities by providing affordable transport into Fairlie.”
Mr Henderson says all the local vehicle trusts have been very supportive of communities wanting to establish their own operations both by providing advice and encouragement but also by assisting them with the purchase of reasonably priced vehicles. Trusts regularly update their vehicles to maintain high standards.
The regional council is also a contributor to the formation of trusts through the provision of Mr Henderson’s expertise and help but also by providing some funding. Trusts have their own business plans and aim to be sustainable through the means of donations and fares from patrons.
“Finding funding for the trusts is reasonably straightforward as there are many charitable trusts out there and they seem keen on operations like this that helps such a large cross section of communities.
The transport trusts have varying ways of handling bookings – some like Geraldine have a dedicated booking service (the Geraldine trust employs one full-time equivalent to do this), others work through local resource centres or similar.