Media release

ORC take steps to add a ferry to its public transport network in the Wakatipu

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Following a Council decision today, the Otago Regional Council (ORC) will take steps towards adding a water ferry to its public transport network in Queenstown.

In the short term, ORC will look to subsidise the existing Queenstown Ferries service for continuity of service, while it sets in motion plans for a subsidised public ferry in the long term.

ORC will plan with its Way to Go partners Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC), and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), for the long-term ferry. The proposed ferry service will be included in ORC’s Draft 2020-21 Annual Plan.

The Way to Go partnership sees these agencies work together for safe, connected travel solutions for the Wakatipu. As part of this, a number of business cases, that included the water ferry business case, are in the works.

Chair of the Otago Regional Transport Committee, Cr Alexa Forbes, said the move to work towards adding a public ferry was a significant step by the ORC to improving Queenstown transport.

“ORC recognises that many in Queenstown understand the need to transition to much higher public transport use and are willing to do so if convenient services are provided. The water ferry is an efficient and attractive alternative to congestion along Frankton Road and in the downtown area, and will improve accessibility to the centre of town. I look forward to ferries providing part of the solution.”

Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult was pleased to see the ferry business case progress. 

“A subsidised ferry will complement the popular $2 bus service to help reduce congestion and provide alternative transport options for people getting around Queenstown,” he said.

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Director Regional Relationships Jim Harland said it was important to explore alternatives to private vehicle travel.

“The agency is likely to view positively a business case that can demonstrate the benefits of an alternative mode of travel to an entire network, particularly if it contributes to the outcomes that a district is seeking.”

To enable the ORC to support a ferry service, both this financial year and in the long term, Otago’s Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP), a guiding statutory document for all regional councils that provide public transport, will need to specify a ferry service as integral to the Wakatipu Basin.

To do this, the Council proposes an amendment to the RPTP. Members of the community will have the opportunity to have a say on the proposed variation to the plan from Thursday 30 January until February 12.

“Way to Go is committed to improving Queenstown’s transport network,” Cr Forbes said.

“Our $2 Orbus service is popular and patronage continues to increase. The ORC recently implemented real time tracking as well as a new, more direct service from Lake Hayes Estate to town.”


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the next steps?

The next steps are for ORC to run a consultation period, starting tomorrow, on the RPTP amendment. Introducing the option to contract a ferry service is unprecedented in Otago, and this requires community input. If required, a hearing panel will hear submissions on the proposed change and make a recommendation to Council. Then, Council will need to approve the change to ORC’s Regional Public Transport Plan so that it can enter into a contract with Go Orange to provide the service in this financial year.

In the longer term, ORC will need to incorporate the trial service into its 2020-21 Annual Plan, and will begin budgeting and tendering for the service to begin in January 2021.


Why did it take this long to make a decision?

The Council’s responsibility is to investigate and invest in services on behalf of the whole community, as opposed to investing in commercial operators.

The services ORC invest in are informed by the Regional Public Transport Plan*, which is agreed with the community and government. That is because the community partially pay for the service through Regional Council rates and fares on the services, and the government subsidises the service via Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. We needed to understand how the service would fit into the wider network and benefit the community, which the business case—although separate—has allowed us to do.

* Public transport in New Zealand is regulated by Part 5 of the Land Transport Management Act 2003.  The Act states that “any public transport service operated in a region must be provided under contract with a regional council” (s116).

In order to contract for a passenger transport service, the Regional Council must have a Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP or Plan; s119).

The RPTP must identify the public transport services that are integral to the region’s public transport network (s117).


What is Way to Go?

Queenstown Lakes District Council, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and the Otago Regional Council have joined forces to develop and deliver a safe, connected and accessible transport network for the Wakatipu.

The partnership is known as Way to Go and recognises that all three agencies have an important role to play in driving change.