Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust
The Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust (NTCTT) was established in 2018. Its dual purpose was to reduce car dependence in the district and to provide local residents (notably older people) with access to affordable reliable community transport.
Led and organised by volunteers, with support from Tasman District Council, community funding and local business. The service targets residents who are isolated, particularly older people, many who live without any public transport options at all.
“In our district, the reliance on cars is extreme. With no local employment or schools, people have to drive long distances in their daily lives.” Kate Malcolm, Co-founder, NTCTT.
As a Climate Change activist, NTCTT Co-founder Kate Malcolm joined a Nelson group advocating for sustainable transport in the region, Nelsust Inc, when she moved there ten years ago. With no bus services provided for rural areas and townships, the group recognised a reliance on private cars for commuting, accessing services and recreation. This not only impacts carbon creation, but also isolates people who don’t have a car or are unable to drive.
“The whole lifestyle in areas like Wakefield is based around the use of a car, and if for some reason you can no longer drive, you’re completely stranded.” Kate Malcolm, Co-founder, NTCTT.
The groups initial response was to draw up a petition for a bus service from Nelson to Wakefield. They achieved over 1,000 signatures and took it to the Tasman District Council. However, a report commissioned by the Council concluded the service was not viable.
Frustrated by the outcome, Kate and other members of the community formed the NTCTT. The group was fortunate to quickly receive a grant from the Office for Seniors Age Friendly Fund, a generous investment which they chose to use to research regional transport needs and trial the first community bus.
Today, the Nelson Tasman Region has a population of over 100,000. By 2038, the population of older adults in Tasman is expected to rise from 20% to 36%. This will be the biggest expected increase in New Zealand. Typically, older people have decreasing access to private cars which impacts their ability to access health services and increases their social isolation.
Nelson Tasman Community Transport Trust today
Two years since its formation the NTCTT has established:
• The Wakefield Community Bus – running twice a week between Wakefield and Richmond for around five people per trip. This service was initially designed as an ‘action research’ project to establish local public transport needs and is used regularly and gratefully by a small number of locals.
• Māpua Willing Wheels – an on-demand car service for people to attend medical appointments and other services they need. Around ten rides are coordinated a month. The inspiration for this service came from locals supporting locals during the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, picking up and delivering prescriptions, groceries and other things ‘stranded’ residents needed.
• Motueka Coastal Bus service - running three times a week between Motueka and Richmond.
1. It’s ok to focus on providing a quality experience for a few people.
“We haven’t serviced a huge crowd of people, but we’ve made a huge difference to a few people.” Kate Malcolm, Co-founder, NTCTT.
2. Find out what resources you already have in your local community and leverage these to create sustainable solutions. People are your most valuable resource.
3. Don't be afraid to get started and learn and adapt as you go
"It wasn’t till we had the service that we knew it was needed. We coined the term action research and looked to provide something to prove to us and the authorities that there was a need.” Kate Malcolm, Co-founder, NTCTT
4. One size does not fit all - even neighbouring communities have different needs
5. Discuss and debate in person wherever possible
"A local resident and Councillor was our most vehement opponent. I invited him for a cuppa and discovered that his objection was the financial risk to Council. We talked it through and he is now a huge ally. He was the person who approached the rest home for the use of the van we now use.” Kate Malcolm, Co-founder, NTCCT.
6. Keep one eye on the bigger picture
“Our bus was always designed as an interim to the lack of local buses for townships in our region. We have continued to lobby and support the development of a public bus service and this is gradually happening. We can’t take credit for that – Climate Change, Government policy, funding have all played a huge part. But we’ve been a part of the movement and we’re proud of that.” Kate Malcolm, Co-founder, NTCTT.
Providing sustainable, equitable and top-quality services
The NTCTT has worked hard to leverage local connections and resources to ensure sustainable services. Recruiting volunteer drivers and re-purposing local vans, has played a vital role in providing a service that would be unviable to provide professionally.
“You chat to people as you’re driving them. It’s nice to feel as if you can put something back into the community and to be able to help people to get things done and keep their independence is great.” Volunteer driver.
In addition, utilising local resources has enabled a uniquely personal experience for users. For example, if a passenger requests a quick stop at the dairy to pick up milk, or to go shopping at the vegetable market, and the other passengers agree, unscheduled stops are made.
COVID-19 completely shut the service down for the duration of the original lockdown from March-June 2020. However, COVID-19 lockdown also generated a network of locals delivering groceries to isolated people, which was the beginning of the Willing Wheels service in Māpua.
Having a core group of volunteers and drivers is a winning part of the service. Drivers get to know the regulars and strengthen their personal connection to the community. NTCTT has sourced volunteers from Volunteer Nelson and shoulder tapping, but finding volunteers is an ongoing challenge.
For NTCTT Trustees, there is a large time investment and commitment involved, although less now that they hire part-time coordinators. As well as running the service, they regularly attend Council and Community Board meetings as part of their ongoing drive to raise awareness of the need for sustainable transport options for residents of all ages and situations.
Getting the word out
Marketing is one of the groups biggest challenges. Trustees are not confident marketers or website managers, so the addition of a paid coordinator with these skills has been vitally important. Marketing has included social media, fliers, talking to community and business groups, radio, getting into community newsletters and media coverage by local newspapers. This marketing has generated high brand awareness and word-of-mouth pick up.
Ensuring passenger occupancy to ensure a sustainable service has been challenging. The dependency on cars in the district requires a major mind shift and over time, the group has learnt that occupancy is improved by: ensuring stops are in the right places and well signed, drivers who build social connections between passengers, and working together with community agencies to support people to use it.
A range of systems have been trialled, including a subscription model, online banking and buying tickets at local retailers. Ultimately, NTCTT opted to use a system of pre-booking a place on the bus and paying correct cash amounts to the driver. The new Motueka Coastal Bus will use the central i-site for ticketing, and NTCTT will assess the success of this ticketing system for service users and drivers.
The group considers itself fortunate to have received a grant early on from the Office for Seniors ($12,000), which was used to trial and research local transport needs and set up costs. This combined with an available vehicle, enabled them to get up and running very quickly. The grant also allowed the group to add features to the bus such as a reversing camera and a bike rack. While fares don’t currently cover running costs, with the help of external grants NTCTT has been able to continue offering accessible and affordable transport to stranded members of their community.
The trust has also received funds from the Lotteries Commission ($35,000 towards purchasing and operating a van), Pub Charity ($19,900 for purchase of a van), the Rātā Foundation ($4,500 for coordination and administration of Māpua Willing Wheels), the Tasman District Council ($1,500 to research the youth transport needs and some coordination) and COGS ($1,000 for administration).
The future of the service:
The whole concept of the community buses, was as an interim measure while advocating for services to be established in areas without public transport. A council service would likely be commuter focused, and would not be able provide the personalised and social atmosphere members of the community enjoy via the NTCTT offering. Council buses are likely to travel empty, while the Community buses don’t travel if there aren’t passengers which makes them economical.