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Waikato District Council pushes for continued funding of Te Huia

The Waikato District Council is warning that Te Huia passenger train services could be discontinued unless the service continues to receive funding provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) Waka Kotahi.

Currently, Te Huia is funded by both passenger fares and public funding (taxpayer and ratepayer funding). This funding is equal to the gross operating cost minus fare revenue.

The public funding portion is split between NZTA Waka Kotahi, Waikato Regional Council and Waikato District Council via general rates who contribute 75.5%, 21.2% and 3.3% respectively.

Launched in April 2021 as part of a five-year trial, Waikato district Mayor Jacqui Church says the Te Huia service plays a vital role in improving transport infrastructure and connectivity within the Waikato region.

Funding was provided by NZTA Waka Kotahi on the condition that a Te Huia Interim Performance Assessment report be completed within two years of the service’s launch. The review was completed in early 2024 and a report will be presented to the NZTA Waka Kotahi Board this month.

“As at December 2023, Te Huia had achieved or was close to achieving all of its set targets for this stage of the trial. It was also on track to meet all identified targets and benefits within the full five-year trial period, so pulling funding at this point in the trial would be hugely disappointing,” says Mayor Jacqui Church.

Patronage has continued to increase in 2024, particularly with the introduction of four new services in February. Commuters now have two additional return services on Thursdays and Fridays and two more on Saturdays.

"The completion of stage two of the Auckland Rail Network Rebuild Programme in January 2024 has notably improved on-time performance, bringing travel times closer to target," she adds.

“There’s been a significant level of ratepayer investment into Te Huia because it provides a reliable and efficient mode of transport for our residents. It’s crucial we continue to support current and future users to benefit from this service, but that will require an ongoing partnership approach.

“Our Council urges NZTA Waka Kotahi to continue funding the service for the remainder of the trial period and to recognise its importance in enhancing transport infrastructure and connectivity within the region,” she says.

An independent review is currently underway, focusing on fare structures, operating costs, and strategies to increase patronage. This review, scheduled for completion by the end of June 2024, aims to inform future decisions regarding service enhancements.

"Our priority is to ensure that the needs of existing commuters are met and that their investment in the service is protected."

The Council is keen to advance strategic investigations for potential railway stations in Pookeno, Tuakau, and Te Kauwhata, so stopping Te Huia before the completion of the trial service would jeopardise further investigations on enhancing regional connectivity and sustainable transport solutions.

The Waikato District Council remains committed to advocating for the continued operation of the Te Huia passenger train service, recognising its vital role in promoting regional connectivity, supporting commuters, and fostering economic development.