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Town of 11,000 losing supermarket told to wait more than a year for new public transport

Author
Mitchell Hageman,
Publish Date
Sun, 11 Feb 2024, 2:16PM

Town of 11,000 losing supermarket told to wait more than a year for new public transport

Author
Mitchell Hageman,
Publish Date
Sun, 11 Feb 2024, 2:16PM

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council says it believes Flaxmere is “well served” by public transport to and from Hastings as the closure of the suburb’s only supermarket nears.

Residents have cited concerns the elderly and those with limited mobility will struggle to access groceries when New World Flaxmere closes in two weeks.

Foodstuffs announced it was abandoning the Hawke’s Bay suburb of 11,000 people last month, after earlier vowing to build a new supermarket for the community.

Hastings District councillor Damon Harvey said he was left “shocked and disappointed” after a community meeting in Flaxmere recently revealed Hawke’s Bay Regional Council wouldn’t be making any changes to its bus routes for at least 18 months, despite the supermarket closure.

Flaxmere community members who usually shop at the New World may have to wait 18 months before they get increased bus services to Hastings. Photo / Paul Taylor
Flaxmere community members who usually shop at the New World may have to wait 18 months before they get increased bus services to Hastings. Photo / Paul Taylor

He claimed officials told the meeting that residents would need to come up with a transport solution in the meantime, describing that as “another kick in the guts for Flaxmere”.

Go Bus’s run 20, which services Flaxmere, has 22 services per day, Monday to Friday. The route runs past Pak’nSave Hastings.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council says changing the current service before a new contract for the region’s public transport - to be signed in 2025 - would be “extremely costly” and funding was not available.

HBRC general manager policy and regulation Katrina Brunton said the council believed the Flaxmere community was “well served by the current fixed route buses”.

She said changes in 2025 for the network could result in the current coverage model - which sees buses travel in long, inefficient loops - moving to a patronage model with efficient and frequent bi-directional routes (meaning buses travel each way on the route).

If implemented, Flaxmere would be serviced by two routes, where it is currently served by one.

Recent changes were made to the wider Hawke’s Bay bus schedule, including an additional 341 runs every week across the region’s network due to recent driver wage uplift agreements.

Harvey said two HBRC staff members told the community at the meeting to “come up with a transport solution themselves and to find a minivan or bus and a driver.

“HBRC announced that they are back to full service of their public transport network ... why can’t they look at those runs and frequency and assign more to Flaxmere?”

Brunton said council officers did discuss what was called ‘Community Transport’ as a potential option for the community.

No funding was available for this, and the transport budget was “constrained”, but Brunton said HBRC was committed to working with the community to get a system in place.

“That is, a transport solution that is community driven around an identified need and where sufficient demand exists.

“It is usually a volunteer-based service that is owned and operated by a community-based trust or incorporated society,” she said.

“We noted that the funding (and, to an extent, the willing volunteers) to set something like this up is the initial hurdle – and unfortunately, we do not have any available funding for this.

“However, the funding can come from any source. HBRC officers committed to work with the community to look at options and opportunities and help to form up what the service/solution might look like.”

Harvey said council representatives needed to step up and find a quick solution to help the suburb, with the supermarket set to close on February 25.

He said the elderly, disabled and those with limited access to a private vehicle were “very much part of the reason we have public transport in the first place.

“I urge the regional council to put their thinking caps on and look for a mix of solutions rather than just say ‘tough luck’ and wait for 18 months for a revised bus schedule.”

Burton said the local Age Concern branch has a van offering services for its members and an offer was made to extend the service to cater for those outside their membership base.

“This could be a viable alternative in the short term for the elderly and disabled,” she said.

Mitchell Hageman joined Hawke’s Bay Today in January 2023. From his Napier base, he writes regularly on social issues, arts and culture, and the community.

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