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Published: 2006-08-17 00:00:00

Environment Waikato councillors today rejected calls to spend almost $1 million of ratepayers money to provide an extra subsidy for CNG buses, saying this does not represent good value for money.

At today's policy and strategy committee meeting, councillors voted unanimously to continue with the existing system which provides a competitive market between CNG and diesel buses.

“Environment Waikato does not believe that spending almost $1 million for a typical eight-year CNG-only bus contract would provide significant environmental benefits,” says Environment Waikato passenger transport spokesperson, Cr Paula Southgate.

“Technology has improved significantly in recent years, so the difference in emissions between modern diesel buses and CNG is now minimal.

“If we are looking at improving air quality, replacing one wood burner would achieve better air quality improvements than switching five modern diesel buses to CNG.”

Air quality scientist, Dr Jeff Smith, told the committee that the biggest problem in Hamilton in terms of air pollution was domestic home heating, which created 72 per cent of the winter PM10 particle emissions.

“By contrast, the current contracted bus service contributes less than 0.1 per cent of PM10 emissions in Hamilton,” he said.

“Replacing 10 modern diesel buses with CNG buses would cost more than $100,000 a year, but this would result in less improvement in air quality than spending about $6,000 to replace just two old-style wood burners.”

Cr Lois Livingston said it was obvious that spending extra money on subsidising CNG was not a good use of ratepayer money.

She said that Environment Waikato already promotes CNG as a fuel type over diesel through its bus service contracts, with the overwhelming majority of new buses that started this February being CNG buses.  

“However, we will favour CNG over diesel only to the point where this is delivering value to bus customers and ratepayers,” she said.

Land Transport New Zealand general manager of partnership, Richard Braae supported the committee's caution about spending additional money subsidising CNG buses.

He said LTNZ guidelines emphasised the importance of ensuring value from money. He also stressed the long-term value in preserving a competitive market in terms of the number of companies able to tender for a contract – which would be limited if CNG buses were the only option.

Councillor Southgate said that Hamilton will continue to have a CNG bus fleet for the foreseeable future, with 13 CNG buses contracted to operate in the city until 2014.

"Of the existing 17 CNG buses, apart from four which are being retired due to old age, the remaining 13 CNG buses are guaranteed under contract to be operating on Hamilton streets for the next seven year period,” she said.

“However we need to have a competitive market - and with only one bus operator currently set up for CNG, we are not willing to eliminate competition by limiting the fuel type.”

“If Hamiltonians want to spend $1 million on improving air quality, we would be better to promote the conversion of old wood burners to modern technology pellet burners, subsidising vehicle tune-ups, and encouraging more people to walk or cycle.”

Environment Waikato will continue to research alternative fuel types, and this study will form part of the passenger transport review which is due to take place later this year.