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Reprieve for Harbour Town traders

27 Sep 2011

Harbour Town traders avoided a serious financial blow last month when City of Melbourne councillors voted to continue to fund the Melbourne Tourist Shuttle.

Council management had recommended charging a $5 fare to use the bus but councillors rejected this, instead voting to keep the service free.

The service is used by 300,000 passengers each year and costs $1.8 million. The council’s city business director Martin

Cutter had recommended that the councillors approve a $5 fare to reduce the subsidy to $600,000.

Mr Cutter’s proposal had caught local stakeholders by surprise and an urgent flurry of alerts to affected businesses produced 18 written responses opposing the measure.

Among those writing to the council to oppose the fare were MAB Corporation, Southern Star Observation Wheel, the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, Destination Docklands, VicUrban, Lend Lease, ING Real Estate Development, Mirvac and Harbour Town Shopping Centre.

Verbal submissions were made to the meeting by ING Real Estate, Destination Melbourne and the Melbourne Cricket Club.

However, when the matter came before the Future Melbourne Committee on September 13 councillors had already decided to support the free service.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said he decided to support the free services because it was not worth the trouble of introducing the $5 fare. “It’s too much trouble for the small amount we might recover,” he said.

In supporting the free service, Cr Ken Ong said the shuttle was costing $6 to attract each passenger. He said in marketing terms this was consistent with the council’s return on investment for its New Year’s Eve fireworks and Moomba festival.

Cr Jackie Watt said it was important to listen to what stakeholders had to say and Cr Kevin Louey said it was vital to continue the successful service without charging a fare.

Only two councillors were in favour of introducing a fare – Brian Shanahan and Cathy Oke.  

Cr Shanahan said the money spent on the bus was excessive for something that was not necessary.  He suggested childcare centres and gardens could better use the money.

Cr Oke said she would not support funding the bus because it was not cost neutral. And, if it was to be funded, she said it was more appropriate that the money come from the council’s marketing budget.

The council intends to offset some of the service’s operating costs by introducing advertising.  Cr Carl Jetter asked ING Real Estate project director Stephen Clement if he would support the service through advertising.  Mr Clement said he would.

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