A combination of special contracts and the Bay Hopper bus service could stem a blow-out in traffic congestion when Tauranga's traditional school bus service ends next year.
Plans have been announced to deal with the effect of another 8000 to 9500 trips on Tauranga's roads during the morning rush hour.
It is part of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's draft Public Transport Plan which has gone out for consultation.
The plan revealed that distances travelled by cars on the city's roads could increase by nearly 25 per cent if nothing was done to deal with the effects of the Ministry of Education's decision to withdraw its bus service.
It warned that an increase of this size would reduce the efficiency of Tauranga's central ring route and impede access to the port.
The report said there was not enough capacity in the Hopper service to accommodate an influx of thousands of students who used the school bus service.
The transition to a new system would take three years and was likely to include a mix of public transport services and regional council-contracted targeted bus services. The council wants students to use regular public transport where possible, possibly requiring them to transfer between buses.
The plan listed the key drivers for public transport as economic growth, population growth, volatile fuel prices and an ageing population.
The Western Bay's population grew by 51 per cent in the past 15 years, with forecasters predicting a substantial increase in the number of people in the over-65 age groups. By 2041, nearly a third of the Bay's population will be older than 65.
It said the ageing population would be a key to the increasing demand for public transport, along with higher fuel prices. The forecasts were for oil prices to plateau before increasing sharply from 2028 as accessible world supplies ran out.
The regional council has a goal of reducing subsidies and increasing the proportion of costs recovered from bus fares by 1 per cent a year. Bus fares made up 30 per cent of costs in 2009-10 and forecasts were that about 37 to 38 per cent would be achieved by 2018.
Balancing this was the goal that fares had to be set at levels that maintained the growth in passenger numbers.
Fares collected in the Bay totalled nearly $5 million a year from public transport funding of $14 million. It was expected to reach nearly $8 million in five years from total funding of $20.5 million. The subsidies were split between the Government and the regional council.
The transport plan calls for region-wide integrated ticketing and new technologies such as real-time information systems to remove doubt about bus arrival times.
School bus options in the mix
The Bay Hopper public transport system.
Targeted school bus contracts provided by the regional council.
Schools contract out their own services.
Commercially operated bus services.