A fleet of newly painted yellow buses have hit the streets of two-bus-lane-Tauranga today as part of the biggest shake-up of the city's underused public transport network in a decade.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council has promised New Zealand's most car-dependent city an "enhanced" $14.8 million a year bus service: More seats, more buses, more flexible routes, new routes, more frequent services, better technology, and a new contractor - NZ Bus.
Bus patronage has been dropping in Tauranga over the last few years, but congestion-battling authorities were hoping Monday would be the start of an upward trend.
Rachel Pinn, the council's programme leader for passenger transport, said it was clear something needed to change in Tauranga.
She said one of the issues with the old network was having a lot of long routes meant buses wound up snarled in traffic and running slower and slower.
The new routes were shorter and more flexible. They were also designed to move people around their own communities, rather than just between suburbs and city centres, she said.
Tauranga City Council transportation manager Martin Parkes said the councils were working together to improve bus infrastructure, including more bus lanes, peak hour bus clearways and technology to give late buses priority at traffic lights.
The changes have put some bus passengers on edge.
Pāpāmoa retiree Debbie Turner, who does not drive, said that when she saw her normal bus route to Bayfair was no more, she was worried.
She would need to walk 20 minutes to a different stop on Grenada St. Getting to the hospital, where she was a volunteer until recently, required either a route that went via congested Totara St or taking two buses.
Cathie Macrae, 62, said she was finding the new timetable "a little bit confusing at the moment", while a 26-year-old commuter was figuring out how to adapt to her bus' new schedule, which had shifted by half an hour.
Other users were optimistic.
Pāpāmoa East resident Jenna Preest was eager to trial the new Golden Sands Express service, predicted to rival car journeys for time in peak hours, to get to work.
"I have tried bussing before but it was so time-consuming that I gave up."
The new service, however, had convenient stops and would be just $2.72 each way with a Smartride card.
"It's so convenient. I will definitely be using it a few times a week, for sure."
- Additional reporting Scott Yeoman
Network quick facts
- Five electric buses due to join the fleet have been delayed until next year.
- Bike racks have been added to the buses. eBikes will not be allowed as they are too heavy.
- The new app for the bus network, Transit, has been downloaded more than 5000 times since June.
- 10 per cent of existing bus users will need to transfer buses due to the changes
- One-third of passengers should have a shorter journey time
- Transfer waits will be a maximum of 20 minutes on weekdays, 30 minutes on weekends.