I'm not a morning person, that's my excuse.

It's 6.55am Monday and I'm standing in brilliant sunshine at the door of a bus on the corner of Livingstone Drive and The Boulevard, Papamoa East.

I'm here to review the 30X (Golden Sands Express) on the first day of the new Tauranga and Western Bay bus network, but I don't have any cash on me. Or one of those handy-dandy Smartride cards.

What a rank amateur.


I'm usually part of the car-commuting horde, battling ever-increasing traffic into the Tauranga CBD each morning, leaving just early enough to avoid the worst of the queues at the Maungatapu roundabout and Hairini Bridge.

The bus driver, who is visiting from Auckland to help out, is kind. She doesn't laugh mercilessly or point out how silly I am. I don't even need to resort to my weak excuse.

As she and a colleague begin to discuss how they can help, a man standing behind me offers to pay.

"I'll get you a coffee at the other end," I say thankfully, a wave of relief washing over my embarrassment as I step through the door.

Daara Parkinson, my saviour, whips out his Smartride card and pays for two fares into the city. A standard one-way fare is $2.72 each with Smartride, which seems remarkably cheap.

The Papamoa East resident is a regular public transport user, he tells me later.

"Saves me a bit of coin, it's just extra savings plus less miles on the car."

We are the only two passengers on the 30X as it pulls out, 7am sharp.

Another bus sits waiting for the next departure at 7.30am.

Parkinson says he usually catches a 6.25am bus from near the Papamoa Four Square, which takes about 50-55 minutes to get into the CBD.

"I tried the express today just to see what it would be like," the 36-year-old says.

Five minutes into our journey we turn onto Papamoa Beach Rd and one minute later we stop to pick up our third and fourth passengers – a young student in school uniform and a woman heading into the city.

Our Auckland driver has a local helper guiding her through the route.

"Straight through?" she asks a couple of times as we approach intersections and roundabouts.

From Papamoa Beach Rd we turn onto Parton Rd, then right onto Dickson Rd, past Papamoa Primary School, and stop on the corner of Douglas Pl.

A man in business attire and another student get on. It's 7.13am.

A minute later two more students join the pack.

By the time we reach the first designated stop, on Domain Rd opposite Pak'nSave, we are one minute ahead of schedule. We pick up another passenger and continue on our way.

This is going swell. I look out the window and see an older woman walking a huge Irish Wolfhound. On a bus, you have the time to make such observations, I think to myself.

We merge onto State Highway 2 at 7.19am and three minutes later, hit a long line of traffic.

Then we crawl along with the Papamoa late-sleepers.

Usually, I would be 10 minutes away from work by now, having hung a left and breezed along State Highway 29A all the way to Maungatapu.*

The 30X is meant to be outside Bayfair on Farm St at 7.33am, but instead we are still crawling between the Te Maunga roundabout and the Bayfair roundabout. We get there at 7.41am.

One of the students get off, no one gets on.

We make our way back onto Maunganui Rd, do a U-turn at the Bayfair roundabout and head towards the city.

Then we hit more traffic and are crawling again. By 7.50am we are under the Mount Maunganui flyover next to a fully-stacked logging truck.

I check a couple of emails and scroll through the morning's headlines. No one on the bus seems bothered by the delay; they are either happily listening to music or watching the world go by – albeit slowly.

At 7.55am we enter the Hewletts Rd bus lane and are back moving smoothly again.

Apart from being briefly stuck behind a hi-vis wearing cyclist, and stopping at two sets of lights, it's free-flowing and we reach the end of the bus lane at 8am.

Three minutes later we are on The Strand and at 8.05am the 30X pulls into the Willow St bus interchange – 12 minutes late.

I ask what Parkinson thought of the new express service when we get off the bus.

"I might give it another shot or I might just find another route," he says.

It took him at least 10 minutes longer than the old route did.

I try to buy him that coffee as we walk along Willow St, but he politely refuses. He doesn't drink coffee.

"Just pay it forward," he says with a smile.

And I will.

If anything it's an excuse to catch the bus again and, if I'm honest, an extra 12 minutes of pleasant cruising isn't such a hassle on a Monday morning – it gives you a bit more time to wake up.

*A smooth ride along State Highway 29A might not have been possible this Monday morning. Read more: Roadworks blamed for hour-long delay on SH29A in Tauranga