The Bay of Plenty Regional Council is now offering free bus rides across the region to anyone who is permanently unable to drive and meets the eligibility criteria.
"Currently we've got about 840 trips per year - about 70 a month - of wheelchair users using our bus service," said Andrew von Dadelszen, Bay of Plenty Regional councillor.
"If we can increase that, it's a saving for the impaired but it's also a saving for the regional council through less Total Mobility funding, so it's a win-win."
You don't have to be physically disabled to be eligible.
"It's anyone with a permanent impairment," said Jen Proctor, Regional Council Transport Operations team lead.
"That could be someone with neurological, sensory, psychological impairment, intellectual impairment so they can be assessed for the concession."
Total Mobility users are automatically eligible, but everyone else has to be assessed by a local provider.
"We've got a backlog of applications that we're processing so we do ask everyone to be patient through this time. We're allowing a two-week window for those applications to be processed and for those concessions to be loaded onto their cards," said Proctor.
One of those doing the assessing is Max Hales, who says allowing for a "+1" is a great move.
"Plus-one makes it very helpful for people who may need support while they're on the buses. Having that allows them to take a support worker, carer, friend, family member on the bus as well with them."
However, only buses in the main centres are currently able to kneel for wheelchair passengers.
"Our more rural services are often done using smaller buses so we don't normally have provision for wheelchairs," said Proctor.
"But we can assist with any inquiries about what those buses might have available for someone who wants to look at using the service."
Hales hopes the concession will allow more disabled people to move around the region.
"Disabled people are now able to travel from Tauranga to Rotorua or even to Whakatāne free of charge. It's really awesome to make them able to explore the Bay of Plenty a bit more. Something that they may not have been able to do in the past."
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council will hold several information and assessment events across the Bay between now and August.
Check out www.baybus.co.nz to find one near you.
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