On December 10, 2018, Tauranga's public transport system went under a makeover with promises of more frequent and more reliable buses. But nine months on, a report reveals such changes have done little to help people catching buses in Mount Maunganui or Pāpāmoa. Reporter Kiri Gillespie finds out why fewer people are catching the bus, what has prompted significant complaints and what transport authorities proposed to do about it.
A bold plan to shake up Tauranga's public transport system has resulted in fewer people catching the bus, and now city leaders are considering "significant changes" to key routes to help fix the problem.
At a Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Public Transport Committee this week, staff revealed a notable decline in people using buses, and the introduction of more bus transfers was blamed.
From February to June this year, there has been a 13 per cent decline in adults in Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa catching the bus. This compared to an increase of 5 per cent for each the western suburbs and southern suburbs.
The revelation came as part of a presentation of a Western Bay of Plenty Public Transport Blueprint, nine months after a new network was introduced to the city. The changes were aimed at offering longer-running, more frequent and more reliable buses. However, many routes involved transfers.
Senior transport planner Joe Metcalfe told elected members there were a number of issues regarding transfers, and there had been "significant complaints from Bayfair transfers". These were: added wait times for a bus, unreliable buses, and poor transfer facilities which were "the likely driver behind a drop in patronage".
During June, the regional council recorded a total of 156,007 bus users, 28,941 transferred to other buses (19 per cent).
"One of the reasons we might not have more transfers is because we changed the network so significantly," Metcalfe said.
"When the new network was put in place, we had 43 problems, of which some have been addressed."
Metcalfe proposed a low cost, low-risk option to help address some of the others. These included "sizable route changes" such as removing buses from Grace Ave, an extension of Route 30 Pāpāmoa to Te Okuroa Drive, re-routing of Route 40 to Ranginui Rd, an additional route for Pāpāmoa's direct service at 6.30am, and an additional hospital loop trip at 8.37am.
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These changes could take effect from as soon as October 14.
Metcalfe warned that removing transfers would also mean fewer services such as the city loop.
"It will be a significant change if we made it now. People won't be happy because they've gotten used to it.
"It will reduce reliability. People will be travelling through more congested areas. We do have a lot of bus priority areas which will help but it's not perfect."
Tauranga City councillor John Robson acknowledged the loss in bus users and said if the regional council wanted to increase patronage "you don't ask people to change buses".
"What we need to be doing is ... fast, frequent services that don't need to change. My view is the system we've got is compromised significantly. If you look at the transfers and loss of patronage on that side of Tauranga, I don't buy the interchange argument."
"If you got quality bus services, you will address things like CO2 (emissions), things like congestion, demand for more roads and a clogged up overpass at the B2B - you will extend that life of that dog of a project."
Councillor Stuart Crosby said the issue was a major barrier and "we need to face up to it".
But Tauranga councillor and Urban Form and Transport Development Committee chairmam Larry Baldock reminded the meeting it would be at least two years "before we can actually have something".
Councillors Andrew von Dadelszen and Kevin Winters said the committee could not afford to wait.
The committee agreed to engage the community on options that could change the network and to urgently focus on way to increase bus patronage in Mount Maunganui and Pāpāmoa.
The meeting was the last for this Public Transport Committee before this year's local body elections next month.
International student Dima Cherviakov, who used the bus twice a day to get from his Welcome Bay home to town, called for extra buses that ran more regularly and later into the night.
Cherviakov, who is studying English in Tauranga, said he often had to wait 20 to 30 minutes for the bus.
Tauranga buses stopped running early in the night compared to overseas services, meaning he was forced to call a taxi or use Uber to get home after 8pm.
This was a big difference to public transport in Russia where the service was much more prompt.
"Not having a car is difficult here."