Violent clashes between schoolchildren at Whangārei's main bus terminal are spooking older bus users away from the urban CityLink service.
Weapons, spitting, swearing and drugs have also stifled the number of adult customers on the Northland Regional Council (NRC) run urban bus service, contributing to a revenue loss of more than $30k for 2020/2021.
Whangārei police teamed up with local schools and NRC to solve the issue by arranging alternative afternoon buses which prevent students gathering at Rose St.
A log book post recorded in May by a security guard based at the Rose St terminal read: "no major problems, just the norm, kids yelling, spitting, swearing, running in front of buses, most comply."
In the past four months security guards at the bus terminal have managed incidents involving kids smoking cannabis, two boys playing with a knife, a female student punched in the face by another female passenger on board a bus, a young person kicking a bus after they were refused entry, youth vaping, and numerous fights between girls and boys.
"At about 8.30am heard two intermediate school kids talking about a fight and just after that about 15 kids were all standing at the back of the toilets in the car park, walk down to see what was happening and found two boys fighting…[sic]," another log entry read.
The students complied with the security guard's instructions to stop and "get to school".
Multiple entries said police were called to help break up or prevent violent clashes, as well as check young people reportedly carrying weapons - in one case a knife.
On July 29, at around 9.15am, police were called to escort two boys back to their high school after the pair took turns to shoot one another with a BB gun.
However, security guard records showed adults also engaged in anti-social behaviour at the bus terminal.
There were reports of men verbally abusing staff when asked to turn their loud music down, a 75-year-old man drinking cans of alcohol, older family members participating in fights between youths, men smoking cannabis and an incident where a man in his 40s pulled a knife on some students - police responded within minutes.
According to reports by security guards, CitySafe patrols in the area were effective deterrents for misbehaviour.
The urban bus service - with eight routes connecting greater Whangārei to the city centre - had fallen 3656 passengers short of its forecasted figures for 2020-2021, despite a slow return to pre-Covid service user numbers.
That translated to a $37,794 variance between actual and budgeted revenue.
Northland Transport Alliance transport manager Chris Powell told NRC and Whangārei District Council members during his CityLink Whangārei operational update the farebox revenue was "well below budget" for several reasons.
Cheaper fares were being used to "encourage greater uptake of the service" post Covid-19.
There had been a "marked decrease" in the number of elderly people travelling on the CityLink Whangārei service. Instead they opted to use the Total Mobility Scheme.
Powell said it was because they were more cautious with their mode of transport due to the "scare of Covid-19 transmission on buses".
He reported a dramatic increase in the number of students using the bus service, who pay $1 as opposed to $2 for an adult.
Student numbers had, in part, risen because of Ritchies' decision to can the school bus service between Onerahi and Whangārei Intermediate School last year, Powell said.
The increase in students had seen a rise in anti-social behaviour among young people at the Vine St car park and Rose St bus terminal – which had negatively impacted the attempts to grow adult passenger numbers, he said.
"This behaviour has led to existing full fare paying passengers, particularly the elderly and mothers with infants, no longer boarding the buses.
"Unfortunately, most of the incidents occur in the afternoons and involve schoolchildren."
Work was being done by NRC, the police and Whangārei principals to introduce buses that operated on direct routes between suburbs and individual schools to remedy the situation.
A student-only bus was already in operation between Onerahi and Whangārei Intermediate School but Northland Transport Agency (NTA) staff was seeking additional funding to grow the service.
NTA and NRC hoped to go ahead with a morning and afternoon bus between Whangārei high schools and Onerahi and Morningside early next year.
"It will mean kids aren't milling around the same place in town."
Powell said nothing could guarantee students still wouldn't flock to Rose St.
"The NRC also requires assistance from the New Zealand Police to ensure that the Rose Street Bus Terminus is a safe environment for all bus users."
Acting Senior Sergeant Christian Stainton, Whangārei area prevention manager said police, NRC, and local schools had a joint focus on prevention.
"As a result of this work, an agreement has been reached where there will be some after-school transport put in place for students.
"There have been some issues around anti-social behaviour being reported on Rose Street in the past, in which police attended and appropriately dealt with any matters that had arisen."
Stainton said police were not immediately aware of any "significant issues" recently in Rose St, "which is encouraging for police to see".
Despite the issues with anti-social behaviour, Powell said Northland had seen a better bounce-back of public transport passengers than other regions in the country post-Covid.