A lack of direct bus routes into Tauranga's CBD from nearby suburbs has traditionally put many residents off using the service. But a network refresh launching this week aims to change that.
"We have been listening to the community who tell us they don't like to transfer buses for journeys that they believe should be direct," said Bay of Plenty Regional Council Transport and Urban Planning Manager James Llewellyn.
"We've taken that on board by introducing route two, which means we have that all-day service from Pāpāmoa, through Bayfair, to Tauranga CBD without the need for that transfer."
While it's a step in the right direction, the refresh does not reach the residents of Pāpāmoa East.
"From Pāpāmoa East, passengers will still need to transfer buses at Bayfair, but we have introduced a frequent service number five which means that transfers should be reasonably seamless.
"From Papamoa Plaza there will be an hourly direct service in the day.
Rush-hour congestion and roadworks are other barriers to catching the bus.
Regional Councillor Andrew Von Dadelszen said there was a perception that the bus was slower "but it doesn't have to be".
"One thing we did in 2018 when we started this service was increase the bus numbers by 35 per cent.
"We've put a lot more buses on the road to try to get a really good service.
"Now we have to get the people to use the buses.
"That's going to be our challenge."
Llewellyn said while the refresh was not a silver bullet, it was a good start.
"We have ambitions to get a lot more people on to buses from single-occupancy private cars and this is the first stage in that journey.
"We'll be looking to do a similar refresh exercise for the rest of the Tauranga network in 2022 and in the medium-to longer-term we will be introducing more frequent services to more destinations, particularly as developments such as Tauriko and along the Te Papa peninsula come on stream."
Von Dadelszen said last year's introduction of the Bee Card ticket system has helped guide new initiatives.
"The beauty of the Bee Card is that it's giving us really good, on-and-off the bus data so that we know where people are going and where they're coming from."
With Covid now creeping into the Bay, Llewellyn said taking the bus was a safe option if health advice was followed.
"At the end of the day people are going to be in proximity to each other in a whole range of settings, whether it's in cafes, in the workplace, or on a bus.
"A bus really is no different so although someone might feel they're safe in a car, sooner or later they are going to be exposed to other people.
"So we're simply saying the bus is no different to any other situation where you're going to be in close proximity to people – and if you are vaccinated and so wear a mask – you give yourself the best possible opportunity not to get Covid."
Vaccine mandates for bus drivers are being discussed.
"No firm decision has been made at the moment. It's still something the government would need to provide a lead on," said Llewellyn.
You can find out more about the bus refresh at www.baybus.co.nz.