A celebration for the new, outer terminal bus shelter in Castlecliff, was possibly the best-attended opening of a bus shelter in Whanganui history but, it was also a celebration of a big project, to revive Whanganui's public transport.
Horizons Regional Council is putting the focus on the city's bus routes to encourage more people to ditch their cars. A bus trip along the old tram route from town in Neville Gorrie's recently restored London bus, served as a reminder that Whanganui is in a unique position to build on its public transport system.
Whanganui District Council's representative on Horizons' public transport committee is Anthonie Tonnon who was celebrating the new addition.
"When they built the trams, the houses weren't there," Tonnon said. "The houses were built along the tramlines so the great thing for Whanganui is that we've built most of our population and most of our housing onto public transport routes.
"So if we want to serve them efficiently and perhaps have more frequent services, it's actually easier to do it here than it is in other cities because the people are right there on those public transport routes."
For public transport to be used it needs to be convenient. Horizons has already adopted the Bee Card, a new electronic tag-on-tag-off smart card system to make bus travel more convenient and cheaper for regular users. Tonnon says more needs to be done to achieve the goal of getting people out of cars and on buses.
"Today the buses are a lot slower and a lot less frequent. They only go every two hours!
"We can use the natural advantages we have with the way that we have built Whanganui, to bring back high-frequency public transport. We need to do more to bring on younger people, new people moving into town.
"We do have less bus services than other towns. Wellington region has 450 buses for 400,000 people. We run our urban services on six buses for 40,000 so I think that we can do more to make public transport more frequent and help attract those younger newer riders."
The event was also the unveiling of a public artwork, large engraved glass panels by Whanganui artist Claire Bell adorn the bus shelter and were specially commissioned by Horizons. It's expected the works will attract interest from locals and art tourists and they also serve a very practical purpose.
"A couple of years ago [Horizons] had a problem with their new glass shelters sometimes not being looked after," Tonnon said. "So they decided 'why not go the other way and put an artwork on it and make it a taonga for the community?"
The engraved works are made with a technique that has a special connection to Whanganui. Artist Claire Bell calls it "painting with light". It was pioneered by New Zealand artist John Hutton in the 1950s and was almost lost until Bell tracked down his only student who happened to live in her hometown of Manningtree, England.
"I was just amazed. I had probably seen her as a child," Bell said. "She had moved there the year I was born. I probably encountered her a whole bunch and never known."
A Creative NZ grant allowed Bell to travel to England to study with her.
Hutton was educated at Whanganui Collegiate becoming a world-renowned artist after emigrating to England. His large engraved glass works can still be seen in many public locations including Coventry Cathedral in London, New Zealand House and Stratford Upon Avon.
Some of Hutton's etchings can also be found in the Whanganui Collegiate Museum which is open to the public during term time.
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