Prime Minister John Key has opened a new $18 million depot and maintenance workshops for bus operator Ritchies Transport's west Auckland and inter-city services.

The family-owned company, which was founded in Timaru in the 1930s and now runs more than 1000 buses throughout the country, employs 300 staff through the new depot which Mr Key opened this morning on 2.15ha of reclaimed swamp land in Swanson.

Mr Key, who is also Minister of Tourism, predicted a busy future for Ritchies catering for growing numbers of Aucklanders and tourists, particularly from a booming Chinese market which he said contributed 250,000 of 2.7 million visitors last year and growing annually by about 35 per cent.

Sprawling though the new facility is, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy joked about whether it would be big enough to cope with the council body's ambitious public transport growth plans, for passenger trips to almost double to 150 million annually within 10 years.


He said that important as trains and ferries were, buses carried 80 per cent of passengers and would continue to play a hefty role Auckland's public transport future.

The depot replaces a smaller base from which the company has moved across Swanson Rd, and includes a 160,000-litre underground tank for recycling rainwater through a wash for the 200 buses stationed there.

A resource consent condition in mitigation for banishing into a pipe an open stormwater drain which previously cut the site in two means the company is working with Watercare and the Ministry of Education to "daylight"a buried stream running though Fruitvale Road School near New Lynn.