Fewer people are catching Tauranga buses and ratepayers are picking up a slice of the $7.1 million shortfall from fares to fund the service.

Bus fares in Tauranga generated $2.9m in 2017/18, less than a third of the $10m paid to the contractor operating the service, Go Bus.

Tauranga ratepayers contributed $2.95m to the shortfall through a targeted public transport rate of $62.05 apiece.

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The rest was split between a Bay of Plenty Regional Council generate rate, the NZ Transport Agency and the Ministry of Social Development SuperGold subsidy.

Compared with the previous year, in 2017/18 passenger trips dropped by 80,729 to 1,728,775, according to regional council figures.

Revenue dropped by $13,076, and the shortfall increased from $6.5 million to $7.1 million. Go Bus was paid about $9.4 million in 2016/17.

The regional council, which governs the bus network, was hoping some of the transport issues it faced would be addressed when it rolled out its redesigned bus network, to be operated by new contractor NZ Bus, on December 10.

The council's Public Transport Committee chairman, councillor Lyall Thurston, said rapid population growth, traffic congestion and increasing user demand and expectations were among the issues.

"The new network will improve travel and journey times with more direct and regular buses, new technology to provide users with better information. Plus bus lanes for faster journeys."

Time performance and reliability would be a focus as well as stronger connections between areas outside the Tauranga CBD.

New services included the Pāpāmoa Express, predicted to have travel times comparable with cars in peak hours, and a City Link service providing a direct route between Mount Maunganui, Bayfair, the CBD and the Tauranga Hospital every 15 minutes.

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Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless said most people were wedded to their cars but motorists' mindsets needed to change as the city was already gridlocked.

''What we are going to have to get used to is the roads can't cope and we can't build our way out of that because there is simply nowhere for those cars to go.

"As traffic congests even more we have to find a way to give buses priority so people can actually get somewhere quicker on a bus.''

Welcome Bay Transport Forum member Liz Van Der Westhuizen said if the buses were on time and reasonably priced she would use them, as she did every day when she lived in Wellington.

"It would allow me time to read a book, surf the net or have a nap.

"The regional council, NZTA and central Government think putting more routes on and buses is going to solve the problem ... but it's not.

"They need to do everything in conjunction with each other to provide a better service to better-planned areas at a better cost to the public."

Former bus driver Norm Bell said the service was adequate but to get more people on the buses the traffic situation needed to be sorted.

He believes buses should get right of way when pulling into traffic because waiting for a gap cost a lot of time and made it harder to stick to the timetable.

Ted Elliot of Greerton has used the bus service every day for six months but was worried about lack of passengers.

He could not drive and did not like riding his scooter and said the bus was a lifeline.

Joy Chapman thinks more buese are needed on the Tauranga routes. Photo/George Novak
Joy Chapman thinks more buese are needed on the Tauranga routes. Photo/George Novak

Cameron Rd bus user Joy Chapman said more buses were needed on the routes to cut down the wait time.

An NZ Transport Agency spokeswoman said it had paid about 33 per cent of the bus contractor payment as part of a co-investment programme delivered by regional councils.

The Ministry of Social Development said SuperGold transport concessions enabled older people to take an active role in their community and improved their quality of life, sense of freedom and independence.

Schoolhopper passenger trips
2017/18 - 147,934
2016/17 - 148,421
2015/16 - 169,780

Passenger trips
2017/18 - 1,728,775
2016/17 - 1,809,504
2015/16 - 1,860,251

- Source Bay of Plenty Regional Council

Who is picking up the bus tab?
* One third is paid by Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
* One third is covered by fares.
* One third is paid by the NZTA.
* There is also a SuperGold fare subsidy administered by Ministry of Social Development to fund free bus travel for seniors.
* If fare revenue is less than budget or expenditure more than budget, the council picks up the shortfall. Sometimes that shortfall may be partially offset by NZTA.

- Source Bay of Plenty Regional Council