The number of people catching buses in Rotorua has plummeted 43 per cent during the past five years but regional transport leaders have voted to try to turn things around, eventually.
Rotorua's public transport woes were discussed in a Regional Transport Committee meeting yesterday at Bay of Plenty Regional Council in Tauranga.
This meant an Indicative Business Case to explore solutions to get more people buses will now go ahead, just not anytime soon.
The number of people catching the bus in Rotorua has dropped 43 per cent between 2014/15 and 2018/19 despite population, traffic and economic activity increasing significantly in that time. The drop also followed a network redesign in 2015.
Public transport use has dropped across New Zealand outside Auckland and Wellington over the past five years.
Customer feedback last year raised the need to improve accessibility, reliability, customer information, bus stops and better connections to key employment hubs.
Regional council transport planner Andrew Williams said the role and function of public transport in Rotorua needed examination. Further investment might also be needed to ensure it met the expected level of service, he said.
In his report, Williams said improving public transport would encourage people to look at car alternatives, reduce congestion and harmful emissions "while providing improved access to jobs, education, essential service and recreational opportunities".
A shortlist of four options expected to go out for public consultation soon include establishing more frequent buses, a new cross-town service, and offering on-demand services.
Councillors voted to add a strategic public transport review to the Regional Land Transport Plan, which means a business case to look at ways to get more people onto buses will now go ahead - just not anytime soon.
The business case was expected to cost $50,000 and funding was expected to come via Annual Plan 2022/23 consultation.
Rotorua deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said the city could not afford to wait.
"If it's delayed, we will easily continue to decline for the next seven years.
"This is the part of our journey towards mode neutrality so I do really want to see this sped up if possible."
Western Bay of Plenty mayor Garry Webber shared Donaldson's concerns.
"It does have to be accelerated. It's not there to shelve and park. It is there to do it."
After the meeting, Rotorua early childhood teacher Rochelle said simple tweaks such as extending the hours of operation to later than 6.30pm each day could help.
Rochelle, who would only be known by her first name, catches the bus twice a day to get to and from work as she has a medical condition preventing her from walking long distances and is not able to drive.
She told the Rotorua Daily Post she was surprised at the drop in patronage but noted most passengers were either "old people or school kids".
Rochelle said improving bus signs could help.
"A lot of the signs on the buses are not always working so you have a lot of elderly always asking 'is that the number 8' or 'the number 7'. They can't always read the signs. They tend to sit there for hours and hours. Making it a bit more visible would help."
The regional council was now expected to finalise and approve a public consultation plan to identify a preferred option from the shortlist that will be determined by the regional council.