The bus that criss-crosses Taranaki is now bigger, better and brighter.
A brand-new bus has entered service as the Hāwera-Stratford — New Plymouth Connector, making four return trips each weekday with extensions from and to Ōpunake on the first and final trips respectively.
As well as more seats — for 45 passengers, up from the current 41 — the new vehicle has more locker space for prams, pushchairs and even bikes, easier boarding, seats with extra leg room, air suspension at the rear for a smoother ride, electronic destination board and closed-circuit TV. And its exterior signwriting leaves no one in any doubt about the region it serves.
The Connector is operated by Pickering Motors Ltd under contract to the Taranaki Regional Council.
"We're delighted Pickerings have invested in a new vehicle for what has proved to be an important addition to the region's public transport network," says TRC transport services manager, Chris Clarke.
"Since the Connector service started in 2014, passenger numbers have consistently exceeded predictions. Initially we thought we'd need a 19-seater — now we're well over double that, and with an extra bus to cater for morning and afternoon peaks."
The Connector is particularly popular with WITT students, as it allows them to attend classes without the expense and disruption of having to more to New Plymouth. Under an arrangement with WITT, its students travel free if they have appropriate ID.
The service is also used by the Taranaki District Health Board to bring people to New Plymouth for outpatient appointments or to visit relatives in Base Hospital.
"People's ability to access health services is a priority for us and the Connector bus plays an important role in enabling this," says Steve Chapman of the TDHB. The Taranaki Regional Council-administered public transport network also includes New Plymouth Citylink commuter and school bus services, and once-a-week Southlink services serving smaller communities in South Taranaki. It also administers Total Mobility, a scheme offering fare subsidies for those unable to use public transport.