Waikato Regional Council will this year introduce a new bus service in North Waikato as well as allow free travel across the region for carers travelling with accessibility concession holders.
Currently, 2400 people hold the accessibility concession card for free bus travel, which had been introduced by the council in 2019.
The free bus travel is available only to people with a permanent or short-term disability of longer than six months. An eligibility assessment is carried out by a disability agency or a general practitioner to verify the card holder requires a travel companion.
Regional connections committee chairwoman Angela Strange says: "I'm really excited we've been able to introduce this New Zealand first concession next February. It will be life changing for around 300 accessibility concession card holders who can only travel with a companion and it'll change their quality of life, enabling independence."
Wheelchair user and the committee's disability representative Maurice Flynn says the cost of paying the fare for a travel companion often ends up being paid by the person with the disability.
"In the disabled community there's high unemployment and low income, so the ongoing cost of travelling is a huge barrier if you can't drive. This added concession to include a travel companion will be great as it removes the burden of cost from the person with the disability," he says.
Waikato Regional Council's public transport manager Andrew Wilson says if the person needs a travel companion, Bee Cards will be reissued to show a plus one entitlement to cover their travel companion when they board the bus.
The card holder tags on as normal, then shows the driver the "plus one" Bee Card so it can be recorded, and the ticket issued.
Accessibility card holders can register their interest in the "plus one" concession by calling 0800 205 305 or visiting the BUSIT counter at the Transport Centre in Bryce St.
Also, a new bus service will be introduced from January 10, linking the north Waikato communities Tuakau and Pokeno to Pukekohe and will be trialled for two years.
The bus service is thought to be an alternative for people working in or commuting from Pukekohe as the peak bus services are timed to meet the trains.
Waikato District mayor Allan Sanson says: "School students will now have a reliable alternative to getting to and from Pokeno School, Tuakau College, Pukekohe Intermediate and Pukekohe High School.
"And the new bus will also open up opportunities for people who want to visit the swimming pool or gym, catch-up with friends, access medical facilities or do shopping in any of the three centres."
Councillor Strange is sure the new bus line will be a game-changer.
"These communities have been crying out for frequent and accessible public transport and now we're excited to be rolling out with this new service for our north Waikato communities," she says.
Fares for the seven days operating bus service will be only $1 on Bee Card or $2 cash per ride for a limited time. SuperGold Card holders will receive free bus travel between 9am and 3pm weekdays and all day on weekends.
Each bus will also have space for two bikes on the front bike rack.
Information on the service, including the timetable, is available by visiting busit.co.nz or calling the 24-hour BUSIT infoline on 0800 205 305.