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Busy morning for Tauranga’s newest bus network

Monday, 20 April 2015 3:00 p.m.

A new era in Tauranga’s public transport network has kicked off this morning with the city’s largest and newest school bus network introducing fares for the first time.

This followed a term of free travel that was offered as the service established itself.

Lyall Thurston, Chair of the Public Transport Subcommittee and Bay of Plenty Regional Councillor said we’ve  had a few challenges in introducing the new network and getting the routes and timings bedded in, but are generally happy with how things have run.

“This morning we have had reports of services running late, which we apologise for. All services did run, and a few were held up by the crash on Takitimu Drive,” Councillor Thurston said. “Despite our best planning there were also a few technical problems which affected individual buses and we’re looking at them this afternoon to find out what caused them. We’ll be watching to see if fare processing delays buses over the next few days, in which case we’ll look at changing route timings.

“We have been really pleased with the numbers of students using the service, which was between 3,000 and 4,000 students a day in term one,” he said. “We’ve had some useful feedback and have worked through a number of suggestions that have been made to improve how things were running, and will continue to as the new term continues.”

Mr Thurston said he understands  the introduction of fares will mean some parents and caregivers will decide not to use the service, but overall the regional council was happy to be offering students an alternative way to get to school, which helped keep cars off the road and congestion down.

Kim Shannon, Head of Education Infrastructure Services at the Ministry of Education says she is pleased to see Tauranga maturing as a city and its development of a broader public transport network. 

“The Ministry continues to provide bulk funding or operate approximately 35 school routes daily in Tauranga that transport approximately 2,800 students alongside the Schoolhopper services.  Our rural and fringe urban services complement Schoolhopper services well. We are also pleased at the way the Council, schools and the Ministry have all been able work together on this new network. Besides our contracted services, 13 Tauranga schools continue to receive school transport funding from the Ministry of Education through the Tauranga Transport Network Group,” Kim Shannon says.

Councillor Thurston says while the Regional Council already had years of experience in running an urban bus network in the city, they’ve learnt a lot in the past couple of months about the challenges a school bus network brings.

“Adding 46 routes to the original 11 is the most obvious,” he said. “However while the Bayhopper service operates for about 14 hours to carry nearly 5000 people each day, we’re transporting two thirds of that in just four hours on the Schoolhoppper network each day. It’s taken a lot of work to get the timings, routes and stops working well, and we know there’s still work to do on some routes.”

The Regional Council has also been getting prepared for the impact that collecting the fares could have on the running of the Schoolhopper network.

“We’ve provided each Schoolhopper passenger with their own Smartride card to help with the transition to paying fares. We know it’s not going to be perfect initially, but we are confident that as the first couple of weeks pass students will spread the times when they top up their cards throughout the week – it’s what we currently see on our Bayhopper network at the beginning of term time as well.”

And he says the Regional Council knows charging students fares to get to school will always be a contentious topic, however it’s something that’s has been happening in New Zealand’s other larger cities for many years.

He says there was a perception that the previous Ministry service was free, but really it was just funded in a different way.

“By charging fares we’re putting a portion of the cost back onto the user, but we’ve done as much as we can to keep it as low as possible for them, while still making sure it’s an economically viable business option for us to provide the service.”

The fare is currently being kept low through being subsidised by ratepayers (to the cost of 10c per year as part of the Tauranga passenger transport targeted rate) and by funding from NZ Transport Agency.

“We see the contribution from the Regional Council a part of our role in helping keep Tauranga’s roads moving and congestion lower than what it could be if between 3,000 and 4,000 students were driven to school each day by their parents.”

The Schoolhopper fare, which is also available to school students on the urban Bayhopper service during the week and term time, is lower than the existing student fare.

“The fastest and cheapest way for students to get to school with the Schoolhopper network is by using a Smartride card – exactly the same card which is currently used on the Bayhopper network,” said Councillor Thurston.

People are encouraged to register their cards online at www.baybus.co.nz so that any credit can be transferred to a new card should their card be lost or stolen.

Information about how and where people can top up the cards is also available at the Baybus website.

BayHopper bus lowres