Hamilton's buses hold their own against cars

POPULAR ROUTE: The Orbiter buses were introduced in 2006.
POPULAR ROUTE: The Orbiter buses were introduced in 2006.

Bus patronage in Hamilton is slowly but surely increasing, with the city's disabled and elderly residents taking public transport to get to where they want to go.

A report on public transport operations to the Hamilton Public Transport Joint Committee at the Waikato Regional Council last week  revealed the buses were holding their own against the throng of cars on Hamilton's streets.

Overall bus patronage in the city was relatively steady at 3.8 million trips in the year to April.

There were 371,648 urban bus trips made in Hamilton in April, compared to 368,038 urban passenger trips in April last year - an increase of 1 per cent.

On a per capita basis this works out to each of the city's 139,000 residents taking 2.73 trips e so far this year.

A total 181 ''wheelchair trips'' were recorded in April - a year-to-date increase of almost 28 per cent.

Meanwhile - and perhaps reflective of Hamilton's ageing population - Supergold Card users have increased considerably over the last nine months.

In the January to March quarter alone, the number of trips surged by more than 20 per cent, from 310,552 to 373,390. The Orbiter service continued to be the most popular route, with patronage up by more than 6 per cent.

And it seems plenty of us are still taking the bus to get to work and school. Peak travel - before 9am and after 3pm - accounted for around 40 per cent of all trips taken.

Acting public transport operations manager Ben Barlow said  one-off events such as the Balloons over Waikato had inflated the passenger figures further.

More than 18,000 availed themselves of the park-and-ride services to get to the balloon events, particularly the popular Nightglow, which constituted an increase of more than 36 per cent.

Likewise the Fieldays were being used as a means of getting more people onto the buses with that event's patrons getting free travel on buses in the Hamilton urban area.

''It is a bit of a trial,'' Barlow said.

''It's about getting people into the behaviour we want to promote.''

Around 1000 people took free shuttles to get to each Chiefs, Waikato and All Blacks rugby match.

While that was costly to the service, the economic benefits to the city overall were immense.

Balloons over Waikato organisers contributed $4000 to the bus transportation budgetse each year, although the committee was going to ask them for a bigger share next year.

''Wages for the drivers and fuel keep going up ... It's fair to ask. We can't just keep absorbing the increases,'' Barlow said.

Big changes were coming within the next two years with the advent of electronic ticketing, which would allow e much more comprehensive data to be gathered on what kind of passengers were travelling on each of the routes.

Funding had already been set aside for the introduction of the new technology, which would be ''rolled out'' first in Southland and then in the Bay of Plenty before it was adopted in the Waikato.

NZ Transport Agency staffer Andrew McKillop said the electronic ticketing scheme would be a collaboration between the country's nine regional councils.

''We will get a world-class standard. It will be a transformation ... [but] that 18 months will be up before we know it. There's a lot of backroom work that is being put together.''

Waikato Times