Updated buses accepted by users

The era of free public bus transport in Invercargill has ended - but the city's revamped bus service will be an improvement on the old one, council bosses say.

The new bus service was officially launched by Mayor Tim Shadbolt and community services committee chairman Cr Lindsay Abbott early yesterday morning at Bus Smart central, outside the Reading Cinemas on Dee St.

The new service covers four new routes called the Waikiwi Link, Windsor Comet, Heidelberg Star and Kew Connection.

They replace the old 10-route system including the purple circle buses and the freebie bus - resulting in 60 departures daily instead of the 90 departures daily under the old system.

The city's freebie bus rides in off-peak hours, between 9am and 2.55pm, will now cost customers $1, but super gold card holders can still ride free.

Ricky Saunders, a city bus ambassador who was riding the buses talking to customers yesterday, indicated most were relaxed the free off-peak rides had gone.

"They said they didn't mind paying because it was still cheap."

City Council roading manager Russell Pearson said the new bus service had to be implemented after a recent review of the old service by the NZ Transport Agency and council highlighted it was no longer cost-effective.

Improvements to the new service included new timetables, new signs, bus smart cards and new bus stops and shelters, he said.

Initiatives to encourage people to catch the buses include free Wi-Fi giving bus customers internet during the journey and a texting service allowing customers to find out bus arrival times.

Council senior traffic management officer Eddie Cook said the revamped bus service meant the average walking distance from residents' homes to their bus stops had increased from 300m to 400m, but that was countered by the buses now arriving every 45 minutes instead of every 80 to 90 minutes.

Peita Cook, another of the bus ambassadors, said reaction to the new bus service in the city was "half and half" among the customers she talked to yesterday.

The happy ones now had a shorter walk from their homes to the bus stop while the unhappy ones had a longer walk, she said.

The buses all have low access floors and bike racks.

The council shouted the public free bus rides yesterday to mark the launch of the new service.

The city's bus service, used by 370,000 people a year, is funded fifty-fifty by the NZ Transport Agency and city ratepayers.

Mr Pearson said the old bus service cost about $1.5m a year to run in total and the new bus service would cost about $1.3m to run.

The Southland Times