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Still a push to get residents back on the bus

Cameron Joe
official 5
Metro bus pulling out of the Christchurch Bus Exchange.  Cameron Joe

Following last month’s shift into orange light, and workers returning to the CBD, Environment Canterbury still wants to see more passengers on Metro Bus services.

ECan Councillor Tane Apanui says last month's bus usage statistics are still yet to be finalised, although he doesn’t expect to see a significant change. 

“I haven’t noticed the increase, but it’s been a really ‘fluctual’ time. It’s really hard to know what difference it’s making, if there is any.” 

At the beginning of April, the Government implemented a three-month half price bus fare scheme, nationwide. 

However, ECan's reports showed this change would not have made a significant difference. 

In comparison, Auckland Transport is expecting to see bus usage increase by 25% following the lowered ticket prices. 

Apanui thinks Christchurch’s numbers will not reach close to this figure, due to the overall superior network the northern city has. 

Bus patronage faced a drop during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Metro numbers dropping by nearly 92%, during last year's lockdown.

Apanui says it’s hard to find a comparable benchmark, but suggests the regional council should be aiming for pre-covid patronage. 

However, Ritchies Vice President Peter Simpkin, says the company has noticed an increase across their lines. 

Red Bus, operated by Ritchies, runs six major routes in Christchurch, including the 28 and 3 (purple line). 

“The pandemic has driven people to use their private vehicles more, so it’s obviously more sustainable if public transport gets that lift now people are feeling more comfortable,” Simpkin said. 

Residents have also seen this change. 

Hornby local Theresa says the lines 81 and 5 have been packed since April. 

Another resident said the fare reductions brought her back to buses after several years of not using public transport. 

However bus user Liam Bentley thinks the reduced fares are not a good enough incentive to use the service again. 

“It’s an odd time to be dropping fares and then advertising it when so many trips are cancelled each day creating a totally unreliable service,” he said. 

Despite residents seeing higher patronage, Apanui says this is likely on routes that are already popular and reliable. 

“If they are seeing big increases there, then that tells us that the routes are good. We definitely want to see what that does to the bulk of the network, as opposed to a small portion, as that means we still have a lot of empty buses floundering around.” 

Environment Canterbury Councillor Tane Apanui discusses the marketing strategies they are using to increase bus patronage.

ECan is already working on an ‘anti-bunching’ system to improve reliability and tracking, avoiding multiple buses coming to the same stop. 

Apanui says the focus should be on providing a network that is engaging for the public and believes the solution lies in the hands of future public transport planning. 

This includes a Metro Bus service that has “better price, right routes and buses that are electric”, for a more comfortable ride.