Rethinking public transport in Tauranga

Mark Wassung holding up his redesigned bus routes alongside the current network. Photo: Ryan Wood.

There are more cars on our roads than ever before, with Tauranga traffic worsening ever year.

One man who’s spent a lot of time thinking about the issue is local architect Mark Wassung.

For the past couple of years he’s been working on Tauranga CONNECT – his vision for a multi-modal transport network that’s “fast, frequent, reliable, safe and fun”.

“In 2016 when I put this idea together, I had experienced the G:link tram system on the Gold Coast, which was planned in the 1980s when they only had 160,000 people. But they’ve only built it in the last 10 years. I was inspired by the fact they had planned for it.”

It’s the forward-thinking that attracts Mark, and since Tauranga is only a few thousand short of being where the Gold Coast was in the 1980s, he thinks now is the time to plan ahead.

“Trams are expensive though – around $100 million per kilometre. So when I found out how much it cost I realised it was something we can’t afford.”

Instead, his idea is to overhaul the current bus system, to make it faster and easier to use.

“It starts with Cameron Road,” he says. “Instead of doing trams we could have electric buses, and eventually driverless buses. Cameron Road is actually wide enough to be redesigned. You could have a bus transit lane, which could also be a car pool lane.”

Mark’s idea is to have five simplified bus routes that would run at regular, frequent times. The major route would be the red Cameron Road line, running from the racecourse up though the CBD and over the harbour bridge to the base of Mauao.

There would also be an orange Mount Beach line running from Mount Maunganui to Bayfair, the airport, and through Matapihi and over the rail bridge to the CBD.

Other lines would feed onto these major routes, with buses from different lines given a different colour for easy recognition.

“The idea is to get a bus network that is fast,” says Mark. “At the moment buses only have 10 people in them – we need to get people out of their cars.”

Bay of Plenty Regional Council has recently announced NZ Bus will be taking over the Western Bay of Plenty bus contracts, with the deal including a revamp of the Bayhopper network.

This includes the ‘City Loop’, connecting Mount Maunganui, Bayfair, CBD and Tauranga Hospital every 15 minutes, and extending to Greerton in 2020.

BOPRC transport policy manager Garry Maloney says they have had a number of engagement processes underway over the past 18 months in relation to the transport and public transport network in Western Bay of Plenty.

“We received a wide range of valuable ideas from the community, including Tauranga CONNECT, of which Mr Wassung is a member.

“Some of the ideas this group proposed were already part of the original draft plans, such as the ‘City Loop’ (similar to Mr Wassung’s ‘Red Line’) and changes to public transport operating hours.”

He says Tauranga CONNECT also proposed a service similar to the new Goldline network, which was adopted following public feedback that confirmed the need for such a service.

The Goldline will provide off-peak services to retirement homes, cruise ship terminal and Mount Hot Pools, aimed at promoting public transport among senior citizens.

These changes are expected to be made after NZ Bus takes over the Bayhopper contract in December.