Bus with one passenger facing chop as empty seats hit council in back pocket

9:26 pm on 23 April 2021

Blenheim could reclaim its title as a one-bus town with a service that attracts just one passenger a day facing the final red light.

Blenheim’s south-west averages just over one passenger a day.

Blenheim's south-west bus averages just over one passenger a day. Photo: CHLOE RANFORD / LDR

Return bus routes have been trialled in the town's south-west and south-east suburbs in a bid to give residents more travel options.

But low attendance put the brakes on the south-east bus last December, and last week the Marlborough District Council recommended doing the same in the south-west after reports it was limping along with 33 riders a month - or just over one a day.

For one of the route's regulars, retiree Karen Deakin, the change would mean turning to taxis - "not as cheap as catching the bus".

Retiree Karen Deakin says she uses the south-west bus to visit Blenheim

Retiree Karen Deakin says she uses the south-west bus to visit Blenheim. Photo: CHLOE RANFORD / LDR

The 60-year-old lived a few hundred metres from the town centre but relied on public transport to close the distance, so she could run errands or meet up with her husband. The bus cost her $2.

"I always use the bus as much as I can. It would be a shame if it came to an end ... I think people will feel lost without it," she said.

The bus circled south-west Blenheim four times a day - twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon - and passed by 17 stops.

Its driver cheered when Deakin flagged down the bus on Tuesday morning. She was the only passenger to board the morning loops.

The driver, who worked for Ritchies, but did not want to be named, was not surprised the council had suggested scrapping the route.

"It's a quiet route. I drive it at 40kmh because if I go the speed limit [50kmh], I get back to the start about 10 minutes too quick."

A Ritchies bus driver is not surprised the route might be scrapped.

A Ritchies bus driver is not surprised the route might be scrapped. Photo: CHLOE RANFORD / LDR

He thought the south-west bus had so few passengers because the original "Blenheim Bus", which ran circuits north and south of the town, covered most of the town's more popular destinations.

"It's a shame because these services created a bit of extra work for us [bus drivers] after the Covid-19 lockdown, which hit us hard.

"Now there might be even less work to share between us."

Figures showed it cost the council about $33.80 a passenger to run the south-west bus last summer, compared to $5.50 a passenger to run the long-standing north and south bus loops.

This was estimated to jump to $51.70 a head if councillors agreed to keep Blenheim's south-west loop for another year.

Councillors would decide the route's fate on 13 May. If the proposal was backed, the bus would run its last loop on 21 May.

Councillors would also vote on whether to run return buses to Picton and Renwick for two more years, for $74,000, provided Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Association funded half.

If approved, the Blenheim to Renwick service would be cut back from two trips each weekday to just trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Blenheim to Picton bus would continue to run two return trips on Tuesdays and Thursday during off-peak hours.

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