Bus patronage in the region, which broke through the 2 million mark for the first time in the 2005/2006 financial year, continues to soar.
Figures just released for September show that while the number of passengers in the total region has increased by 14.7 per cent, rising from 190,404 in September 2005 to 218,563 in September 2006. Bus patronage in Hamilton during September also increased 17.2 per cent, compared with the same period last year.
"The impact of higher oil prices has clearly resulted in increasing numbers of people across the region choosing to take the bus,” says Environment Waikato's chairman, Jenni Vernon.
“That is why Environment Waikato is providing more buses, more often, and making them more comfortable to ride in.”
Environment Waikato's 2005/2006 Annual Report, which was adopted at yesterday's Council meeting, shows that bus patronage grew strongly across the region over the financial year, rising by 9.3 per cent from 1,972,788 passengers in the 2004/2005 year to 2,156,268 passengers in the 2005/2006 year.
This patronage has been boosted by major enhancements to bus services, particularly in Hamilton during the past 12 months. Among the new services are:
- The Chartwell Direct service which provides a rapid link for commuters travelling into and out of the city centre from the north-eastern suburbs.
- The Inner City Shuttle which enables shoppers to park their cars at the edge of the CBD, and yet have easy access to the retail heart of the city without parking hassles.
- The new RealTime system which tells people exactly when their bus will arrive, thanks to GPS satellite tracking.
- A significant number of routes have extended their weekday service by up to two hours.
- Key city routes have been expanded for areas such as Ruakura, St James Park, and Hillcrest.
- In addition, during the 2005/2006 financial year, Environment Waikato staff were heavily involved in the development of the new Orbiter service, which commenced on July 1,2006.
Within the wider region, Environment Waikato has also assisted with providing a new three-day a week service from Mangakino to Tokoroa, in conjunction with the Lakes District Health Board, Tokoroa Local Management Group, and the Taupo District Council. During the 2005/2006 financial year, overall patronage on rural services increased almost 10 per cent, with marked growth in the Paeroa and Taupo services.
In our Annual Passenger Transport Survey, 96 per cent of respondents rated the bus service as satisfactory or better - an increase of 3 per cent since 2004.
At the regional planning level, Environment Waikato chaired the Regional Land Transport Committee which developed the Regional Land Transport Strategy during the 2005/2006 year - providing a key planning document for the integrated development of transport options across the region, as well as ensuring synergy with inter-regional routes.
Apart from transportation, other highlights of the 2005/2006 year include significant progress on a number of projects including:
- Long-Term Council Community Plan: Councillors and staff were deeply engaged in the development of the 2006/16 Long-Term Council Community Plan - an investment in good planning which will pay dividends in the future.
- Improving Air Quality: Environment Waikato, working with government agencies, completed a major investigation into air emissions from wood burners to see what changes to domestic heating methods might be needed.
- Protecting Vital Ecosystems: Weidentified important wetlands adjacent to dairy farms and are working to protect them. The Toreparu wetland near Aotea is one of the top 10 best in the region. Now, with the help of the Motakotako Marae near Raglan, a care group has been established to look after it.
We also worked very closely with the Department of Conservation to eradicate feral goats in the northern Coromandel Peninsula. This two-year joint effort has created a 17,000 hectare goat-free area where the bush can recover and native plants and animals thrive.
- Peat lakes: We used our Natural Heritage Programme to partner with Waipa District Council to protect and provide better public access to several unique peat lakes in the region.
- Caring for our Coasts: Environment Waikato worked with the Whaingaroa Environment Centre to improve water quality in Raglan harbour. Three joint-agency projects are underway to plan for appropriate use, development and protection of the Coromandel Peninsula, the West Coast and the Kaiaua coast.
- Clean Streams project: Last year, some 172 kilometres of streams were fenced as part of our Clean Streams Project.
- Protecting Lake Taupo: A major policy variation was completed to protect Lake Taupo by reducing nitrogen flowing into the lake - and the hearing process is now underway.
- Navigation Safety: A new Navigation Safety Bylaw was adopted during 2005. It is designed to keep people safe and to reduce conflicts between different water activities.
- Waste Reduction: Environment Waikato co-ordinates the Waste Exchange and Waikato Waste Advisory Service and promotes waste education in schools. We had record results from the Waste Exchange programme last year, with exchanges up 90% and 44% more companies involved.
We also collected nearly 5,000 kg of unwanted agrichemicals during the year. Getting these toxic substances out of sheds and backyards will reduce the risk of contamination in years to come.
On the financial side, Environment Waikato's 20005/2006 year has seen a positive financial outcome, with the council ending the year in a strong financial position.
The year-end result was a surplus of $2.882 million, against a budgeted surplus of $2.003 million. This result is after accounting for the loss on the revaluation of some of our infrastructural assets of $121,000. The key contributor to this favourable financial position was the higher than budgeted return from the council's investment fund.
Environment Waikato's Annual Report has received an unqualified audit from Audit New Zealand.