Palmerston North’s public transport use collapses after student exodus
Warwick Smith / stuff
Buses continue to arrive in Massey, but passenger numbers have dropped dramatically.
The collapse of the international student market in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is blamed for significantly declining public transport use in Palmerston North.
Figures presented to the Horizons Regional Council passenger transport committee on Tuesday showed patronage on Palmerston North buses was down 33% year-over-year.
While the number of people using urban services increased by 2.45%, the sharp drop is due to higher education staff and students dropping services in droves.
* New Feilding bus service postponed
* Distance learning students increase as international numbers decrease in Massey
* The absence of international students is felt for some time at Massey University
In a community built with an emphasis on public transport, bus use is low
Massey students and staff don’t have to pay for their trips thanks to a program funded by the university, Horizons and the Waka Kotahi NZ transport agency.
Despite this, ridership on Massey bus services has fallen 61% year over year.
Horizons Transportation Manager Rhona Hewitt said the pandemic had had a huge impact on passenger services, which were taking some time to recover.
Patronage on buses across the Horizons region – stretching from Whanganui to Tararua and Ruapehu to Horowhenua – was on the decline, she said.
Whanganui’s patronage fell by 13%, Taihape by 30% and Marton by 44%.
The Palmerston North service has been hit hard due to a drop in the number of international students, Hewitt said.
“[Those students] tend to be heavy users, but saw a large reduction. “
There is evidence from outside of Horizons to support this claim.
Massey University said Thing in January, international student enrollments were down 15% from 2020 to 2021.
Meanwhile, 1,844 of the 4,804 enrolled were forced to study online due to border closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
University studies have changed dramatically during the pandemic, with many students being able to do most of their education, including lecturing, online wherever they are.
Massey said Thing in March, there was a surge in distance education, with numbers up to 3,400 from the first semester of 2020.
Hewitt said there was a positive note, with Massey students ditching the use of their student card for free trips to the Bee Card system.
The card, which was deployed in ManawatÅ« in July, is a labeling system.
Beforehand, the students simply waved their ID cards and the driver pressed a button to register a free fare.
But the bee map gives data on where passengers get on and off, which should help with route planning.
Gray Power ManawatÅ« chairman Russell Hallam, who spoke at the start of the meeting, said one way to increase the number was to allow SuperGold Card members to get free travel to Palmerston North all day.
They currently benefit from free travel between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Leaving them free all day would give them time to meet people after dates or contribute to the economy by having time for coffee or a movie in town, he said.
They could also seize more volunteer opportunities if they could travel for free during peak hours, he said.
Committee chairman Sam Ferguson said it was something that could be considered when the board next reviews tariffs.