DESPITE two major overhauls to services in the past three years, Bendigo residents continue to shun the public bus service provided by the state government, with the overwhelming majority of buses operating at less than 25 per cent of their capacity.

Passenger data for the past three years obtained by the Bendigo Weekly shows that of the 15 different bus services offered throughout the city, only the Huntly to Kangaroo Flat route attracts an average of more than 15 passengers on each of the 60 week day bus runs.

Most bus services average less than 10 passengers per trip, some as few as five, despite the availability of a high quality and reliable service.

Two 10 year contracts worth more than $102 million for the provision of the Bendigo transit service were awarded to B & G Christian Pty Ltd and implemented in July 2011.

Another $3.49 million tender for the Strathfieldsaye – Bendigo bus service for the same tenure was awarded to Macmore Holdings Pty Ltd.

The city’s out of favour transit service is widely regarded as one potential solution to parking woes in the central business district, but residents continue to mostly ignore the public bus service, and instead opt to drive into the city.

More than 1.6 million trips were undertaken on the Bendigo bus network in the 12 months up until May 2019, and the Weekly understands approximately $3 million of ticket revenue was received, although the state government said it was unable to verify any figure.

Regional Sustainable Development manager at the City of Greater Bendigo, Trevor Budge said the need for better transport services was a well-entrenched principle of the Integrated Transport and Land Use Strategy, which encourages people to use active transport that includes public transport, bikes and scooters or walking as an alternative to the car.

He said congestion can be reduced and healthy living standards improved with a minimum of change to people’s lives if more residents travelled via public transport.

“The City of Greater Bendigo and the state government are committed to ensuring buses and trains are attractive transport options that will entice people leave the car at home,” he said.

Bendigo’s public bus service has been overhauled in recent years, with Department of Transport data pointing to an almost 20 per cent increase in the number of passengers since early 2016.

A Department of Transport spokesperson said buses are important to regional communities, connecting people to their families, friends and livelihoods.

“The recent reviews of the Bendigo network improved bus routes and added more frequent bus services to Junortoun, Heathcote and Bendigo as well as more affordable ticket pricing across the region.

“Since we first introduced the new Bendigo bus network back in 2016, the number of people using buses has grown by almost 20 percent and we’re keen to see that trend continue.

Despite these calls, and the injection of tens of millions of dollars, Bendigo residents remain reluctant to get on board.

There are 54 services ferrying students and staff between La Trobe University and Bendigo Station each weekday, but an average of only 9.67 passengers on each bus.

Critics of the bus network point to the lack of direct services as one reason why buses continue to be largely shunned, with many bus routes criss-crossing suburbs on their way to the CBD.

For example, the number 54 Maiden Gully bus takes 28 minutes to reach the Bendigo Station from its departure point in Beckhams Road/Carolyn Way, and ferries an average of just nine passengers per service.

Yet the number 65 bus that travels between Bendigo Station and the Spring Gully Retirement Village averages just five passengers a day on each of its 28 bus services, and takes an acceptable 12 minutes to complete the journey.

The state government data shows an average of 11 people catch each of the 35 services provided between the Bendigo Station and Strathfieldsaye on weekdays.

The Department of Transport said it was continuing to review and invest in bus networks in regional areas to ensure it is delivering the best possible services for passengers.

“When prioritising service routes the Department of Transport considers a range of factors including the potential number of passengers, suitability and safety of the road network for bus operations, development of a direct and easily understood network, associated costs and the impact on existing passengers.”

– PETER KENNEDY