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The Orbiter: Celebrating two decades at number one

Thursday, July 25, 2019   Posted in: Resources and Information By: Administrator With tags: transport

Environment Canterbury media release: 25th July 2019

The Orbiter has been around twenty years this month - nearly as long as cell phones. The service is nearly as indispensable for many Christchurch locals.

You’d be hard pushed to find someone growing up in the city who hasn’t used the Orbiter at one time or another. In fact, drivers regularly hear people say that while they ‘don’t take public transport’, they use the Orbiter.

Perhaps its circuitous route is the reason that people perceive this bus as different to the rest, or perhaps it’s the highly noticeable bright green livery. Regardless the Orbiter quickly claimed the mantle of ‘most popular’ route, and has held its spot as Metro’s top performing route since way back in 2001.

Matt O’Malley has managed the service for its entire lifetime, as operations manager for Go Bus, and Leopard before that. Matt says that the Orbiter was Christchurch’s first major route to run between the suburbs without going into the city centre.

“It began as a bit of a trial in July 1999, running a ‘half-circuit’ only – from Princess Margaret Hospital, through Barrington, Riccarton and Burnside to Northlands.

“In less than 18 months, however, the service had proved so popular that it began to cover the full circuit, including The Palms Shirley and Eastgate Mall in its route,” he says.

The suburban route was especially important after the earthquakes when the city centre was out of action. Today, the Orbiter is a bit of a magnet for tourists looking to get a sense of Christchurch, with people regularly hopping on to do the full circuit – as do the occasional group taking advantage of an easy transport option for their suburban pub crawl.

The service operates with 22 buses running every ten minutes. This frequency gives it an unusually high profile. 68 percent of people who don’t use the bus said they were familiar with the Orbiter’s service in a recent survey.

Matt says that Metro celebrated the Orbiter’s birthday with cake at the Go Bus depot, handed out lollipops to passengers, and added 20th birthday signage to the buses currently ‘orbiting’ the city.

“Passengers can expect their favourite service to still be going strong for another twenty years to come,” he says.