CITY of Newcastle will fund the park and ride buses for at least another year with lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes hoping consistent patronage can help state the city's case for a light rail extension.
After four months of funding the service on a month-to-month basis, the council has locked in a contract with Keolis Downer that will see the cost of a return trip increase to a modest $4.60.
As part of the contract, afternoon services will also be brought forward to commence in time for parents to complete school pick-ups.
"We've heard from the community, city businesses and major employers, and the message is clear; park and ride is making the daily commute easier for more than 1,000 regular weekly users, keeping cars out of the CBD, and should be continued," Cr Nelmes said.
"For a person who switches from parking in the city each day to using the park and ride express bus ... they will be, on average, $900 a year better off."
Cr Nelmes said council had decided to continue the service for three main reasons.
She said park and ride freed up about 200 car parks in the city centre each day, was a convenient option among Newcastle's transport mix and correlated with a desire for light rail to be extended to the stadium precinct.
"It's a three pronged-approach," she said.
"The third piece of that strategic approach to continuing this service is proving concept for the extension of light rail to service this site.
"That consistency, that timeliness of service - a bus going every 15 minutes in the morning and the same in the afternoon - is what people want when they're trying to make a shift from private vehicles to public transport."
New Lambton's Jenni Payne, who began using the service about 18 months ago - the first time she has used public transport to commute - said the earlier return buses would allow her to use the service every weekday.
"I'm always in a mad rush to get back to the car and pick the kids up from school," she said.
"So getting the return bus at 2.25pm will definitely take the pressure off and make park and ride a more convenient option."
The council will subsidise the service by about 78 cents for each park and rider user at current patronage levels.
Council CEO Jeremy Bath said in-kind support from Venues NSW and McDonald Jones Stadium had helped to keep the service fee low.
"The return price of $4.60 for an express service is substantially cheaper than the $7-return Opal bus fare or the $8.50 all-day city parking," he said.
"Venues NSW must be thanked for throwing its support behind park and ride by agreeing to waive the parking fee it previously charged [council].
"There have been more than 120,000 passenger trips on Park and Ride since it commenced in November 2017, and with the future of the service now secured, the City of Newcastle is committed to further increasing passenger numbers by ensuring the service is convenient and reliable and saves its users time and money."
Venues NSW CEO Paul Doorn said his agency was keen to continue its support of the park and ride.
"Venues NSW is happy to work with the City of Newcastle to deliver park and ride and ensure assets like McDonald Jones Stadium benefit the Newcastle community outside of event days," he said.
The park and ride service began in late 2017 amid the city's light rail construction.