The Orbiter - Celebrating two decades at number one

Twenty years old this month, the Orbiter has been around nearly as long as cell phones. And for many Christchurch locals, the service is nearly as indispensable.

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, before that, Leopard. Matt said 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 said.

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 - in a recent survey, 68% of people who don’t use the bus said they were familiar with the Orbiter’s service.

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 said.