Thursday, October 29, 2009

Effective Metro Bus Services to Merivale, Bryndwr and Papanui? Almost

As a regular bus user, at all times, it has long been a source of great annoyance that so many services aren't integrated better. Too often several buses run along a shared corridor close together in time leaving a long gap to the next set - an obvious waste of resources especially after hours when service levels are reduced. For people who depend upon buses it can waste hours of their life and impair their freedom and social mobility. Ineffectively timed services are hardly likely to meet Environment Canterbury goals of attracting people away from car use. Scanning the planned Metro route and timetable changes for 2nd November 2009 to the (mainly, north-south axis) bus services I was at first hugely impressed. The Airport-city connection, for example,served by three routes (some No. 3 route services and all No.10 and No.29 route services) now runs every 10 minutes, with the three different half hourly services departing in alternating sequence, to get a virtually no wait service to and from city connection.


Closer to home I have checked out the west Merivale [Rossall St]-Bryndwr corridor bus service imetables. This corridor will now be served by route No 9 and route No 15. Route No. 9 Wairakei is essentially the former No.17 Bryndwr route, but now running to and from Hoyts 8 only. The most obvious other route change here is that the No.15 Bishopdale route will no longer run up Winchester Street/Rugby Street but, in concert with No. 9 Wairakei will run along Carlton Mill Road and Rossall Street. This is consistent with the successful practise overseas, of not fragmenting into too many minor routes, but rather creating significant corridors within 500 metres of most residents that can offer frequent services. Metro has increased services on the route serving Wairakei Rd by 50% during weekday daytime services - from half hourly to every 20 minutes. Even better they have also integrated it to run in an alternating departure time pattern with 15 route. For instance the middle of the day, weekday, services depart the Rossall St/Leinster Rd timing point for the city in a sequential pattern of 10 25 30 50 55 minutes past the hour (route No.9 services underlined). There are only five minutes in each hour when a bus is more than 15 minutes away. More commonly, anyone heading for the stops can usually expect a bus in less than 10 minutes. Outbound a similar frequency and spread of services operates 06 11 26 41 56 from the Bus Exchange. This is an impressive level of service, no timetable needed in most situations, along a residential corridor from Carlton Mill up towards Bryndwr and Bishopdale, areas in which many residents are within easy walking distance of either route.


Weekday evening services also alternate to give an inbound to city pattern of 10 and 40 minutes past the hour from Rossall St/Leinster Road timing point; and outbound from the city service at 18 and 47 past the hour. The pattern is less user friendly on Saturday nights and throughout Sundays - inbound around 40 and 57 minutes past the hour; outbound at 02 and 17 past the hour. The problem of integrating times at both ends of a through route an sometimes mean not all areas can get an absolutely precise alternating pattern with other routes sharing the corridor. As the route No.9 Wairakei will terminate and depart from Hoyts 8, and presumably could operate at any time, it is obscure why it can't be timed in conjunction with No.15 route on Saturday evenings and Sundays to create a consistent and more useful 30 minute service, at least in one direction! Despite this, for most of the week and no doubt for most bus users in the west Merivale-Bryndwr areas an attractive expansion of services, as much achieved by more effective use of resources as by actual expansion of frequency on the route serving Wairakei Road.


For those living closer to Papanui Road there are also service improvement, with five routes (not counting Northern Star, Rangiora services which run express) now using the Papanui Road corridor - variously; routes No.s 8, 10,11,12,22 (some services to the Northcote/Redwood/Belfast area have been redesigned hence the new route numbers 8 and 22). This means an extra route using this busy corridor and services are even more regular during the week day day times than previously - no gap between services longer than 10 minutes, and in some cases only 3 or 5 minutes apart. There is now even less need fror Merivale residents to use a timetable during these hours, remembering the route numbers above will be sufficient.


The general weekday evening outbound pattern is 07 09 23 39 54 and the inbound services, times from Papanui/Northlands 02 08 17 30 46. Anyone who uses current evening services up Papanui Road (with a 28 minute gap in services between 05 and 33 past the hour, outbound!) will welcome the reliability of this pattern, which is essentially a quarter hourly service in both directions, with an extra bus and this at a good time for many evening shift workers finishing work "on the hour". For those living further east of Papanui Rd there may also be the option of the No.18 Northlands (via Springfield Rd/Rutland St etc) at 05 past the hour from the city. In bound this service departs Mays Road timing point, at 48 past the hour weekday evenings. If I have a moan about the Papanui Road corridor week night services it is that the last service, Monday to Thursday will now run at 11.09 (currently 11.40pm). This said Friday and Saturday evenings services continue through to midnight.


Saturdays - Daytime services on Papanui Road on Saturdays (and most public holidays) are never more than 12 minutes apart - often far less. A very attractive service frequency for those in the Merivale-Papanui area. Weekday services, weekday evenings, Saturday day services - so far so good .... but then...??? All too good to be true? Alas it seems so. Come Saturday evening many of these services evaporate leaving an in-bound pattern (departing Papanui/Northlands for city) of 25 45 52 55 and 58 minutes past the hour - a most unattractive bunching of services (three services within 6 minutes for goodness sake) with a 26 minute gap with no service at all. Getting home or back to the motel again the pattern 04 07 24 50 58 minutes past the hour operates, with a 26 minute gap in services. Saturday night is a time when off-peak buses are often well patronised, with buses often half or more full (on the odd occasion, standing passengers). Passengers are often in a relaxed, festive or happy mood (passengers themselves may be half or more full!) and bus services attract many casuals from restaurants and bars, groups of people going out for the night (nowadays heading out anytime from 6pm to 12am) or later returning home, who wish to avoid drinking and driving. Despite the media talking up occasional violent incidents, Saturday night before midnight, anyway, is usually a relatively relaxed and jolly time, on the street and on buses. What a dismal response,service level, frequency, and poor "pulsing" of service Metro's new pattern offers!


Sunday daytime inbound services are no better - 28 44 45 50 and 58 minutes past the hour - four services within a 14 minute spectrum, followed by a 30 minute gap! Out-bound from the Bus Exchange up Papanui Road Sunday day-times 01 29 50 54 58 (in the evening, after 6pm the 54 departure is replaced by an 09 departure) - again less than satisfactory. Services on 18 route offer a part alternative to avoiding these long gaps, for those living close enough to take advantage of them, outbound Saturday and Sunday services both around 36 minutes past the hour. Less useful is the inbound from Mays Road timing point at around 20 past the hour. This drastic reduction in service frequency contrasts with the excellent Saturday day service and occurs at a time many people attend major events (such as Summer Times), go out with children to parks and beaches, or if elderly visit friends, and in many cases make trips involving transfers - all very vulnerable to being stuck in town [as currently!] with a 30 minute no service period. On an hourly route or thirty minute route corridor, so be it, the city can only afford what it can afford on lightly patronised routes. But frankly it seems ludicrous that a major corridor having five bus services sharing the same pathway for over 3kms and serving so many functions - City, Hagley Park, Town Hall, Casino, Merivale, the multiple Merivale rest home/hospital sector, Northlands, major weekend shopping zones, supermarkets and a major tourist accommodation sector - is so poorly coordinated.


Like everyone else I welcome the many good changes being introduced by Metro on November 2nd but can't casually ignore shortfalls in service quality which will effect my life and that of hundreds or thousands of other people - elderly and disabled included - for several years to come, until the next review. I believe steps should be taken now to ensure frequency of services on Papanui Road is not less than every 15 minutes, and those on the Rossall St-Bryndwr corridor every 30 minutes, at all operating times. Retaining the 30 minute pattern on No.10 from the Airport via a Papanui Road which applies Saturday day times, into Saturday evening, and on daytime Sunday services, seems one possible option, the 14 minutes past the hour bus from Papanui, and 18 minutes past the hour to Papanui maintaining a credible, no timetable needed, spread of services if integrated with the patterns above. Likewise ratcheting No 9 Wairakei departure times, to operate at 30 minute intervals alternating with 15 route, Saturday night and Sunday seems more than justified. No doubt Metro will say it can't be done, because of tenders and timetables completed but why should patrons suffer three years of inferior services, hour after hour, to save administrators a few hours of discussion, renegotiation and reframing to deal with an issue which rightly would have been met, from the very beginning of if Metro had standard goals and criteria to evaluate route changes against. In this light it would be farcial to think a route corridor that has ten services an hour middle of the day week days and forms a major tourist introduction to the city (and its image of being friendly and accessible) would be set to meet criteria of (de facto) a 30 minute evening service, and otherwise poorly timed and erratic service, on Saturday evenings and all day Sundays!


As a hangover of last century, when bus services were often seen as a sort of de facto social welfare system for the young, elderly and poor, some people may think bus users should be greatful for whatever services they get. It is not an attitude I subscribe to. We all pay rates and taxes towards public transport (and substantially more taxes to subsidise all transport in general according to the Government commisioned Surface Transport Costs and Charges Study undertaken by Booz Allen and Hamilton, international transport consultants, between 2005 and 2007). The general taxpayer - including Canterbury residents are also contributing towards hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading commuter rail and busways in Auckland and Wellington. In one way or other, I like most people pay rates, taxes and fares, and expect quality service and effective use of public funds.


Some departure times listed above that move slightly (>2mins) during the day eg from 7.44 am to 10.45 am and back to 4.44pm etc are adjusted down to earliest common time for simplicity of argument.

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