Saturday, October 30, 2010

In any event ....

Despite its poor technical quality this is one of my favourite historical photos of Christchurch.

It shows a Baldwin steam tram pulling at least ten double deck trailers, turning from Buckleys Road (now home to Eastgate Mall) into Linwood Avenue. In those days the Avenue was called the Canal Reserve, legacy of attempt to built a canal for shipping up from the estuary into Christchurch. I estimate the steam tram is pulling 400-500 passengers, presumably tofro some major event. or maybe (given the era) a bible school convention.

It is even possible that this blog may be only the second place that this photo has been published in the last fifty years. As far as I know or can recall it doesn't appear in any of the well known NZ tramway histories and I think I've read most, some several times a few years apart.

It is scanned here from its original printing in "New Brighton - a regional history 1852-1970" by Geo. W,Walsh, self published, it appears, in 1971. The photo's source is acknowledged as Alexander Turnbull Library [NZ's national archives]. If it still exists it does not appear on any online archive or record. At the risk of getting my hands smacked (though if a photo is past copywrite can any authority claim absolute right?) I liberate it. Maybe it will even inspire this library to hunt it down and offer a copy of the original to the world of greater clarity.

The Baldwin was the standard steam tram in Sydney and had about twice the huff and puff (technical term!) and pulling power of the eight little Kitson steam trams used from 1878 in Christchurch. Christchurch only ever had a single Balwin steam tram, purchased second-hand to help carry the huge crowds for the NZ Exhibition which ran for six months in Hagley Park in 1906. With 2 million visitors - many obviously repeat (Christchurch itself had only about 50,000 residents) it was possibly the biggest organised event in NZ history to that date. To illustrate its perceived importance, and budget, to get a NZ built locomotive into the exhibition halls the exhibition organisers arranged construction of a temporary railway line from Riccarton Station (Mona Vale) across Hagley Park to the exhibition site, also used to bring in building materials and other large items.

By this point in time the Christchurch Tramway Board had been established as a public authority, bought out the three private companies and begun electrification, though steam trams pulled passenger traffic on non-electrified lines for almost a decade afterwards, and occasionally for big events. I would imagine this photo dates to between 1905 and 1910. It is very hard to tell but it does look like that might be an overhead catenary pole in the foreground. There are quite a number of clearer better quality photos of trams pulling multiple trailers in Christchurch -a common practice in our flat city but fairly rare elsewhere I believe - including this one from the local library website Heritage photo section.

Still I like the pure madness of the shot of the snaking, de facto tram-train above and enjoy the fantasy of how bizarre it would look nowadays if such a lengthy vehicle was to try to pull itself through the constant traffic congestion around the Aldwins/Buckleys/Linwood Ave intersection. I imagine it as a huge ghost train dragged up from the subterrainium depths of our collective history and appearing for a moment as a vision to thirty or forty queuing motorists!

And what the hell would OSH say to this??!!**

It is ironic that a recent article in The Press referred to Mayor Bob Parker renewing his call for tram-trains. I don't think he meant the above, rather something of this nature . That such systems would ever be suitable in Christchurch seems unlikely - generally railways have very tight standards about who they share lines with, and more typically it seems seeking to create separate passenger and freight corridors or dedicated lines. Unless they rebuild the entire rail corridors into the city it is hard to see KiwiRail - whose agenda and expectation is to double freight on our sparse lines in the immediate coming decades - agreeing to this vulnerable and complex situation. Moorhouse Avenue aside, we don't really have the wide boulevards to carry such huge vehicles as these into the city centre.

However we can learn one thing from the photo above - the great value of using public transport to service public events. Indeed one of the major reasons that Christchurch and Sydney had steam trams pulling trailers (and so many other cities didn't, stuck to horses, or went back to horse trams) was the lucrative market in day trippers to beaches far from from the city centre. The New Brighton Line, the Sumnner line and the North Beach line were built in Christchurch across scrub land, years before some intermediate areas got housing, because in the days when vacations away were rare, the weekend or the public holiday trip to the beach had huge social import, not least for (in biological terms) mating!

Last year the Parker-Marryat city council duo visited four North American cities (and none less than 2 million in Metropop). In contrast during 2008 and 2009 I travelled virtually (so slim I sped effortlessly along optic cables - wow what a fantasy for an expanding mid-lifer ) to 120 smaller cities, much closer to Christchurch in size, in Canada, Australia, NZ and USA. One of the things that really stood out on overseas and Auckland transit authority websites was how they almost always featured the next big game, festival or concert, or listings of services to coming events. It was commonplace indeed to find a transit website with a sport link given high profile- football, league, soccer,baseball, grid-iron etc - at the top corner of the homepage with direct links to appropriate timetables or special services to get patrons there by bus or train. Here's a sample from Brisbane. Or an example of a specific venue map, applied for big events at that venue, one from Sydney. Sometime in the latter days of the George W.Bush admin (USA) a law change prevented transit authorities with a monopoly (rail systems for example) from unfairly using this to promote event access, but the principle remains.

In my submissions to Metro strategy over the last year or so, I have suggested rather than ad hoc organisation about running buses to events, most of the large events are so predictable, that Christchurch Metro could publish an attractive map/timetable pamphlet [and online equivalent] once or twice each year, showing what buses run to what events. Some of this is generic ...eg buses depart Northlands following the Orbiter Route to Ferry Road, and then "the stadium formerly known as" (Lancaster Park) at 80 minutes, 70 minutes, and 60 minutes before kick off time, for all NPC , Super 14 and International Tests [with samples of typical times] and depart as full after the game.

There are several regular large event focii points in Christchurch - North Hagley Park, QEII, Westpac, Canterbury Park Showgrounds etc - and also reasonably predictable attendance (for example, Classical Sparks the big popular orchestral performance culminating in a fireworks display typically gets bigger crowds than other SummerTimes festival events). It would not be difficult to organise variant patterns applying for large special events, including departure times for special services from Malls etc to these places. Indeed the "scientific" analysis involved in creating these generic map/timetables will reveal unmet gaps. It will be obvious for instance if some parts of Christchurch have standard timetable services that allow relatively direct access to a venue, and which other parts make direct access (in route or connection times) difficult. From this it would be possible to create a "event route" crossing several routes, utilising existing stops, to pick up that gap traffic. The pamphlet might list all events during the coming year, or season, to which these special services run and departure times from key points. It amazes me for example that Leopard bus lines long ago have not picked up on running specials via The Orbiter route, until Ferry Road then deviating to Lancasterjadeamiwhatever Stadium, for international test matches if nothing else. Redbus runs shuttles from the Bus Exchange to various major Rugby fixtures but I image these barely skim the water of huge attendance figures. Having such systems entrenched by Metro marketing allows far wider, deeper and constant publicity and promotion. For example what better way and place of promoting such event services in the future than at events themselves, obtaining the right to hand out copies to all attendees (and why not incorporate a luck number, offering say a trip to ozzie prize, announced a week or too later to ensure they are taken home and event services get looked at by many otherwise car addicted persons). Imagine handing out 20,000 such leaflets at the New Brighton fireworks promoting all coming summer special event services !!

Well amazingly not only as Metro included such possibilities as suggested here, in there 2010-16 strategy upgrade -A new target (No. 13 in Attachment 2) - trial some bus services to special events. - but they have even included the same concept in Timaru's Metro strategy. ("Prepare a marketing plan for Timaru which includes a calendar of special events").

Event services are a huge but fun challenge - they are open to too many buses empty looking silly, too few jammed to the hilt, or delays caused by traffic queues or lack of co-operation with traffic management organisations. But done well? There is no better time to "sell" public transport to a sector of the public that in many cases rarely uses public transport. The families and father and kids going to football games to avoid traffic congestion and long walks from cars parked blocks away, the somewhat bigger boys who want to go "on the piss" afterwards and catch a cab home to avoid drink-drive. Map-timetables would allow visitors up or down from other places, clear and understandable access, without a car or without needing to bring cars in close. It can introduce clean modern buses and efficient services to people who still think in terms of old dunga school buses. In my view, showtime is showcase time for the astute marketing of public transport being done well. In any event, this is at least possible.

** For overseas readers - OSH - Occupational Safety and Health...but operative in many many areas. e.g. I was once on a promotional committee for an historical parade which was told horse drawn vehicles (even those with experienced in public crowd situation horses) would not be acceptable for safety reasons. Sigh. To think last century they used to lead circus parades through Christchurch streets with horses and elephants. To my knowledge not a single toddler was ever left like a pancake for his weeping mum to fold and take home.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Emperor's New Light Rail

Recently I came across a opinion piece - "The Emperor's New Light Rail" in the "Houston Chronicle" about the huge city's light rail system. It brings to the surface many of the unchallenged assumptions - the mythology - of those who propose light rail.

So often when one hears of a light rail proposal the advocates shunt out the same arguments, like a line of old tramcars - LRT vehicles have higher capacity; LRT lines attract more riders than bus routes they replace; LRT reduces congestion; systems cost less per passenger to operate and allegedly require less staff to operate; having lines engenders a sense of permanence and boosts investment in areas through which a light rail passes. Some of these may true or relevant in certain limited situations, much of this thinking ignores real costs, including spread capital costs which render light rail unacceptably expensive in Christchurch and often an indulgent luxury in even big cities like Houston.. Personally, I iummediately suspect anyone who talks generalities in public transport matters, it is a field so entirely dependent on organising and matching up about 30 different factors to the precise situation. This needed just to achieve anything approaching quality service that is reasonably cost effective (subsidised less than 50%) and journey time effective in terms of the tax and ratepayer base it serves.

Bill King's opinion piece is refreshing in challenging the extreme flakiness of many light rail arguments, as they have unravelled in practice in Houston.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cruisin' past the bus lanes, via Papanui Road, via Manhattan

Automatic Pre-Pay bus ticket machines on a Select Bus Service route in New York.

Passengers purchase ticket from these and board articulated buses through all three doors (mass loading in less than 30 seconds). Regular checks by inspectors and police and heavy fines for having no ticket work on the "proof of payment" system common on European transit. Systems like this - or even computer chip cards only - ensure fast boarding and remove the slowing effect of complex driver-passenger interactions. On-street bus lanes need to be heavily policed to work well in creating rapid bus transit, as New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority recently found out. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

In a recent posting "Metro Strategy Delivers" I said I felt the latest Metro Strategy update, for 2010-2016 has more vision and yet is also far more specific than previous Strategy documents of the last decade.

In that posting I identified four areas where to me the Strategy spoke with either a completely new voice or with stronger and much more specific emphasis than has hitherto been the case. These areas were the openness to identifying further cross town routes; services to country areas; focus on high activity hubs for suburban interchange points and - the biggie -- the specific inclusion of investigating Bus Rapid Transit (along with rail options) in future mode and corridor options to be nvestigated.

Another piece of wording I like, in combo, is that in the outline of the strategy presented to local councils which reads as follows - "A new target (No. 3 in Attachment 2) to ‘average bus travel times to match or be lower than car travel times on high demand corridors every year’ has been added to look at other ways to improve bus travel times relative to cars and make it a more attractive travel option". [My bolding]. I read this together with a target further down the document; "The wording of target 33 was altered following a strong response from the public about progressing with investigations about future mode and corridor options, consulting the public on options and protecting corridors".

This might seem all very obscure to the average punter but to me it is a great step forward from previous documents that seemed to rely almost entirely on a strategy of bus laning arterial roads and bus laning arterial roads only. The word corridors is broader than lanes and even if the current vision is only streets as now, it opens the way to creative links going "off road", judicious purchase of a corner section to allow an always free left turn (into a permanent bus lane) so buses never stop for lights at a busy intersection. Or allows for purchase of several houses in some part of town that would allow a bus only (and bike, pedestrian) boulevard to be built straight through linking major streets not normally arterials in a way that allows buses far faster movement and more direct routes across the city. It is ludicrous to me that hundreds of millions can be spent on passenger rail yet a couple of million to straighten and speed up various bus routes is not considered - part of the devaluing and under-investment in bus services spanning decades, a space in public attitude which allows inappropriately expensive and ineffective rail and light rail fantasies to flourish like weeds in a neglected garden!

All my reading suggests that (a) on street bus lanes can play a big role in enhancing public transit (b) as a technology of rapid transit and a truly sophisticated service delivery they have their limits and can't in most circumstances - by themselves - deliver a quicker than a car freeflow journey with quality infrastructure (platformed bus stations, preloading payment etc) and high capacity (for example multiple articulated buses).

Three recent examples of the limitations of bus laning (only) as a technology spring to mind.

On the opening day of the Papanui Road Bus Lanes - Christchurch's first proper bus lane - a year ago, a passenger was quoted in The Press (07/10/2009) as saying there was no change to her city-bound journey at 7.15am. "It was exactly the same speed as it always has been, but there was no-one parked (in the lane) and everyone was very polite," she told The Press reporter. In response Council Project Manager Christian " Anderson said bus reliability was the intended purpose. "It's really getting consistent times down Papanui Rd, rather than trying to make it any faster." Buses fitted with global positioning system receivers would be tracked to see if improvements had been made, he said".

No one can deny the prime importance of buses running on the times they are shown to run, not ten or twenty minutes behind time, making passengers late for work and school and appointments. It is core value stuff for a bus system. And being able to achieve committed times is the basis of an integrated service. But it is hardly rapid transit!

A bus service loads passengers at twenty stops along the route AND stops for traffic queues ahead or for the occasional traffic light which can not logically or sensibly altered by a bus transponder (eg crossing a phased one-way flow). Even with bus lanes this adds bout 15 minutes to the equivalent journey by private car over 10km journey. In contrast a segregated busway may only stop at a dozen stops and its route and technology (such as over-passes or underpasses of busy roads) means it never stops at all for other traffic. I have been advocating such a busway in Christchurch tofro the city from Belfast for several years - as suggested the first "other cross traffic" stop where the buses had right of way only 50% would be Salisbury Street - about 8 km away from Belfast! By such devices the partly segregated busway gains hugely in journey time and quality over conventional traffic and also over other bus services operating only on lanes.

Christian Anderson identifies one limitation of bus lanes; two other limitations - the invasion of bus lanes by motorists in practice and/or by political campaigns to have bus lane access extended to other groups of motorists are two other de facto but very real ever present restrictions on bus lanes.

Note for instance the extraordinary number of illegal entry into bus lane offences committed by motorists in Auckland last year. According to an report in the NZ Herald 29 July 2010 the four cities of roughly equal size (200,000-400,000) that were recently subsumed into "Auckland Supercity" issued bus lane offense tickets to motorists in the following ratio;

Waitakere
- with only short "bus advance" [queue-jumper] lanes at some big intersections - no tickets
Manukau
- with only 3km of bus lanes - 6 tickets
North Shore City
- with 9km of "transit" lanes (also for vehicles carrying more than 3 persons) 2639 tickets
Auckland City
- with 31km of bus lanes 41,169 tickets !!

One underlying factor identified in this disparity is the alleged obscurity of start point for motorists needing to enter a bus lane to make a left turn. This said, when signs were erected as guide points, the number of infringements remained fairly similar!!

The greater underlying aspect for me is embodied in a recent quote I read "Crime pays, if it didn't people wouldn't commit crime". In other words however large these figures they reflect only a portion of offenses. One would presume at very (very) most only 20% of offenders get caught, probably much less. Auckland has had bus lanes for several years now and yet can still catch 41, 000 motorists who are prepared to breach restrictions and probably not catch 200,000 plus - around 4000 a working week, more than enough to render bus lanes significant compromised! And it would be naieve to think the other three city's had no transgressions to slow buses and otherwise make lanes (with heavy traffic running very close to the curb) far less safe.

Before the supercity (ha ha) came into being the Auckland City Council was "pushing lawmakers to cut the $150 fine in half - this followed revelations that Mayor of the time, John Banks and his Citizens & Ratepayers allies targeted $12 million of bus-lane and parking fines this term in order to hold down rates. A poll reported in the NZ Herald 16 Sept 2010 found 67.1% of respondents believed cars with two or more people should be able to drive in bus lanes. (Though interestingly 37% of respondents thought there should be more bus lanes!)

That motorists can invade and yet bus lanes still be successful seems to be the opinion of many in New York where driving or loading in bus lanes is apparently seen as a right. This was brought home earlier this week when the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) launched its latest "Bus Rapid Transit" route. M15 as it is designated is designed to use bus lanes, bus triggered favourable traffic lights and pre-pay sidewalk ticket machines that allows passengers to board at all three doors in less than 30 seconds, with a show on demand random, "proof of payment" checking by inspectors to police the system (more details here).

There could hardly have been a less impressive start to the system!

" MTA debuts its Select Bus Service on a workday and ... it's just an 'awful..." So ran the headline in the New York Daily. Journalist Peter Donohue was along for the ride and wrote;
"The city's much ballyhooed Select Bus Service was Slow Bus Service during its workday debut Tuesday. A trip from East Harlem to South Ferry took a mind-numbing 98 minutes yesterday morning - 27 minutes longer than its scheduled running time and 10 minutes longer than the service it replaced. Dozens of the specially marked M15 Select buses traveling in bus-only lanes on First and Second Aves. were greatly slowed in northern Manhattan and midtown by the usual culprits: construction, traffic and red lights".


The larger culprit was - bizarrely for any city - the system was started without monitoring and policing teams in place. Theoretically these will be implemented and all will be well, but as shown in Auckland it is a perpetual struggle to keep on-street lanes free and there is constant political pressure (in cities everywhere) to allow broader categories of vehicles - with three passengers, with just two passengers; if cars are hybrid,electric or gas....all diluting and undermining the potency of on-street (not segregated) bus lanes.

The recent Christchurch Metro strategy talks about improving travel times and protecting "future mode and corridor options"... . Obviously in central city areas and New York, it is no easy matter to create physically segregated lanes. But beyond the central city I believe eyes should be open to creative opportunities - the more off-road busways, cut throughs, underpasses or overpasses, or island separated bus lanes (with wheel traps or size triggered photos of cars trespassing) the more potentially effective will be bus services. Ideally most of these will police themselves. Just as it only takes one car to block a bus lane, so it only takes one segregated (impossible to use by car) section of a bus corridor linking conventional streets to physically impede or block out private invasion. If a road does not form a corridor for other motorists it will not attract traffic, and therefore the social impact of extra buses running through a neighbourhood (with moderm motors, or hybrid or electric buses barely intrusive) can be off set by reduced car through traffic. Segregated busways may also often offer political opportunity to avoid some of the more problematic busier roads or entering into unwanted and often confrontational situations with local businesses. (a Christchurch Transport blog posting carries an example of this latter situation in Riccarton!!)

In future postings I hope to hop around and identify some possible locations where I believe a bit of property acquistion or street and traffic control redesign could make a huge difference to service reliability and reducing journey times. The nice thing about being a loose unit rabbit is being able to go places no public authority or its employees can go, even in unofficial ways!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Joining Mayor Parker in "Absolute vindication"

All over the world - bus systems are starting to get the investment appropriate to their potential capacity, flexibility, frequency, and ability to reach all corners of a city AND run express, as here in Xiaxen, where the busway is built as a viaduct snaking across and above the city. Photo thanks to ITDP


To be fair to Mayor Bob Parker newspapers rarely get it right and many reports misintepret or put things the wrong way.

I say this because it is hard to make much sense of a recent news item in The Press Parker renews tram-train call. [The Press 16 Oct 2010]

To quote "Bob Parker, buoyed by the ‘‘absolute vindication’’ of the light-rail policies of the new Auckland and Wellington mayors, said yesterday he hoped the first street-based tram trains would be running within five years".

First off, light rail in the normal sense of the word (modern trams) has made no foothold in Auckland or Wellington yet other than the decision by Auckland Regional Council in June to build a heritage tram line similar to, Christchurch, along the waterfront tourist area from the Britomart area. Presumably this competing for the same dollar, given one tram trip a holiday is probably plenty enough for most overseas tourists, potentially reducing patronage of Christchurch trams, albeit only marginally. Still no call for a buoyish grin here.

However I am presuming Bob Parker didn't use or mean the expression "light rail" in this particular context but "rail". Even so it is hard to see what "absolute vindication" exists in the rebuilding and upgrading of conventional commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington.

These projects have cost the New Zealand taxpayer over $2 billion dollars in capital works and between the two systems carry less than 21 million passenger trips a year* .....in other words not counting the operating subsidies in tens of millions per year they carry 14% more passengers than Christchurch's Metro bus system which has achieved this with (to date) a few million dollars of infrastructure funding.

Only a trainspotter could see that as vindicating success versus local failure!!

Ok to be fair to the windies and the jaffas sure there is a strong case for commuter rail, and both systems now upgraded will attract much greater patronage, logically Auckland more so. According to former long time North Shore Mayor (and newly elected "supercity"councillor)
George Wood in a NZ Herald article in 2009 the Auckland Regional Council was originally advised that commuter rail would carry 25 million passengers per year by 2015, this was subsequently scaled back to 17 million by 2016, but by 2008 commuter rail had only reached an Auckland area ridership of 8.9 million.

But I am going be exceedingly generous and say Wellington and Auckland commuter rail systems grow steadily and averaged out across the next 25 years carry 40 million passengers a year, and in that time only a further $4 billion is spent on infrastructure - notably the underground Auckland rail link Britomart to Mt Eden ($1.5b) the Airport loop ($1 billion) and the - structural necessity - of replacing the Auckland Harbour Bridge in that time including rail tunnels worth ?? That would mean a billion passengers over 25 years, with the equivalent spread infrastructure costs of $6 per loading - a subsidy of $60 per week for each working week commuter.

But that is only spread costs not operating costs- lets face it - for rail these can be huge and only in one or two places, notably heavily urbanised Japan can commuter trains run at profit. For example the Parry Report investigating rail commuting in Sydney identified that less than a quarter of the RailCorp costs were recovered from fares (compared to currently 46% of Christchurch bus costs) and the $1.8 billion dollar a year subsidies consumed almost 5% of the New South Wales State budget.

Also, because rail is relatively inflexible most of these passengers have to walk, bus or car ride to or from stations at either or both ends, hugely adding to this figure. Greater Wellington Regional Council for instance has 4613 parking spaces at railway stations, many hectares that are either being paid for in fares or rates or alternately costing lost revenue. Or the same passengers also are carried by subsidised bus systems, with this adding to the "unseen" cost of rail, whilst given overall transit ridership an inflated figure. In contrast most bus passengers walk to the bus departure point and typically a smaller percentage need to transfer, given the greater span and route directions of bus than rail systems.

If we say, measured across 25 years of infrastructure spread costs plus operating costs, it will cost taxpayers $100 a week to carry each Auckland or Wellington rail commuter (Mon-Fri return trip or equivalent, including of course each school child) we might be getting closer to the truth. Of course the current Government is very aware of all this, in general, and is trying to crowbar the costs back onto the city's involved - Transport Minister Joyce has already told both cities they will have to pay for their own dreams - unlikely to get very far given the political clout (number of votes) of these cities.

The National Government agencies have already cut funding to cycleways in Christchurch, probably the best value for dollar of any transport expenditure (and the most unfairly disadvantaged pro-rata). It has refused funding to underground the Bus Exchange and said it will not finance light rail in Christchurch.

Hey, I agree with some thing that Bob Parker has said, for a change. I agree with the words "absolute vindication".

If we look at the huge cost of rail, the shape of Christchurch, the prospect of getting Government funding for cycle lanes let alone light rail, the decade of potential funding from the Labour Government wasted by previous councils saddled with the same disorientating rail fantasies so poorly researched and so inappropriate to our city size and shape, we do arrive at a place called "absolute vindication".

It is an "absolute vindication" of the realisation that a city which has the right shape to create a superb integrated bus and busway system could bypass all the old rail technologies and jump into the future by creating a very dynamic, cost effective, ecomically advantaging bus based public transport system. The potential here is to carry more people for less, and more effectively and gain an economic advantage in the marketplace over cities saddled with more expensive and limited systems. Unlike rail based systems where vehicles get outmoded, in style or technology and are often too expensive to replace or difficult to upgrade, bus based systems renew themselves naturally and continuously. Indeed under the tendering system most the capital costs are born by the private operators.

Time wasted commuting and transport costs could be far, far below other cities, certain corridors for busways could also be used judiciously by delivery systems. Direct link busways cutting from outer areas straight into the heart of the city could keep the city's heart alive and the city's identity cohesive. Beautiful big trunkline articulated buses could easily carry the patronage level of rail - with five minute departures instead of every 15 or 30 minutes - and still be be cheaper to run than rail. And offer faster home to work overall journey times in almost every case.

Such a system, recognises a range of technologies and attitude shifts is redefining buses across the world, and that previously low levels of investment in bus systems long limited buses to an inferior "social" role. Computer chip cards, GPS, new era diesel, transmission and electric tech, low floors, real time signage, pre-pay machines and purpose built lanes and segregated corridors all over the world are being used to eliminate the "when's it going to come?", stop-start, slow to load, high steps, bog down in traffic quality and unreliablity of previous bus systems.


Such a system in Christchurch could utilise multiple transfer stations and attractive node points, miniature platformed stations, an integrated pulsed system of buses running and criss-crossing with each other, with a centralised control room identifying and resolving any service glitches as soon as they occur. To link outer areas relatively low impact (in building and operation) five or six long smooth run corridors would allow virtually non-stop express articulated hybrid or electric buses, to carry large numbers into the city and major work and study zones at frequent intervals avoiding almost completely peak-hour congestion. Building on the city's shape, tight interactive route network and existing high quality bus system Christchurch could become a world leader in small city public transport frequency, accessibility and quality offering in the long run a bus every 5 or 10 minutes in every direction, predictable, symetrical, hugely reliable. It is a system that needs vision and thoroughly developed game plan but one, unlike any rail corridor system, that can be built piece by piece like a jigsaw, integrated with redevelopment or new roading patterns in each area in a cost effective way. A system which benefits every corner of the city.

Or we could waste $500 million plus running a quarter hourly tram between the university and the city blocking up Riccarton Road even further. Justified no doubt by circumstances of "absolute vindication".


- Mere Rabbit of the Burrow Council

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Quick Charge, whisper smooth ride, no rails



The main problem with electric buses is they are so quiet they sneak up behind you and you don't even notice!

Imagine one of the new technologies coming up behind Bob Parker while he is busy down on his hands and knees concreting in the city's new light rail system at $10 million per kilometre [and the rest].

The first thing Bob knows is when the bus horn goes toot toot." He just about jumps out of his skin "Come on Bob get out of the way of progress" yells the driver with a big grin.

This lovely retro mag cover above celebrated a Swiss bus system that tried to do the rechargement bit using traditional batteries and a flywheel, way back in the 1950s. As usual technology moves in leaps and bounds, a scientific pattern better known to every kid as leapfrog. It needs all the bits to come together to make the next jump forward. Quantitive research and testing, sometimes spanning decades, in a moment can join the dots to become a quality shift. Back in 1954 the bits hadn't quite come together!

Modern technology is delivering far more, far faster and far more reliably - this includes the internet which has given us the miracles of NZ in Tranzit (thank you, thank you, we love you all!), the excellent blog site from which I nicked this image and extremely rapid evolution of bus technology.

Blogster Pierre Langlois (Green Transport and Energy) based in Quebec says it all much better than me, common sense and technology beautifully written and with a snapshot description and image of the new Proterra EcoRide BE35 - an ALL electric bus that needs neither overhead rails or wires and recharges in only 10 minutes. That's about the time it takes city bus drivers - who incidentally don't get morning and afternoon tea-breaks (at least in NZ) - to scan read the morning newspaper in their few minutes of recovery time at the terminus.

You can also avoid going into that seedy continuous screenings cinema, The Yube (I hear the owner has this thing about rolling Jaffas), no need to lurch over to the side bar (hic!) - go cleanly and greenly direct to GreenTech Media website where there's a news item and a YouTube about the Proterra.

Toot toot.

If we read between the lines.



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Digging deeper but not in our pockets?

Hamilton Transport Centre - city bus exchange, regional and long distance services (including booking office), taxi ranks, luggage lockers, real time signage, cafes. Could Christchurch build on this model - impressive for a smaller city - and on the model of airports and rail and bus stations overseas to create a lively hub offering easy mobility and transfers, with added multiple activity purposes, a hub that is largely self financing?


"It is absolutely pointless spending millions on a bus exchange and not guaranteeing the free flow of buses in and out of the passenger loading area".

Bob Parker has re-emerged as mayor, mainly thanks to the kudos he won for his commitment and leadership in the weeks following the major earthquake on September 4th. It is not often a politician wins because he or she is standing on shakey ground! And it would indeed be shakey ground to pre-suppose, on the base of pre-earthquake polls, that Parker has any mandate for light rail, let alone his madcap scheme for tram-trains, an obscure technology which has dangerous lightweight trams too dangerous to mix with heavy rail (quite apart from impeding freight movements) and heavyweight trams too dangerous to mix with pedestrians. Indeed the polls pre-earthquake suggest voters were even baulking at the relatively low cost (an extra $21 million) to ratepayers of putting the new Bus Exchange underground, which Jim Anderton and the other 2021 candidates campaigned against.

While this sounds good budget-wise it is important that buses can enter and exit the new bus exchange unimpeded by pedestrians, and can exit unimpeded by traffic flow (ie exit into a separate bus lane to the next lights or an extended merging zone). The present situation where buses queue up at peak hours trying to get out of the Bus Exchange is farcial - the more so as other buses behind these can't get onto the stops to load up passengers, further slowing the process - at a time when loading and departure is at a premium bizarrely there are moments where stops are empty but buses can't load!

When I was bus driver it always struck me that only urban bus drivers are continuously, at all times, involved with operating heavy machinery amongst people, in heavily pedestrian areas and in situations where members of the public can so easily suffer gross injury or death through a moment's inattention or stupidity but so rarely do entirely because bus drivers are constantly alert to this factor. The present situation where drivers exiting the Bus Exchange need look left for the (often rare) gaps in the traffic, even as teenagers and kids, mostly, make opportunist runs across the front of departing buses, almost below the driver's sightline, from the right, is totally unacceptable.

The big shift in thinking being made overseas is to realise that if public transport wants to attract people out of cars it must offer journeys that are more attractive than car journeys in peak times and do this it has to lift urban buses out of the traffic queues, give bus services their own lanes or (far far better) mainly entirely segregated corridors, with free flow traffic signal priority, whilst minimising stopping for any other reason than loading or dropping off passengers.

I believe, it is absolutely pointless spending millions of dollars on a bus exchange and not guaranteeing the free flow of buses in and out the passenger loading area. It is as silly as if each commuter train leaving Wellington Station had to stop to wait for cars a hundred metres after departure. Indeed the US expression "Think rail; build bus" to me says it all, the magic is not in the mode but in the mix. Give buses the same support mechanisms and freeflow status of rail and watch them go!

Vehicles that can carry the same number of travellers as thirty to fifty cars must be given greater status if they are to save the city from gridlock and the massive expenses of extra peak hour capable roading.
It is feasible rather than the buses going underground using (attractively designed) subways or overbridges and lifts and escalators and stairwells, pedestrians entering the building or going past the exchange (heading west towards Durham) could be kept separate from bus lanes and this might be a bit cheaper. But amortizing the cost of $21 million borrowed across 25 years by borrowing more to include more on-site retail and service facilities seems a far more attractive idea to me.

I am not a businessman but I am confused as to why the Bus Exchange should be something that the ratepayer/taxpayer needs to subsidise. As long as it is well designed, to keep people and vehicles in safe relationship, and to keep noise and fumes separated from other areas, it would seem to me a fantastic busy opportunity not a white elephant.


It would be the one point in Christchurch that everyone - across the whole city and surrounding towns - could reach by bus. Or conversely if anyone lived at that location they could reach every point in Christchurch without having to own a car!

Such a large land area has been purchased this suggests a whole range of buildings could be built in concert with private developers to address the huge market these opportunities offer. This could range from multi-storey retirement apartment and garden balcony complexes, to ESOL colleges and student apartments, to Medical centres and specialist facilities (for the sight impaired for example), to day care and early childhood centres, to Hotels and backpacker hostels, to a city centre Farmer's Market barn offering fresh produce and flowers, to a regional and long distance coach departure point, to a taxi rank on site. Or be the home for the new city library as one bus driver told me he had suggested to the Council. Or a gymnasium complex....the list is endless. In the main building or close to the passenger loading area might also be a range of rental retail places - fast food or drycleaners, florists or bakeries, travel agents, a city council service centre and of course as in Wellington Railway Station a small supermarket aimed specifically at the passing commuter traffic needs.

I find it hard to believe with Metro as an anchor tenant why a package of leases and public-private development deals can't be put together which fairly well guarantee an income to finance the complex, service the loans and minimise the on-going cost from taxes and rates. From taxis and long distance buses (like Hamilton Transport Centre with their own multi-service ticketing counter?), to fast food chains and supermarket franchises, from private developers or big players like Ngai Tahu or Christchurch City Holdings, everyone here has a chance to contribute towards the ongoing income and reap the added benefit of this busy place with direct links to airport, port and every part of of Christchurch.

Or are we designing something akin to another bus boarder? Pure and virginal in its idealism, not sundered by any secondary uses and purposes,a monument to public service flying in the face of common use reality, commercial pay-your-way and political realpolitik. Are we treating buses as a special "social category" or as "morally correct and superior" , vehicles that need an artistic temple to be worshipped in? Rather than recognising buses as the grunty front row forwards of tomorrow's urban post-peak oil peak-hour transport systems, carrying tofro the energy, the hub-bub and life of the city. Are we building in awareness of all the extras needed to make buses competitive with the (more expensive) flexibility of cars? Are we building a system right there every time to meet people's needs?
The Christchurch Transport Centre needs to be a grand building, just as metopolitan railway stations once were, a building tens of thousands of residents can enjoy each day, a well designed, attractive, spiritually uplifting building. But not please God a dead and functionally minimalist cavern of cold concrete and hard steel .

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oh-Oh!! Etc

Suggest reading previous post first;

The large letter link here link sums up the contradictions of big dreams, small population, and trying to be as successful as Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, without a huge mineral base and only a fraction of the equivalent state population!!

Brown confident about $10b transport plans

Relevance to Christchurch? Nice guys get washed away in the rain? A comment that was published in the 1950 Canterbury Centenary publication shows nothing much has changed in our forlorn city's psyche;

"The result is that Christchurch gives the impression that very little has been left to chance; it has something of the stability that comes from respected tradition.** Its people are proud that the city carries this mark, even if they do periodically wonder whether they are not a little slow in pushing their claims against those other parts of the country...." ***

** Even our disasters are done and handled in a very polite and tidy manner - wabbit grin

***Quoted in "The Character of Christchurch 1850-2000" John Cookson, University of Canterbury (originally delivered as the Jim Gardner Annual Lecture in 2000). Pamphlet format available from Christchurch City Libraries. Publioshed by Canterbury History Foundation



Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oh-Oh!!

For those worried that giving one city a disproportionate say in this country's future, by virtue of a one third block vote and an ego that sometimes sounds suspiciously like it barely recognises life beyond the Bombay Hills.....if I may be so bold as to point a few things out

Newly elected Auckland Mayor Len Browns' vision of Auckland's role in NZ...........

"Our country, our community, our New Zealanders as a whole are looking to we Aucklanders in this time of unity to give a great and comprehensive lead to this country into the international marketplaces."

- TVNZ website Saturday October 09, 2010 Source: ONE News

We are? That's certainly news to me!! I rather thought the basis of our economy was agriculture, especially dairy, forestry, oil, coal and mineral extraction and tourism....not sure Auckland is the source of much of this

For those who worry that a city only three and half times the size of Wellington or Christchurch and only one third the total population is sucking about 75% plus of the taxes used for public transport infrastructure funding into its bottomless maw. Especially those in Christchurch the where the Government has even cut low budget bus lane and cycleway funding and said it will not fund undergrounding the Bus exchange (extra $21 million) nor light rail !!

"Talking about his transport policies, Brown said he expects to make solid progress in the planning side over the next three years but he has always worked on a 10-year time frame. Transport is a key part of Auckland delivering on the economic hopes of the nation, Brown said, adding that completing the inner city rail loop [$A] and having a rail link to the airport [$B] is vital.

- Oct 10, 2010 ONE News (online)

The third prong of his transport plan is an inner-city underground rail loop, which he says will be in construction by the time his first term comes to an end.

- Brown's town just got a lot biggerBy Frances Morton NZ Herald 10/10/10

$A = Estimated cost $1.5 billion
$B = estimated cost $500-700 million

And finally some words from cloud cuckoo land !!!

"I want them to get on the with the job and be ambitious. If New Zealand is going to be a country that's successful, Auckland has to rival Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – it's as simple as that," Key said". -

- Sort out Auckland, PM urges Brown Sunday-Star Times 10 Oct 2010

as simple as that



Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Metro Strategy Delivers!

I have a mate who is holds a master builder certificate who worked as a carpenter, 18 months OE, for a big building firm in the UK. At one stage he pointed out to management that a wall they were building still needed to have internal plumbing and wiring (or something) fitted the response was "You do the building and we'll do the thinking [sonny]". The patronising attitude, "we know best" and the entrenched "top down" hierarchy of class system is of course legend in the UK ....needless to say a week later a perfectly good new wall had to be partly demolished and rebuilt to accommodate the missing elements!

Something of that same complacency and smugness, "you leave the thinking to us sonny, we know where we are going" it has felt to me has emanated from Metro and Metro strategic plans in the latter half of this decade, at least until very recently. I believe public transport has huge potential to be a key player in re-creating a more livable, community centred and environmentally sensible world. Every four years Christchurch city's public transport strategy is renewed, redefining or polished up setting the strategies and goals for the coming years. Alas reading the last couple of Metro strategies, 2002 and 2006 has been more a source of frustration than hope. Tied to a vision of a fairly conventional bus system with added technology, with fairly mundane targets mapped out years ahead, the last couple of strategy reviews seemed stodgy, complacent and without room or attitude to grasp opportunity. On the other hand all my internet reading and own experience suggested Christchurch bus system barely touches the true potential implicit in the new technologies adopted; and also that major opportunities to build and fund more sophisticated rapid transit systems were being missed, year after year. Such frustration was a major factor in creating this blog.


Just one a week ago I responded to an example in Auckland of "future proofing" rail corridors with the contrast that Christchurch seemed to have no vision of the future to protect. I suggested Metro's goal of 30 million trips per year by 2020 was an unlikely prospect without major investment and ".... sad, that a childlike "saying so can make it so" replaces strategic grunt and hard miles research."

There's a saying "if you want to be a maverick and run ahead of the herd you better be bloody sure you don't stumble!!" Or to switch the animal metaphor - "Oops this rabbit has tripped over his own big feet and has ended up with a bloody large dose of foot in mouth". Slagging off at all and sundry about "missing the bus" I missed a very important document myself!! Belatedly after all the dust has settled from the earthquakes (well not quite they are still daily occurrences!) I cruised back over City Council Minutes to see what I might haver missed in the last month or two. Ooops.


They were not delivered with a pharoah's fanfare but I consider they will one day be recognised a major landmark in the city's future. This are the latest Greater Christchurch Metro Strategy Targets 2010-2016 which were adopted (with a small amendment) at the Christchurch City Council meeting of 12 August 2010.

This feels a far more aggressive and committed document than any hitherto, with very precise amendments and additions to the previous 2006 (and ongoing) Strategies. At the same time it is far more open ended and visionary. I suspect only some one deeply involved or interested in public transport in Christchurch will realise just how big a gear shift is taking place here. Many of the issues and service gaps I have challenged and ear-bashed about for several years (including this last year via "NZ in Tranzit" blog) are directly addressed.

Here are a selection of additions and amendments

"the aim to bring average bus travel times down to match or be lower than car travel times"
...given the time it ALSO takes to walk to and from the bus stop a previous goal of 125% the journey time of a car always seemed incredibly conservative to me, and no incentive at all to create busways or express bus priority pathways that might slice significant time of the bus journey itself

"extend the Metrostar following a review of this service" (2012) ...committment to specific growth "and a new target for 2015 "investigate demand for additional cross suburban services and plan to implement if appropriate" ...while Metro gets and deserves kudos for the innovative cross town services The Orbiter and The Metrostar, the other side of this equation is that anyone selling fresh cool water in the desert is likely to do well. With the majority of people no longer travelling to the city central area to work, and with much work, study and recreational life lived in suburban areas, the question might be why do so many routes run as radial spokes to the city and so few cut directly across suburbs. Creatively tail ended city-suburban routes address this only partly. And while it is nice to have a distinctive branded service of The Orbiter type, I wonder is it really necessary to make every one of these a grand production - full seven day, 15 minute service?



Over several years I have put forward the idea of simpler LINK buses (Papanui-Bryndwr Burnside-Avonhead-Russley; Westfield - Birmingham Drive; Westfield - Parkhouse) with the idea that using the word "Link" in the destination/service title implies a specialised serice between points A & B and one which may run only at certain times. Links can be marketed as a generic concept as well as specific services and could still include very tidy little branded 30 minute services. But five years away seems far too long to wait!!

"in response to public feedback from outlying townships in Selwyn and Waimakariri to set up a clear process for investigating new bus services to those areas" I am a great believer that longer distance commuting by by bus can be a very attractive alternative to driving if the quality of the bus (coach quality - head rest, footrest, arm rest, leg room, stow room, overhead self adjustable lighting, wi-fi accessable, quiet powerful engine etc) is the basis. Instead of the longer journey stealing a big chunk of one's day it becomes a chance to study, listen to music, snooze, think, read and enjoy quality passive recreation time. A special time of day, without other calls upon our time, a bit of time out to which we can look forward!

To come in at this level and still keep subsidised fares in country areas I have suggested trialling the Express Premium Transit (XPT) concept, of split fares, offering de facto a luxury express service for higher fares from key stops only in areas also covered by existing services, such as from Kaiapoi or Rolleston (more here). At a 50% surcharge I believe there are people out there who can and will pay extra for the greater comfort, express service and direct access to added locations, such as Christchurch International Airport. For every two passengers the equivalent of three fares, in effect helping subsidise the cost of the total rural service, without slowing it down significantly.

In general I see a big market for rural services in life-style block owners, who are often in higher paying professional, medical, academic, technical careers, and in secondary and tertiary students, currently at boarding schools or boarding or flatting in town, situations where weekly commuting costs even if not cheap might seem an attractive option cost-wise and more cohesive for family life. If only the daily two-way journey itself is not gruelling! Ideally the need to transfer on on arrival in the city should be minimised. Tofro the city via the airport; Sheffield Tech Park; the transfer point to The Orbiter link to University or Northlands; private schools near Merivale; Arts Centre/Hospital/Council HQ seems one access route likely to incorporate a wide range of potential passengers.

Still missing from the Metro strategy (perhaps by its very structure of its emphasis metropolitan area Christchurch) - investigation of a commuter pattern service for all of Canterbury - from Timaru & Ashburton and from Waipara or Amberly, all beyond the two districts named above. With a combined population of 68,000, Ashburton and Timaru, surely warrant some provincial service better than vans (however friendly and committed the service) or the first bus arrival in Christchurch city after 1pm. In terms of getting people out of cars, every return coach trip Timaru-Christchurch (and Christchurch airport) I would imagine is equalivalent to about 32 average city car journeys! It goes without saying too, that if tourists can get out of Timaru early in the morning, they are much more likely to include it as an overnight stop on their itinerary - mid day departures and arrivals tending to steal a day from travel time budgets.

"more emphasis on developing [suburban transport] hubs at Key Activity Centres with high levels of public transport activity and discussing opportunities for implementation of hubs with developers as appropriate" This is about as near the strategy gets to the NICERide concept of a fully integrated core service system I advocate, but it is a huge step towards it. The Metro network of inter-active routes in Christchurch is very good, 95% of Christchurch residents live within 500 metres of a bus route (and probably at least 40% within easy walk of two routes). A network so good it cries out to be taken the next step of consciously interweaving routes through a range of suburban hubs with a pulsed timing pattern to maximise flow, options and transfers. If we look for example at the greater Belfast area, served by routes 90, 12, 8, 11 - theoretically these services should be coming through one common interchange point [with another service added via the Airport to Hornby], offering a bus every ten minutes, even every 15 minutes off peak, to Northlands and /or city. As it is they all depart different points (or Express buses fly past) and even getting across the wide super busy road on the crossing can be a bit hair-raising. You can be standing at one stop waiting and see a bus appear and depart from another stop, only 300 metres away but inaccessible. A suburban bus exchange built into new developments in such a way as to keep through services fast flowing, all passing through a common station area, could be offer developers a guaranteed lifetime anchor tenant, as well as a way of maximising bus access while minimising intrusion of heavy vehicles.

THE BIGGIE...rabbits pick of the crop! ....(and so soon 2010/11 - as it should be to avoid losing more land use opportunities - not on some distant horizon!!)

Future Options....General (ongoing) phrasing typically vague and hardly likely to induce confidence, especially given the record of the last decade, was "Investigate, consult the public and plan for future public transport modes" A call to action? Yeah right let's go trampers!!
But now....

Addition reads
2010/11 Complete investigations into the costs and viability of possible future modes and corridors options for Greater Christchurch including but not limited to Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail and Heavy Rail.

I love it! Completion date defined, corridor and mode as both key elements defined, focused but broad and far more sensible than the heavily agenda loaded instruction by the city Council to CEO Marryat to investigate rail options and not best public transport options ( transit pulled sideways by the Parker-Marryat locomotive or is it a steamroller?). Indeed - I might be wrong - but I think it might be the first time the expression "Bus Rapid Transit" has ever been used in a Metro Strategy document. For me personally a huge relief, after at least five years campaigning to get this well established overseas concept recognised as a major option in public life, public thinking and city planning of public transport. My carefully presented ideas for a Northern busway sent to then Mayor Garry Moore (and according to his response forwarded to city engineers) and Ecan back in 2005 disappeared without trace. In the last local body elections 2007 I circulated a document suggesting the same busway linked to a busway running westwards via Addington. I sent this to about 40 candidates, got a few "How interesting" responses, nothing beyond these. Various other approaches, suggestions and submissions and letters to politicians, planners, newspapers - zilch respnse ...no one seemed to want to pick up this ball and run with it, investigate it further. What is frustrating is not necesarily that ideas I put forward were right, but knowing as the options I suggested were being rapidly built-out, so probably were other options. The city was throwing away a moment in time when rapid transit corridors - whether for bus or tram, or bus now and tram later - can still be built relatively cheaply and without huge social cost or intrusion (and then there for ever, so to speak).

Recently the bus rapid transit concept has begun entering public debate on options (though confused with on-street lanes only) and is - yay - now high profile in the Metro focus. As a way of linking outer suburban areas to the central city in very short travelling times (usually by-passing Malls served by the existing route structure) I believe top quality rail like bus rapid transit corridors have huge potential in keeping the city cohesive and retaining the vitality of the inner city as the major unique shopping and recreational zone. At the same time inner city residents would be able to whoosh through to outer area work places, no tiresome traffic queues involved.

These are just some of the vital changes in the recent sharpening up of Metro strategy ..more identified soon ..





Saturday, October 2, 2010

Simply no excuse


"I have no idea how they plan bus schedules but there is little to suggest the classic service motto "the customer comes first" is being applied"

Even though I dress on the left and occasionally wave a tattered red flag, I must confess I also enjoy the humour, pungent insight and pithy comments of right-winger P.J.O'Rouke. It is probably a dangerous thing to quote a passage read ten or much more years ago from memory - the most fantastically inaccurate part of the brain. But....but I remember one article I read in (I think in his highly "objective" study of economics "Eat the Rich") where he describes his trip to Soviet Russia not long after perestroika opened up this semi-secret empire to western ideas.

Our man on the spot "P" (I hope I'm not sounding too familiar here!) goes to a Moscow restaurant considered up-market. I can't remember the precise details, but you know the sort of Soviet era thing, the long wait, the need to have certain papers or something, the large number of state paid waiters standing around doing nothing, the appalling quality of the food and service. And this was considered at least by visitors as one of the better restaurants in the capital city (7 million residents plus) of the Soviet Union.

O'Rourke ruminates as he digests his unattractive food on the Soviet system, and speaks with his mouth full (metaphorically - nobody got sprayed) about how Russians developed sputnik, put a dog in space and are world leaders in small aircraft design and a higher percentage have university degrees than the USA .....or something like this.....but at that time they could not do something as simple as run a quality restaurant with good food and service to match. Says O'Rourke (or words to this effect) "We are not talking an impoverished third world country here, we are talking of a country of reasonable wealth and high science achievements and education levels; in the end there is simply no excuse."

Irrespective of whether O'Rourke actually said half of these specific words (I see copies have gone from the shelves of our local library system so I can't even go back and double check for accuracy) hopefully you get the ghist. Attitude can determine outcomes regardless of technology.

Tonight I stumbled out of my favourite watering hole (what lies! I trot gaily like a happy little piglet after a couple of drinks!) north of Cathedral Square around 11pm. I was aware being Saturday night there would be two or three buses to go before the last service up Papanui Road. Route 22 went past before I could get to the stop but I know the departure times on Saturday night are anyone's guess, so kept watch over my shoulder in case another route I could catch went by. The big fear of course is that I will strike the almost half hour gap (26 minutes) or more with no bus services, as happens every hour on Papanui Rd on Saturday night and every hour (28 minutes) on Sundays. I had a positioned myself strategically beside the real time push button machine - for years the worst in Christchurch for reliability, so often showing no bus coming for over 30 minutes when in fact one is only a minute or two away. Now at last it has (almost) gone straight and stopped pretending, for several weeks a paper face saying out of order or under repair.

First bus to hover into view is a 14 Harewood via Cranford Street. I toss up with flagging this down and an extra six minutes walk cross the St Albans area versus taking a chance on a faster Papanui Road bus coming soon. Then like a smoked haddock slapped across the face it suddenly strikes me! Route 10 to the Airport runs via Harewood Road, and offers service to the Harewood Area and so does Route 14 - didn't I expose in one my earlier Tranzit postings, that in a masterpiece of Metro planning (or is it the evil genius of Redbus chasing lucrative airport fares? I still am not sure who has final say in scheduling) these bus services both run Saturday night and Sunday night ONE MINUTE apart (Sunday daytime 10 minutes apart). Thus by brilliant wabbit deduction a No 10 via Papanui Road bus is due, Sure enough number 10 slides into sight soon after it.

It is a sad statement on life when services on route with five buses an hour are so higgledy piggedly they don't come instantly to mind (10,25,40, 55 or 5, 20, 35, 50 etc) and in fact have inconsistent and lengthy gaps in service. It is a sad statement on bus scheduling and marketing when most memorable patterns are those services that duplicate each other's functions at the expense of a spread of frequency.
I have no idea how they plan bus schedules but there is little to suggest the classic service motto "the customer comes first" is being applied. In a sense literally first - work out what works best for the customer then try to deliver a cost-effective operation plan to supply it. Planning would start from logical premises such as - what is the easiest and most consistent pattern for patrons to remember? Are we giving a reasonably even spread of services to all areas? How can we avoid duplicating services to the same area, ensure that people living between two routes don't have services running either side of their area simultaneously? And half a dozen other relevant criteria. If the "customer comes first " applied so too would be baseline expectation, what in most industries would be called professional standards.

Let's look at Papanui Road bus services through the fantasy telescope of a world class bus system!!

Tofro the city and Papanui there are currently five non-express Papanui Road routes;
-Two (8,11) run to the city then via Colombo St Sydenham and Milton Street to Barrington Mall then via Frankleigh Street to Hoon Hay Road before each goes its own way; currently these buses are indeed pulsed at alternating intervals in the outbound direction only;
- tofro the city and Beckenham shops and Thorrington there are also two routes (12, 10) that travel the length of Colombo Street south before parting amiably in different directions. Typically run at the same time or very close together in time, especially after hours.
- A fifth route coming out of Redwood, route 22 runs via Northlands and Papanui tofro the city then via the Public Hospital, Hagley Avenue and west Spreydon areas to also arrive at Barrington Mall, by a longer route.

A more user friendly system (and who is the service for if not the users?) would follow a simple 15 minute headway pattern at all times after hours; eg (route A) to city and Milton Street etc... then 15 minutes later (route B) to city and then Thorrington...then 15 minutes later (route C) to city and Milton Street etc ...then 15 minutes later (route D) to city and then Thorrington. If there are logistical problems with varying route lengths in achieving such pulsed pattern, in both directions, then that is the core of the problem to address. A truly integrated system may mean different terminii are linked than currently, to get an even flow along the central Papanui - Sydenham Park corridor (and every other route corridor). Also as associated 14 route (which runs along Cranford Street rather than Papanui Road) goes to the same Cashmere Hills terminus as 10, and also goes to the same Harewood area (many common points walkable from either route) as 10, this surely does not need to run, in both directions, on virtually identical times to 10 route? How absurd that a major recreational area (Victoria Park) and landmark (Sign of the Takahe) are visited by thousands of local visitors and tourists each year on buses and never more so than at weekends but the only two bus services depart almost suimultaneously outbound and not much better inbound!!

It is very rare I'd say a route is over-bussed but I feel Papanui Road is, in both peak hours and off peak, the resources could be used more effectively. It is inconceivable - even allowing for motels etc along the route that the demand for bus services from residents near Papanui Road should be five times greater than the demand from residents living a kilometre east or west of this road, which is the current weighting given by Metro planning. Or that the same public transport rating should apply when services are so unevenly offered.

Actually it is hard to quantify five times more service versus no service to one quite large area! About 20% of those living with in 3km of the Northlands Mall/Papanui area, including High School and major pool complex, have no bus access at all because no routes run immediately south of the Papanui Rd/Harewood Road elbow, to the Blighs Rd and Idris Road "inner Bryndwr" area (incidentally also the southern part of the Papanui High School zone). To me it would make more sense for just four routes coming from Harewood Road and Main North Road to run a consistent service (between themselves) offering a weekday bus every 7 or 8 minutes up or down Papanui Road and every 15 minutes (consistently - yeah yeah!) off peak. This is more regular than current service and yet also voids the nose to tail duplication one often sees even during the less busy part of the weekdays (10,12 inbound; 8,12 like cojoined twins outbound).

In my mind the fifth bus route heading into town after departing Papanui should turn westwards into Blighs Rd, then down Idris Road and Rossall Street, around Carlton Mill Road and into the city via Park Tce, Hagley Park, Arts Centre, Hospital (rear entrance) and the council headquarters. If this was pulsed in with the route 15 or route 20 from about Idris Road this would tremendously improve after hours services, in this area, very erratically patterned. The deviation is not huge, an extra three or four minutes, but it also offers a direct link between Northlands as a transfer point and a whole range of traffic generators, study, employment, recreation, events, medical services for both locals and tourists. To me that is a major reason for transfer points, quick ways of short cutting tedious journeys into the Bus Exchange and then back outwards again. It is not only a service to a Metro neglected area but offers a host of secondary functions and transfer links in either direction.
Yes the Route10bus followed Route 14 bus soon after as I predicted, I didn't get stuck with the dreaded 26 minute (needless!) gap, here I was sitting on the ultra-modern new bus looking at what modern technology can achieve, and thinking of the higgledy piggledy weekend and evening schedules along Papanui Road (and the duplicated week days services). I thought about the millions of dollars invested in capital equipment and operating subsidies and how all this vast expense still can not produce an attractive, sensible and effective resource use.

To be precise I sat on the bus and thought "We are not talking of an impoverished third world country here, we are talking of a country of considerable wealth and high science achievements and education levels. In the end there is simply no excuse."