Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday night at the Opera, via an award winning bus shelter, Queenstown's impressive bus service and a well earned limp lettuce leaf award


No not the Opera House (couldn't find a good free image) but on the way towards the same architectural grandeur. Tyne Street, in the heritage area of Oamaru, a slice of old metropolitan
Europe in a small country town. Now home to a network of cafes, galleries, a historic pubs, old fashion radio station, traditional craft shops, livery stables, stone carvers, quality book shops, a bike museum, car museum, rusty train wheel museum, ther iconic live music Penguin club (20th birthday this month!), and the corsets and ray guns of Steampunk. Further afield are the magnificent old banks and public buildings up on the main shopping thoroughfare. Photo wikimedia Commons
One of the really magnificent buildings in Oamaru, outside and in, is the Opera House. An opera house in Oamaru? 13,000 residents, you've got to be kidding. Nope. It's a classy town. The whole south end of town [missed by most drive through-travellers heading twixt Christchurch and Dunedin] is full of classic style limestone buildings. Even so without getting out a car it is easy just to see pillars and pediments, quoins on the corners, arched windows. It is easy just to taste a blur of creamy limestone soup, even I guess for some the big yawn! Despite the elongated sprawl at the northern end (for most petrolheads the prime image of Oamaru is the long speed reduction phase needed to pass through the town) at the southern end of the central area - after the road to Dunedin veers right - there is the very opposite, a great connected intimacy. Only in walking around can the feel and flavour of the grand old buildings beside and overhead and out of the corner of the eye permeate the soul.

All these stone buildings are equally heritage buildings but some are more equal than others [as every literate pig farmer knows] - some of these buildings are minor masterpieces, so balanced in their complexity and proportions, the repetition and minor diversions in their indentations and multiple architraves, their parapets and window shapes it is as if some great classical symphony, complex but soaring and uplifting has been created. With the best of them it is like music set in stone and sets up the same sort of thrill or pleasure in the heart. One of the best - and designed slightly later than others -is the Opera House. During the day it exudes serious confidence and authority but at night nowadays it dresses up in drag, being underlit by a pulsed sequence of ripe purple, green and red lights, as lurid a tart as ever strolled colonial streets! [Here's how the Chillawhile Backpacker Art Gallery site catches the Opera House in these loose disturbing moments!] Inside during the day you can check out its grandeur (including leather seated boardroom) even when no show is ago. It has been restored funding in part from sale of land previously owned by the Council at a prime site. This week it was announced the restoration has won a regional architectural design award.

No doubt I might be a bit suspect (for undisclosed reasons!) in writing this entry but it is a genuine. And a side issue. However the real reason is that I have been unable to uplift a photo from the Otago Daily Times (ODT) of another winner of the same award - the Frankton bus shelter on the outskirts of Queenstown!! So you'll just have to ride this link to the Oamaru Opera House and then flick the photo aside to see the bus shelter. There is also a better photo here. and credit where it's due and greater details here. Looks good, stylish but not so pretentiously a "statement" that it will end up becoming firstly outdated and (if it survives 20 years) eventually fashionably retro until once again becoming dated! What I like is that it looks like it has a lot of open space but with panels in different ways that allow waiting passengers to get out of the wind. Wind is always the real hassle at bus stops, especially icy winds! And of course it is built to withstand snow falls [Queenstown is the ski capital of NZ]. I like it's considerable "presence" and hope it may prove a design inspiration for other bus stops, say in Christchurch.

It seems like a good time to announce another award going to the Queenstown area. This the little known Golden Carats award, generously sponsored by B.Bunny, the famed "dwatted wabbit" - whose family members were once the scourge of the central Otago area, but whose charm, bow tie and illegal use of the late baby Warner's ID opens every door.

The highly dubious sponsor, judge and chief bottle washer of Golden Carats award for Public Tranport Achievement

Trumpet call, Drum roll etc The award goes to bus company Connectabus- I am fairly sure the credit goes mostly here, to owner operator Ewen McCammon.

Connectabus in service frequency levels; spread of hours; reach of routes; attractiveness of vehicle presentation and marketing (including clarity of timetables) is unquestionably one of the better (if not the best) urban bus systems operating in any small town under 20,000 in New Zealand. To be sure, to be sure Queenstown, New Zealand, is hardly the average backblocks country town. Queenstown has a resident population of around 10,000; a district population of 22,000 and annual tourism of 1.5 million, a tourism that goes summer and winter. That averages out about 4000 extra heads a night in Queenstown. Or about 25,000 around the burgh all tucked up in bed (yeah right) when the clock chimes midnight.

Connectabus which I believe is 17 years old as a business, seems to be one of the least subsidised systems in New Zealand. According to a report in the ODT earlier this year, [9 September 2010]

" Mr McCammon said the perception of the community was Connectabus was fully subsidised by local authorities. However, only a quarter of its budget came from the Otago Regional Council (ORC) and it was allocated for the new links between Queenstown and Arthurs Point, Quail Rise Estate, Kelvin Heights and Lake Hayes Estate. "We get paid a kilometre rate to service outer areas slightly above cost and ORC gets money that goes through the till," he said. " **

Further along the same report continues;


" Historically, only 27% of passengers were residents and the rest were visitors, which contradicted an opinion voiced by committee member Cr John R. Wilson that interaction with tourists had been "completely ignored" by the new services. Mr McCammon responded to the views of Crs Cath Gilmour and Gillian Macleod on the cost of fares. A journey in Auckland of the distance between Queenstown and Arrowtown cost $7, and that was on a fully subsidised service, he said. "It costs $8 to come to town. On a Go Card, you get 10% off that. "If you get a five-day pass, it costs $3.50 per trip, if you go twice a day, from home to work and back. "That applies to anywhere in the system. Sunshine Bay to Remarkables Park costs $6 and the same discounts apply. "

In a sense this suggests that standard fares are set on the high side for the casual visitor and tourist but even on unsubsidised routes regular users get a fairly good deal - $35 for a week of commuter trips over quite large distances. Commented McCammon ... "the company asked for bus shelters five years ago, but their installation had not begun until this year. The network was larger and operated for longer hours than buses in most centres. "Queenstown doesn't realise they've got a transportation system that's superior to most city systems, but it does have a cost to run."

It would be easy to say high tourist numbers have made this service and undoubtably it is a key factor, but many of those same tourists travel to Rotorua and Taupo, or to Art Deco Napier, and to other parts of New Zealand but I don't think the public transport systems in these centres have used this asset to lever up local services in anyway close to the way Connectabus has done so well, not a patch on it. There seems to be an added factor or imagination and real commitment, the X factor, the stuff of which Golden Carat's are made! No doubt he's gonna be all shy and modest [under his breath cursing, who is this bloody nutter in Christchurch?!! For heaven's sake don't let our good name get tangled up with his wild and woolly, and fluffytailed, site ] but Connectabus Queenstown deserves a jolly big carat carrot.

Unfortunately (astute readers by now will guess it is a long Saturday night with no social life happening for this rambling raver blogster) B. Bunny has also been called on to hand out a few limp lettuce leaf awards. Back to Christchurch and the home of real opera, tradgedy and comedy, strange marriages and divorces and dying swans covered in dents and rusts and squeaky brakes.

Today in The Press indirectly quoted Environment Canterbury Chief Executive Bryan Jenkins, responding to Mayor Bob Parker's criticism of the tender system. According to The Press "Jenkins said Parker was misrepresenting the situation and the best way to boost patronage was to keep prices low".

I think most studies overseas ranked frequency and reliability ahead of price as key factors in public transport usage surveys. Chopping fares or keeping them to low (or no fares) only goes so far in studies by transport institutes. Times are changing and consumers want quality in public services and facilities. The way that so many letters to the papers and casual comments I have heard rubbished older buses, buses in anyway inferior; the way the Queenstown bus system has operated and grown so successfully with a relatively high casual fare; the growth of bus use amongst younger adults reported in Canada and elsewhere and I think apparent here; the cited determination by NZ Bus to move buses away from the "poor cousin" image...all to me seem to saying just what retailers found in paying millions to built marble-lined shopping malls...create a classy (accessible most hours and frequent) product that honours the user and people will use it.

So hardly a soggy lettuce leaf but a fairly patronising and out of touch focus with trends, in my opinion not exactly dynamic leadership, especially for the amount of money paid.

I don't know whose being taken for a ride (and who is not) and by whom, in the bloody crazy mess that has put CBS (Christchurch Bus Services) permanently off the road and put Go Bus in the drivers seat with Redbus still blocked out. Most absurdly Redbus is being blacked in the media just because they wouldn't let competitors (one of them poorly run and a high credit risk!) use and trash their buses! The last thinking sounds like some sort of catch-22 bullshit from a totalitarian state and must raise suspicion it is politically motivated

Environment Canterbury is so under suspicion now for ineptitude, poor judgement, political manouvering , lack of competent leadership at higher levels, arrogance and naievity (see below) and in a closed shop atmosphere, even dare I say it the remote possibility that something unethical or untoward or even corrupt has happened behind this whole shambles.

I believe in the circumstances Environment Canterbury must do the decent thing and restore public confidence by re-opening the tenders of the routes now vacated by CBS in its collapse. Back door entrance to the tendering process is not on, whatever its cause or reasons. You don't employ somerone for a job and a few weeks later his brother turns up! We are a city with a bloody good bus history - the busing capital of New Zealand - let's keep those standards high.

It is not only a matter of fairness but of being seen to be fair.

Last act in tonight's long opera is one of farce and tragedy combined; "Fascistly imposed appointee" Rex Williams, the ECan board member supposedly primarily responsible for public transport on the governing umbrella body of public transport in Canterbury, when approached by The Press to discuss the biggest public transport issue for Christchurch in many years refused to comment! Excuse me mate what are we paying you for - and paying I believe a ridiculous $900 a meeting salary. Entrepreneur Bob Jones claims he used to sack executives if he found spelling mistakes - said he wasn't paying high salaries for incompetence. I agree with the sentiment. Even so I still laugh aloud when I read the following comment - it is so unbelievably absurd in it's silliness and pettiness. The newspaper also quotes Williams following up his refusal by saying The Press" was just looking for "an easy story".

Is the Pope meant to be a Catholic? Unlike Williams it seems, at least the reporter knows how to do the job he is paid to do. And, ironically the reporter, got his or her "easy" story, we can all see the measure of Williams now, in one revealing sentence. Such a totally deserved limp lettuce leaf.
On with the Grand Opera of life.

**BTW Gross contracts seem gross to me too . Where's the incentive for bus companies to take the huge risks of losing contracts or creating the best possible system?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Four reasons why Jim Anderton got it wrong



Candidate for Mayor for the left leaning 2021 ticket in the last election was Jim Anderton, long serving Labour/Progressive member of Parliament. The early polls gave him an huge lead over sitting Mayor Bob Parker. However it would not surprise me if everybody over 40 years old, whether for or agin Anderton, thought exactly as I did "Oh yeah? We'll see! A week is a long time in politics!".

Nothing is less certain in politics than a certain win. And so it proved.


Bob the re-Builder** swept to power, if not in a landslide or tidal wave , at least in an upswelling liquidification of resident's gratitude for being there when they needed a figurehead; the profound and needed reassurance of a concerned and committed leader dressed as an orange.

It wasn't just the earthquake, I believe, that put Parker back in power. Anderton and the 2021 team never really did their homework on public transport and failed to develop the cohesive vibrant public transport policy (including cycleways) needed to carry the popular imagination. It was all a bit fluffy, a bit more of this or that, a bit of a tickle up here or there. Aligning himself with Transport Agency NZ (and inherently the National Government) Anderton didn't want money spent on putting the new central bus (transport) exchange underground. Instead he said it should go to suburban exchanges. Perhaps indicative of how little time Anderton or most the other candidates spend using public transport - they seemed to presume this was a fashion statement by Bob Parker, or purely to allow light rail (overhead, at ground level) rather than a vital piece in the jig-saw if public transport is going to become far more competitive with car use.
To offer a sophisticated transit system , move buses into a classy transport option, every bus needs fast and free access into and out of the congested central city area and Bus Exchange; this is probably the most important battleground on which public transport can compete - and beat - private cars if done right. A great psychological advantage, a huge image builder and redefiner of public transport's strength and status in society. As well as so damned practical. Get to work fast; get home fast.

I came through Christchurch at half past five tonight (at 5.30pm on a Thursday) and the whole area around the Bus Exchange was absurdly constipated, buses (and cars) queued in every direction. No buses can get into the Bus Exchange until the buses in front have loaded and pulled away from the loading lanes; these exiting buses in turn need to fight their way out through pedestrians and the Lichfield Street traffic and sometimes incoming buses [who will usually give way but may be already too far across the path of the outgoing bus to get out of the way]. This in turned blocked Lichfield St west of Colombo St as far back as the eye could see ; and Colombo St south of Lichfield ditto. The whole area was barely moving, a few vehicles at a time only.

Below I use my camera to offer four reasons why Jim Anderton and 2021 were wrong - shortsighted - to oppose the idea of putting the bus exchange underground, a move which will give buses much needed no wait/no wasted time direct fast access and egress to and from the Bus Exchange and potentially the whole central city area.

(Reason one ) Buses trying to exit the current Bus Exchange are held up by pedestrians, cars and other buses


(Reason two ) ...as a consequence incoming buses can't get into the Exchange





(Reason Three) ...buses heading into the Bus Exchange from the west bank up (and block cars) west of Colombo Street on Lichfield, all the way back towards the Avon



(Reason four) ..buses coming up Colombo Street to turn right into Lichfield Street and the Bus Exchange can not do so easily, if no gap in the bus queue offers itself; this in turn this causes queing and banking up of buses and cars souhwards along Colombo Street.


All these photos were taken more or less continuously - within less than minute or two of each other.


Lacking quick access tofro the Bus Exchange bogs up All traffic across several city streets!! Without their own exit and egress tunnels and lanes buses (over 300 per hour eventually) will have to stop; wait; queue. Get real

Let's build transit for 21st century reality - when buses offer the best quality, best value and fastest way to travel within a city.

** Bob the re-Builder. Thanks to who ever coined that name; if proves true it could be an honour, the very basis of his legendary appearance, decades hence, as a 92 years old on "This is Your Life" !

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Speculations and Diversions.

Is the earthquake being used as a diversion from other factors in old bus debacle?

My spurious attempt to drag Brian Souter in as the woo-er of CBS, for the sake of a corny pun and to raise awareness of Souter Holdings buying into public transport in NZ appears to been in the best/worst traditions of journalism - floating speculative leads merely to incite greater public interest. A bit more research (which I should have done first)also reveals Souter Holdings is indeed the private arm of Brian Souter, apparently quite separate from Stagecoach.

In this case it appears utterly without foundation - all the goss I've heard seems to back "The Press" suggestion that Waikato and Central North Island emerging giant Go Bus is the company most keen to take over Christchurch Bus Services, and this is not necessarily a new thing. Indeed the possibility exists that the Christchurch Bus services came in low enough to under-cut Redbus in the last tender round deliberately to get sufficient number of route contracts to make CBS suitably plump and attractive for the plucking by those companies big enough to buy the whole kit and caboodle (who probably wouldn't set up office south of the strait for only a couple of routes). CBS owner Clive Peters told The Press (10 No 2010) "As a result of our increased market share we have been of interest to a number of companies and held discussions with them." It seems unlikely to me that this is just co-incidental or was not forseen, or indeed not intended, not least because readiness to hold discussions implies openness to selling is already on the agenda. Nor can it be ruled out that talks had been held with one of these larger companies prior to the tender round, which would hardly be illegal but does shift the ground a little. Did Metro know about this possibility?

Also I wonder what can be read into the Metro media statement of November 4th;
"Both companies ordered new buses to enable them to deliver the agreed standard of service. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, including earthquake damage to the bus-building factory at Rolleston, they have had to source temporary buses"
It is not the first time that earthquake damage at Rolleston is specifically referred to about delayed Leopard buses but the reasons for the failure to arrive of the Chinese buses (for Christchurch Bus Services) is curiously missing, glossed over. There was some mention earlier about floods in China being a factor but there is a growing "credibility" gap when these reasons have received no mention since. Is there other reasons these buses have not been delivered?

By not being more specific about why both sets of buses are delayed - let alone expressing concern on behalf of the public about delays over and above earthquake issues - it does appear to me Metro is trying to fluff the issues and is thus potentially complicit in supporting one company against another. If one company had just invested millions in upping the standard of buses - as Infratil/NZ Bus recognise as so imperative in re-establishing the credibility of public transport in the public mind** - would that company not have very good reason be pissed off if contracts were given to a company potentially up for sale, whose fleet is inferior, is possibly not expecting to fulfill the three year terms of the contracts, and whose motives for tendering for so many routes may be related more to a business strategy than public service? Do public authorities (or Transport Agency NZ or somebody ) do "due diligence" in depth sorts of investigation, require open books, etc to ensure that it is absolutely certain the firm tendering for routes can meet its committments, is not just playing the public process as a strategy, is not to coin an old phrase "mucking the public around". (I remember the Cesta mess in Christchurch back in the 1990s, and the - same outfit - Eastbus farce in Otago about five years ago; a company unable to meet baseline criteria for service supply and that even had some buses ordered off the road by Min. of Transport for safety reasons.)

Where does Environment Canterbury, Metro, Transport Agency New Zealand or commercial or any law stand upon this issue?

Should this be investigated by some sort of equiry - what are the ethics and legal situations in cases like this that fall on the boundary of business and public service? I am not alleging any criminal acts are involved here, but asking where the ethical divide falls. What best serves the public interest according to good old fashion standards. Let us please remember this is Canterbury, chaps!!

Underneath the specific earthquake factor - which is obviously beyond the power of human change - I think a lot of people feel as I do, something very odd is going on here, more than meets the eye. It seems Metro may be being caught with egg on its face and yet were nowhere near an egg carton on earthquake day!

All very sad. And it is is doing incredible damage to the credibility of public transport built up across a decade - ironically when some very improved schedules and new services such as the Selwyn Star should be taking centre place.
**Infratil, owners of NZ Bus explains its approach to public transport on the Infratil website ........The transition from the “poor cousin” form of urban mobility to the preferred mode will require a comprehensive change in all aspects of the service, its regulation and its relationship with users.Under the previous owners, NZ Bus was very efficient and low cost. While it is apparent that efficiency is a necessary feature of a successful bus service, to be successful it must also be popular with users. For public transport tobe the preferred mode of urban transport, it isn’t enough to be cheap, it must also be liked.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Canterbury Metro's quality City-New Brighton link - direct services every 8 minutes weekdays

I am critical of the failure of Metro to deliver faster (more direct) and more comprehensive services to North-East Christchurch linking various communities and facilities better. I am super critical of the absurdity of offering no bus service AT ALL from any suburb south of the Avon to or past QEII the eastside’s always busy premier pool complex and sports training facility.

However kudos are certainly due Metro for new scheduling patterns of direct access tofro New Brighton by the two most direct routes No 5 Southshore – Hornby and No 40 Parkside-Wainoni. As an integrated pattern avoiding duplication and maximising options it is, for the most part, excellent.

This situation is an example of bus routes having a considerable degree of overlap or adjacency (residents living between routes and within easy walking distance of either). Having departure times scheduled in an integrated pattern to avoid duplication of services and as far as possible consistently and evenly spread across any hour offers maximum spread of options and de facto, for many passengers, increased frequency. Both these routes, although only actually sharing a relatively short stretch of road, Buckleys Road past Eastgate, offer access to New Brighton, and also to Linwood between Tuam and Cashel, to Eastgate and Linwood Park and to the western areas of Wainoni-Aranui. There is a considerable overlap of function. The journey via Wainoni is slightly longer but as it seems to stop less often there is no noticeable difference for most people in travel time. Indeed one local character in New Brighton commented to me that although he uses whichever service comes along first, the brief scenic trip along the riverside with its restored wetland and foraging pukekos* which 40 offers makes it his preference.

Rather bizarrely back in 2006 route reviews/changes both 40 and 5 were re-scheduled onto mostly identical departure times, significantly increasing waiting** time between buses tofro city - New Brighton. It seemed an incredible waste of resources, as well as condemning locals and thousands of seaside visitors each year to unnecessarily lengthy waits, often as not in the freezing razor cut of the infamous easterly winds. I was so stunned I sent Metro an email starting “Are you guys crazy?!!” Obviously I haven't been the only one to mutter and moan because Metro has now restored a pulsed pattern of alternating departures. Indeed one that is even more effective than that which previously existed.

During weekdays after 9am (note; there are many, many inbound services before 9am!) a pattern operates - that simplified could be stated as follows (with 40 route in purple);

To city ex New Brighton 04 12 19 27 34 42 49 57
From city ex Bus Exchange 03 10 18 25 33 40 48 55

There are minor variations a minute later or earlier at certain times, and between two and four pm the No 5 route pattern is disrupted by increased services to cover high schools. This said departures are so frequent no timetable will be needed in many areas covered by these routes, and then only for inbound services for those living between routes west of Breezes Road.

In essence this is access tofro New Brighton every 8 minutes - a service link more frequent than the city's high frequency "Orbiter" and an impressive frequency for a distant location in a small city like Christchurch. Also a vote of confidence in New Brighton's revival. Athough not one of the bigger tourist zones, it still a significant service centre and attracts thousands of visitors a week in summer. Not done with smoke and mirrors, just good scheduling, good resource use. (The sort of resource use I believe could and should be applied to putting the whole city on an integrated pattern of core services - most services - and have called NICERide

Unfortunately evening weekday services, though not duplicating each other, do not achieve quite such a comparable even frequency, after 7pm

To city ex New Brighton 04 22 34 52 (wait-time pattern 18/12/18/12)


NOTE It is also possible to access the city via Route 51 Tower Junction via Bexley a, Aranui and Eastgate, a bit circuitous at 13 minutes past the hour (to 8.13pm). Or by the very circuitous Route 84 Russley via Avondale at 12 minutes the hour - both better perhaps than waiting another 10 minutes on a cold night. Route 83 Russley runs via QEII and Dallington but is nonetheless reasonably quick and straight running and offers access to the city at 46 minutes past the hour. Neither Route 83 or route 84 run via Eastgate.

From city ex Bus Exchange 02 27 32 57 (wait-time pattern 25/5/25/5!)

Note; alternative options available to some people - to Eastgate and Wainoni Route 51 Aranui at 16 past the hour (to 9.16 pm); to parts of Wainoni and New Brighton via Route 84 Avondale at 18 minutes past the hour; and to New Brighton via Burwood and QEII on Route 83 Burwood at 48 past the hour.

For those travelling tofro New Brighton itself the integrated effect of these patterns is to offer an incredible 6-7 buses spread across each hour in the evening!

Saturdays, combining 5 or 40 as options from 9am to 6pm approximately, longest waiting time 15 minutes, several periods shorter and Sunday too is reasonably integrated (a problem with integrating 20 minute service with those running half hourly or every 15 minutes is that inevitably one of those 20 minute departure times will more or less coincide with the 15/30 minute departure time.

Lately there have been a lot of flying bricks caused by the earthquake - not just the bricks (or concrete blocks?) that fell on new buses being built at Rolleston but also the metaphorical bricks the public have been throwing at Metro over the old bus debacle, a little unfairly. Beyond these temporary ruptures the real thing that effects bus users most is good scheduling and service frequency and the suffering of patrons when this is not achieved lasts three years (until the next route review for that area). As it has. But no more. It is a pity the evening weekday departures (40/5 routes combined) have that 25 minute gap but this aside I believe Metro have created a very effective flow pattern for many eastern residents, from Fitzgerald Avenue across to Breezes Road and at New Brighton itself.

Indeed nominated for a Gold-in-Carrots award by that smart assed, know it all rabbit!

[**waiting time is not necessarily time spent at a stop, which can be minimized by checking timetables – waiting time it is the longest gap between bus services on the basis the more frequent and consistent a bus service the more often people can go at the time they specifically want to go]


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is CBS being wooed by a Souter?

A public preference for the higher standard Designline buses?

I have to say in my years as a bus driver there were many times I heard the news first at the bus depot, including some of the stress lines and fractures underlying an action that didn't reach the papers for several days afterwards. Bus drivers get around! It is interesting that a regular Redbus driver who chats to me from time to time said "A lot drivers reckon Redbus is being set up for a take-over". He thought it possible Redbus was deliberately being weakened to make it a better bargain for a big operator to move in and buy out the operation.

Of course Redbus being a City Council owned operation (and one that made a massive jump in profit last financial year) this seems unlikely. But the opposite side of the coin seemed more than possible - another bus company bidding low enough to get sufficient route contracts and, a big enough base of operations to provide the necessary foothold for another large operator to buy them out.

So it was most interesting to read in The Press this morning (10 November 2010) in reference to Christchurch Bus Services "The Press understands a sale to an unknown buyer may be close. Hamilton based Go Bus commercial director Craig Worth said it had been talking to to CBS, but would not comment further." .....CBS managing director Clive Peters said "As a result of our increased market share we have been of interest to a number of companies and held discussions with them." Now I want to throw in a joker, a wild card with absolutely no factual evidence but a trend! Good for gossip and of course the irresistible headline above.
One of the biggest private bus companies in the world Stagecoach for a relatively short while operated almost all the urban bus services in Auckland and Wellington. Stagecoach was started by a brother and sister, Brian Souter and Anne Gloag, in Perth, Scotland, as a very small operation using the redundancy money of their father as conductor, at a time when many public authority bus systems were being privatised. Its record of industrial relations and aggressive business style made Stagecoach few friends but built up large transit operations in the UK, USA and elsewhere. This included eventually buying out the former Auckland Regional Authority (ARA) operation in Auckland and former Wellingtion City Council bus operation in Wellington. When Stagecoach over-reached itself in the USA and lost badly it decided it had expanded too far and too fast and withdrew from many of its smaller operations around the world, New Zealand included in 2005. Stagecoach in the UK etc has survived and now also operates trains and is now a listed company on the stock-market but Brian Souter remains the chief executive.

A couple of years back I found it rather strange, in light of the Stagecoach withdrawal from New Zealand's biggest operations in 2005, that only three years later Brian Souter was buying out Mana Coachlines. a large but not huge operation in the Wellington area. Souter bought a 74% with Infratil/NZ Bus buying the other 26%. Not long after Brian Souter Holdings bought out another, similar, large suburban private operator, this time in Auckland, the Howick and Eastern Bus Lines company until then owned by the Dalbeath family trust. In this case he gained 100% control with a NZ director in charge but Souter funding and exercising ultimate control.

It is hard to figure this out without inside info, but why pull out of New Zealand because the two biggest operations, Auckland and Wellington's former city operated fleets were considered too small but then come back in again at such a low level? And is Souter Holdings Stagecoach itself or Brian Souter's private interests [I haven't time to track this yet]. Is Souter looking to "retire" to NZ?
I have nothing to support this suggestion but a rabbits twitching nose, but is it possible Christchurch Bus Services (which also operates Magnetic Sweeping in Auckland and other infrastructure contracting companies) has already been wooed by a Souter? And the dowry price is obtaining sufficient contracts/routes to give Souter Holdings foothold in all three cities?

Yes. It is possible. Probably spurious but possible!

A Parklands woman said to me yesterday "Do you notice how the eastern routes get all the cheaper and older buses - the 70 route buses we have had for the last few years are such old rattlers and they are so noisy". I think it is probably an overstatement, many eastern routes before November 1st were still getting services delivered with the very high quality Designline buses - even the old ones don't rattle and engine noise is minimal. But YES!!! - isn't it wonderful to hear bus passengers EXPECTING high quality buses! It is not a matter of being spoilt - it is a matter of getting the service for which we pay, in taxes, rates and fares. Allowing cheaper buses in is huge retrograde step in trying to make buses more competitive with cars.

And let's face it - this business of granting contracts to firms that so exceed their existing fleet in new buses required is intrinsically a recipe for system breakdown and shoddy fill-ins (such as transferring better buses out of Timaru??) and leading towards use of low budget new vehicles.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Apples need to be compared with apples lest we go pear shaped in Christchurch

Studying transport and comparing one system with another is very very difficult - there are so many variables. However back about 2004 I read a speech by US transport critic Wendell Cox made in Wellington in 2001, in which he pooh-poohed comparisons of NZ with Europe and suggested there was greater affinity of key demographic factors between Canada, Australia, NZ and USA - he called them "the four colonies". Of course there were many many other colonies "Rhodesia" [ now Zimbabwe], Malawi, Samoa, South Africa etc. but I imagine Cox is referring to the places where the white man (and woman) became the majority population, where populations per land area remain small [even in the vast USA], where urban density for most part is low, and most larger cities developed and spread after car use became widespread. And there is no huge impoverished underclass totally dependent on public transport. Settler based colonies.

I am quite aware Cox is a neo-conservative and associated with the right wing of Americans that challenge almost any form of public expenditure! However being a promiscuous old wabbit I'll sleep with anyone, including political opposites and foes if they whisper sweet SOMETHINGS in the night. And it makes a lot of sense to compare apples with apples; carrots with carrots; and pear shaped with pear shaped.

I have made it my mission to study public transport in smaller cities in C-A-NZ-US over the last couple of years. Being a part-time hobby, study is a grand word but I've had an elongated peep at about 120 smaller cities, a "study"ranging from 5 minutes in some cases to an hour or two engrossed in their strategy documents (virtually every city has them). Certainly rail and light rail (a) gets mentioned in many strategies (b) gets rejected as too expensive, inappropriate for a small city in almost every study (c) Yeah, crazy task - I've haven't yet quite figured out yet how many angels on a pinhead. But thank God for arcane knowledge.

I was very suprised to read Professor Glen Koorey of Lincoln, in an opinion piece in The Press, (1 November 2010) hauling out the largely discredited (in burrow council eyes anyway) notion that Christchurch, ranked 980th in the world population size, can in anyway be compared to small cities in Europe. In his opinion piece (which wisely suggested busway corridors could lay the groundwork for light rail in the future) Koorey says;

"Some observers have pointed out that these urban areas, all with well over a million people in them, are not exactly comparable to greater Christchurch (population 400,000) and that significant rail- based networks are more viable in such larger conurbations. While that may be pertinent, it hasn’t prevented smaller cities elsewhere from implementing light rail (or “trams” or “streetcars”) as part of their transport mix, including Freiburg, Germany (population 220,000), Saint-Etienne, France (population 320,000) and Graz, Austria (population 370,000). "

I will now have the impertience to suggest deeper analysis might suggest there is little in our situation to make Christchurch comparable to any of these three cities; viz the following [note; I like saying viz, though nobody else uses such an archaic language structure nowadays], sussed out from a quick flyover trip around the web and wiki.

Christchurch
(metropop) 405,000
Region Canterbury, population 560,000
Land area 45,000 sq km
New Zealand - national population 4 million

Graz (metropop) 370,000
Region Styria 1.2 million
Land area 16,000 sq km (= one third that of Canterbury)
Austria - national 8 million (land area c 84,000 sq km - less than twice the size of Canterbury)

Approximate "apples com peared"; Styria twice the population one and third the land area = 6 taxpayers per kilometre of line laid for every one in Canterbury.

Freiburg, a German town in the province of Baden-Wurttenburg, a region at 35,000 sq km not quite as big as Canterbury but with almost 20 times times the poulation at 10.7 million. If light rail in Freiburg was only funded by provincial taxes the cost to build a twenty kilometre line would be the same cost as building a one kilometre line would be to Cantabrians! Actually The German standard equation for transport infra-structure funding is Federal taxes 60%; provincial taxes 30%; city/location contribution 10% - a billion Deutsch-mark light rail system, similar to the 13 km Gold Coast City line could be built for $100 million from the pockets of local taxpayers (ratepayers).

Saint-Etienne, 320,000 population, a French town about the same distance from France's second biggest city, Lyon, 1.7 million, as Rakaia is from Christchurch, 60km. In other words a significantly urban region! Both cities in the Rhone-Alps region, an area very similar in land area to Canterbury, of 43,000 sq km but with a population one and a half times the whole population of New Zealand at 6 million.


The joy of living in New Zealand, the Southern hemisphere's equivalent of Iceland [OK slight over-statement, slightly larger, more populated, equally gross teenage binge drinking patterns and NZ punching beyond its weight according to Hilary Clinton] is we get heaps of space -everytime we open the back door of a a city its incredible !! If it is not a mountain it's a gorgeous bay or a bush covered hilllside [translation; bush=local rain forest]. Earthquakes bring nature right inside our houses! BUT. A realistic downside; we don't have enough population, national or local, or residents living tightly crowded in high rise along corridors to fund light rail in a way that doesn't stretch local funds. Kiwis already finance a larger conventional rail system in kilometres per capita than Germany [the ultimate rail country!] and look how our rail system struggles to achieve world quality.

In the New Zealand our context suggests any stretch of light rail will cost about 5-10 times more per taxpayer than in Europe, with likelihood of carrying only a fraction of the the annual loading, typical on most European systems. We don't even have enough tourists per year - most light rail world-wide is mainly city and inner suburbs (as in Melbourne) and serves and relies upon high tourist numbers in these inner areas. Austria at 8 million population gets 250% the population size in tourist numbers - about 21 million tourists per year (2007), many car-less visitors; added farebox to boost funding of light rail in a way that makes it cost-effective.

Cheaper to transport locals by white elephant methinks. Is our own "Think Big Bob" making a Jumbo mistake?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Eastern woes. A mish mash fleet for a mish mash route structure?

Aging buses brought back into timetable work

Every picture tells a story - literally on this white-washed MAN SL202
Bananarama !

Metro credibility is taking a hammering on the eastern routes. Like so many other aspects of life in Christchurch supply of buses has been hit by the earthquake.

In the eastern suburb some fairly historic buses most of which have probably not done timetable work for decades have bubbled out of the ground!

This unfashionable parade of mish-mash liveries is apparently the result of simultaneous diasters in opposite hemispheres of the globes. Flooding in China has interrupted production of Zhong Tong buses for supply to Christchurch Bus Services; an earthquake in New Zealand - a collapsed wall in the at Designline's bus factory in Rolleston - has interrupted production of 23 buses for Leopard. All very much act of God stuff and getting by as best can do.
Underlying this, judging by recent comments,is a deeper bewilderment amongst many eastside people that just when Eastern residents were starting to benefit from the latest high quality new Designline buses recently introduced on many routes by Redbus, suddenly Redbus is drastically dumped at the tender round. I was even approached by an agitated gentleman wanting to sign some mysterious petition he said a woman was running for restoration of the quality Redbus service - I told him I hadn't heard of it but doubted a petition would reverse a legal contract.
It seems a crazy system that companies are expected to operate with such big flip-flops in the number of routes and buses and workers needed, shifting and changing from one tender round to the next. It can't be much fun for drivers, even if jobs (and the same routes they are used to) are now available at a different bus company. And how any business can operate on this basis I don't know.
The credibilty of Metro is impacted, which only adds to the very mediocre results of the last route change review for eastern routes which did so little to improve bus services on the east. It was clear from this route review (which also saw some extraordinary flip flops) that despite taking a considerable chunk of the funds raised by regional rates to operate ECan, Metro itself has no underlying strategy, analytical tools or measured and monitored criteria to improve city routes and services. Into the vacuum of poor planning and lack of systematic criteria, the lack of "intention" came a mish-mash of changes but very few real improvements. This included no real service at all to several large enclaves (Aranui south of Pages Road, Tumara Park, Woodham Road-Avonside Drive), a 50% reduction in services to the city from residential areas in Burwood Road and Lake Terrace Road; the running of 60 Parklands route as a quasi express across 3 km of open country, largely pointless given the routes one-side of the road minimal catchment base in the eastern areas. (an express service but expressly for whom?). The Alpine View enclave got a sort of service, albeit an unattractively long six minute extra deviation through Emmet Street on the way to the city! Burwood 83 route which could do so much to enrich the connections to large Parklands area and to Burwood Hospital continues to trail needlessly behind the Metrostar route all the way from the Windsor shops and through the over-serviced but poorly planned Keyes Rd/Palmers Road/Baker Street enclave. North Shore area finally got the direct link to QEII a residents group asked for back in 2004 but the rest of the eastside, south of the Avon, lost all way of getting directly to QEII. ostensibly built on the eastside to benefit all residents.
Measured against criteria such as fast access to the city from all outer areas; enhanced community links within the eastside; increased potential for multi-directional travel for those dependent upon buses; democratic spread of services and service intensity to secondary hubs - over-all the end result doesn't score well in any category.
The eastern route review final result that was populist - bent to the loudest voices - but has little of the sense of purpose, strength or integrity inherent in good planning. Somehow that mish mash fleet of buses [expected to be replaced with a month or two] symbolizes for me the mish mash deal in services Metro continues to offer eastern residents.