Sunday, September 30, 2012

Deja Vu?? The Downgrade of Christchurch Bus Services


This was a rough and ready poster made for the NZ Tramways Union campaign to stop the savage decimation of what had once been the best bus system in New Zealand -  twenty two years ago!

It was 13 years again later after this - about 2003 - before Christchurch bus system fully recovered the title of a quality bus system, back to being the best in New Zealand, years of recovering  from the massive mauling by the right-wing.

 And here we are, back again 

being screwed by the National Party and its handmaidens in the ECan junta. 

National has a clear agenda to recreate Christchurch as a trendy boutique city, but let's be clear - very much the minor player; with massive shifts in wealth from Christchurch to Auckland and Wellington where the wide boys make a faster buck. Public transport investment is hugely distorted in favour of these two cities, despite much of the nations wealth being generated elsewhere. No obvious provision or adequate funding has been made for rapid transit in Christchurch - be it busways,proper enclosed secure transfer stations,  intersections and computerised road management controls, commuter rail or that unbearable lightweight of public transport, light rail (with those pretentiously contoured aerodynamic noses ).

Christchurch city appears to be being punished and manipulated for an earthquake! This is happening despite the fact, like all New Zealanders here in Christchurch all paid  EQC insurance (inherent in rent or directly included in household insurance) for decades, specifically to cover such events. Under this subterfuge of earthquake recovery, you must eat humble pie with liquefaction sauce, the fat boys are creaming it over weaker players such as Parker-Marryatt.  Demolition of local area schools -  such an absolute key binding element in local communities and a baseline quality of life factor - as a well as the  significant downgrade of property values inherent in putting everything in one mixer, is now followed by a grossly D-Graded bus system implemented by the ECan glove puppets.

Who ever heard of a bus system attracting more patrons by adding  a journey split  and a 8 -15 minutes** waiting period at a unheated street side transfer?  A break in a relatively short journey with every chances of missing a connection and then having to wait 30-59 minutes at this stop. This is a system now to apply for probably about 40% of all journeys to the outer suburbs, for those not travelling tofro locations close to a limited number of direct bus routes ?  Except in a high frequency well integrated system (if you can't there by one route you can usually get there by another, most people living between bus routes) transfers are hugely clumsy. The very transfer system that helped lose thousands of patrons after the earthquake - a hopelessly clumsy transfer system (of two exchanges) is now being touted as the answer to getting people back on buses.

The sort of transfer system planned by Metro is a pale anemic echo of intelligent modern transport concepts but missing the key element - high frequency - less than 15 minutes on a ALL interconnecting routes and ideally services every ten minutes or less on ALL routes. Although the promos for Metro changes allude to high frequency I have yet to identify any significant route or route corridor that will actually get increased services!

ECan metro is introducing possibly the world's crudest and clumsiest transfer system, a high frequency transfer-based system - without high frequency! 

Co-ordination will be crucial as will absolute right of way for buses over variable traffic congestion and top quality secure transfer stations (with manned security) if passengers are going to have negotiate changes and wait for lengthy periods, of 15 minutes or more

Yeah right!! Where will the money come from - the Government has already made it clear that despite hundreds of millions spent on upgrading public transport in Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch will only get $100 million over three years less (I believe operating costs take about half of this).

And the "chop and change"  (chop routes in half and force passengers to change buses in the middle of their journey)  is from a transport authority that has historically run thousands of trips a year simultaneously through the same or adjacent areas - two overlapping bus services minutes apart and then nothing for the next 55 minutes! - with absolute disregard and insulting indifference to patrons.

I can't remember how many submissions and letters on this issue I made (and I am sure many others) that were ignored!! 

This new plan is a huge kick in the guts for Christchurch.

The only solution to me seems to be that Labour and the Greens need get on the same page, not least with transport policy (let me be honest, in my opinion currently full of naive fantasies such as light rail in Wellington rather than actual realistic policies!) and make sure this Government of ostentatious, "big noter" buffoons gets dumped - and then that the new Government cleans out the grossly overpaid, unelected chook house of ECan Commissars and restores the democracy the present Government has so arrogantly usurped. 

I take solace and draw strength from Winston Churchill's words "No defeat is fatal and no victory is forever". Believe in a good bus system, the present crowd could all be washed away in 24 months!

** Note; logically any transfer system needs a minimum of 8 minutes between incoming and outgoing services, or the chances of missing connections are too great. Even so a percentage of passengers will be on buses that miss the connection and will be left standing for 8 - 59 minutes across week. Add to this a half hourly service can  not please everybody (a half hourly service connecting with  buses in either direction at multiple transfer points is virtually impossible).

 Viewed across all services in the week my guesstimate is that, ALL transfer trips added together, the average time of waiting for a transfer will be 10-15 minutes longer than the same journey presently. NOTE too, that stationary waiting always seems to feel twice as long as forward movement "waiting" on a bus  (Not that anyone in ECan is very likely to know that!). 


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Melbourne bus use rockets after funding increases.

First bus off the rank  .... and part of the reason for the rapid rise in Melbourne bus patronageRecently retired blogster Melbourne's Peter Parker and friends went for an early morning ride on the very first bus to run in service on the 901 Route, Smartbus, "yellow orbital route, from Melbourne airport in September 26 2010 at  6.30 am. Here photographed by Melbourne on Transit blog at a Doncaster east stop (thanks for the photo).

The image of Melbourne is commonly linked to its distinctive tramway system, a system that maintained its status and prestige enough not to drop the term" tram" for the more elusive feel-good phrase "light rail".

Trams in Melbourne carry about 182 million passengers per year, mainly in the central area and inner suburbs.  With sixteen commuter rail lines heading into central Melbourne (carrying an even greater number passengers than trams per year) carless people need inner city mobility and trams are well suited to heavier passenger loadings (literally heavier) and in many situations short trip standing passengers. 

Said to be the largest urban tramway network in the world the statistics suggest Melbourne tramway covers roughly the same distance and has a roughly similar number of vehicles as the entire urban area bus route system of Christchurch, albeit Melbourne's system carries ten times more passengers and is based at the heart of a metropolitan area with ten times greater population. Surprisingly, apart from one or two short route extensions there has been almost no effort to extend the tramway system out into the middle and outer suburbs or add new routes for many decades. 

For anyone interest in public transport the limited range of tram networks, and their close reliance on rail systems feeding into them, and the failure to extend them (not just in Melbourne but in many other systems shorter in length but in areas with equally as large or  larger metropolitan populations) should send out warning bells. If areas with two or three tmes the suburban density of Christchurch can't support trams/light rail how cost effective would they be in our small city?

Tramways are systems that work well in terms of cost benefit ratios only with high capital input (big tax payer base) and high demand usage. This ridership can only be created proportionate to population size. Only 10% of all journeys in Melbourne are taken on public transport - very low for instance compared to similar cities of similar density in Canada, such as Montreal and Toronto. But if you have 4 million people with a portion using trams that still fills a lot of tram, not so in a city one tenth the size. And despite not having trams, the 2006 Australian census shows that fewer people in Melbourne's innermost suburbs take public transport to work than in Sydney: 26.8% in inner Melbourne versus 32.8% in inner Sydney.

With 14% of all commute to work trips in greater Melbourne taken using public transport the capital of Victoria tails well behind Wellington (17%) and Sydney (20%) and most other cities of comparable size.

It is sometimes argued that light rail success is achieved at diverting money from bus routes and, often cherry picking the busiest bus route or routes to convert to rail, and switching bus services from independent through routes to truncated feeder services to the light rail terminii - logical enough perhaps, but tilting the playing field somewhat!  It is hard to say whether this has been the case in Melbourne where the tramway network pre-dates motorised bus services  but Melbourne has long had a bus service seen as below international standards. 

The majority of bus services ran only every 30 or 60 minutes - some absurdly only every two hours - and most finished before 9pm - some even earlier, and many did not run on Sundays, despite 11% of the adult population not having access to a car.  For anyone requiring transfers a 9 pm curfew, of course, becomes an 8pm curfew - they have to go home from meetings and social events when others have barely arrived!  Few adult social events, performances or meetings finish before 9pm anyway. With bus administrators imposing what almost amounts to a "no night life of any kind regime" on bus users this effectively undermines full time bus using amongst students and working age populations (worth 400-700 trips a year per passenger to any public transport system). Other inhibitions to bus use in Melbourne have been cited as overly complex and circuitous routes, and high transit fares in Melbourne by comparison with other Australian cities.

For these and other reasons Melbourne buses have been the Cinderella in the local transit network. In 2006 the state budget of that year announced that a $2.6 billion was to be spent to bring Melbourne bus services standards up higher standards, including having buses run to 9pm on 25 outer metropolitan area routes, the establishment of  two completely new routes and two new Smartbus Orbital routes and various improvements to roading structure to improve bus priority. (Sun Herald May 31 2006).

Nonetheless two years later, in 2008 a Bus Association representative, Chris Loader, was still able to point out 

"Buses are the only public transport option for around 80 per cent of Melburnians, yet buses have received only around 3 per cent of the overall funding package," Mr Loader said. "Most Melburnians will see little improvement in local public transport services. (Herald Sun December 9 2008)

And a Government funded study by Booz Allen Hamilton (international transport consultants) in the same year found; 

Melbourne’s bus weekday minimum service standards for finish times are considerably below the standard of all other Australian cities. Melbourne non-Smartbus routes have a minimum finish time of 9p.m. whilst almost all other cities have finishes between 11p.m. and midnight
---Booz and Co. Melbourne Public Transport Standards Review, August 2008.

The project was not without hiccups, one the original orbital routes was canned in budget shifts in 2008 but those developed have proved that buses can attract high patronage if services are well planned and frequent.

A new Red Orbital SmartBus route, 903,  through Box Hill and Burwood was launched in early 2009 and within a couple of months patronage had increased 37% above the previous two conventional routes it replaced. Route 903 travels from Altona in the west, through Sunshine, Essendon, Coburg, Preston, Heidelberg, Doncaster, Box Hill, Burwood, Oakleigh and Mentone, ending at Mordialloc railway station. The 903 route is whopping 86 km long, and takes four hours to travel end to end, services running every 15 minutes business days and every 30 minutes at other times. NOTE - less frequently than little old Christchurch's branded cross town services on Saturday and Sunday daytime services!

The red orbital route was followed in 2010 by a Yellow orbital service (this route was reviewed on its first trip by Melbourne on Transit  blogster Peter Parker)  and a Green orbital service which have also achieved significant success.

The addition of Sunday services on many routes previously Mon-Sat, and major investment in three semi Orbital routes, and in other frequent direct services cutting around the outer suburbs, and the more recent addition of direct bus services directly from North Melbourne Stations to the Melbourne and Monash universities, is changing the image of buses in Melbourne.

Earlier this month Melbourne newspaper The Age reported people are swapping trains for buses. Said The Age report  (NZinT bolding)

In total there were 536.8 million boardings on Melbourne's public transport system last financial year, a 3.4 per cent increase on 2011-12. But the boost in patronage is almost entirely attributable to more people taking to the city's buses, which carried a remarkable 17 million more people in 2011-12 than they did in 2010-11.

There were 123.2 million bus trips in 2011-12 - a 15.8 per cent jump on the previous year. At the same time, the number of journeys on trains dropped 3.3 per cent, from 228.9 million to 222 million. It is the first financial year in which train patronage has declined since 1993-94. Overall, patronage has grown by 53 per cent in the past eight years. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NZ in Tranzit enjoys its third birthday


It is now three years since NZ in Tranzit started. An obscure blog on an obscure subject (for most people)  it has done much better than I ever expected. Page views to-date are just below 112,000

There is a Dalai Lama quotation floating around on Facebook, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito"  (BTW I presume he means " in the room"  :-)

Well that sums it up!  Mosquitos can't change the world, they just irritate others. That is about the best one can hope for.

And perhaps a lot of buzzin' around helps show "there are options"  - that is to say the great monoliths of ECan, City Council and Metro [or public transport authorities anywhere] - the politicians and planners - don't have all the answers and indeed in the larger world of public transport are often notoriously poorly informed.

Up to about four months ago the blog had received about 50,000 page views, with kiwis about just over a third of these, the single biggest sector; yanks also about a third; assorted Canadians, Germans, lots of Latvians [I think they have a similar word to "tranzit" in their language!] and various poms and Australians forming a third third

In recent times blog readership has escalated rapidly but mainly through a massive increase in USA based readers, rising proportionately much faster than kiwis.  As I support better public transport everywhere if I can play even a small part in that process in the USA, well whoopee!

I imagine many of these are people keen to find out more about busways and bus rapid transit. This is probably linked to the hundreds of kilometres of bus rapid transit lanes (and it often doesn't amount to much more than lanes!) proposed, planned or already built or being built in high density areas such as Oakland, California; Hartford, Connecticut; Washington DC (Montgomery County); Chicago; Atlanta; New York,; Nashville and even some of the more" transit progressive" smaller (Christchurch size) cities such Eugene Colorado and Maddison Ohio.

However outside a dozen very big cities public transport in the USA doesn't have the social status, political support or funding levels it gets in her other sister countries  (the old "settler colonies") such as Australia, New Zealand or Canada.

And no disrespect to US readers; being a mosquito in the USA is not my real interest.

So it is the 32,544 page views from people based in New Zealand that counts for me. Realising of course many of these have been no more than a glance and an - "oops, wrong place" situation it will still leave enough genuine readers in 36 months to make it feel  it is all worthwhile. Yet you do a get a sort of reasonable idea of what moves people, even when comments and written feedback is minuscule. The huge concern that is being felt about what Metro is planning in Christchurch - a chop and change transfer system based on insufficiently frequent connecting services and a long record of indifference to co-ordination and integration between routes - is obviously evidenced by the unusual aspect of a NZ in Tranzit posting on this subject rising in six weeks to the second most viewed NZ in Tranzit post of all time. This DESPITE this being a local issue and not being busway related!

I see that Daniel Bowen has just stepped down as President from the Passenger Transport Users' Association in Melbourne, which has over a thousand members but - it (like so many organisations) only about a dozen of these are really active. I imagine in Christchurch without the larger concentration of car less people natural in a large city, a similar organisation might get 72 paid up members and perhaps 3 or 4 disparately motivated really active members. As a public pressure group it would have minus-mosquito power. And none of the freedom or erratic power of the unexpected, the pithy, or humorous of a an individualistic blog, with a quirky flavour, some odd-ball ideas for sure but also enough knowledge, nous and research to occasionally hit the mark or shift opinion and have genuine influence.

Blogging is a weird form of journalism, almost underground and unseen, more suited to a mole ... or a rabbit  .....only briefly emerging  from underground...but it goes places no other newsmedia could or would bother.
The ability to see what countries readership is coming from (though not on each specific posting) and the amount of page views per item - continuously updated - and the fact that it is a magazine format yet never grows old (I still get comments on articles written three years ago) gives it some unique advantages. If printed out all the blog postings would probably create a 1000 page book! Although I have never shied from sharing some of the strangeness of living in a city that suffered major earthquake devastation  it is interesting to see that specific or strongly earthquake postings (or pages) do not pull any significant extra readership at all. In contrast a posting about some of the factors that go into making bus stops work (surely the ultimate dry subject) has been continuous and all time best seller!

What is in the newspapers or television is more or less news and opinions shared by all. But the depth of news or opinion's in newspapers rarely rises above the superficial. We are a society steadily moving towards "snacking" on tiny knowledge bytes - and that can be very dangerous when most fields need much deeper reading to even begin to interpret what is going on. As with a newspaper columnist writing a blog is (and should be) highly personal, quirky, a particular slant on things, but ideally backed by some special knowledge or reading, It cuts the cake a different way, exposes the unseen or not yet thought about, it is can turn the rubber mould inside out and see a completely different story. It is esoteric knowledge that will mean most to those involved in that field of activity, and can like the Dalai Lama's mosquito upset the body (politic) enough to have some small influence far beyond its size - much more I have found that submissions made to reviews, of which I have made many over the years without ever seeing a single positive response (nor to most other submissions - by the time it is out for "consultation"  usually a project is 98% signed, sealed and delivered).
Added influence particularly as I send out invitations to various council or community groups around Christchurch and NZ (just once or twice a year, don't want to bomb people) to read the occasional posting relevant to some issue these groups are involved with, sometimes factually refuting nonsense. As underground media, nobody can be sure who around the board room table is reading it!

However the larger goal - to get people thinking more about public transport, and more grounded in reality,  and to raise alternatives and options, and awareness of comparable projects and costs elsewhere, is probably the greatest role NZ in Tranzit can play. Its is my tiny, tiny, contribution to fighting the rapidly escalating  devastation of global climate change and the spiritual impoverishment implicit in too many cars, not enough walking, talking and not enough  real community street life. People watch Shortland St or Coro or whatever as a substitute for the life they are not living. Turn off the TV and get on a bus, it is still out there, human life in all its awesome diversity.

Think global; act local.

Thanks for your readership and to those few who participate or send letters of occasional support (more comments and letters and debate most welcome)....and yes, the mask is flung aside, three years down the track, in truth  not a bird, never a bird,  not a mosquito, but ....but ... still the same old-  same old, of three years ago - dwatted wabbit!! He pops up everywhere!




The elusive blogster only once ever photographed, in 1968 - so suave -  cool - so blue - and not likely to go away in a hurry, though now disguised with a much larger waistline! 



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Motorists you are welcome to your cars but the bus goes first.


Two buses waiting to get a gap into traffic - on a stretch of road used by multiple routes and hundreds of bus services every week yet blocked by provision of three car park spaces, in an area of  multiple carparks. Photo NZ in Tranzit

Yesterday I had a wee bus orgie - went up to Northlands (in a long slow moving queue, barely less congested than a weekday and this at about 2.30pm), did some shopping and waiting for a bus back down along came a Comet. As I sometimes do, I though what the heck, let's just go bussing for an hour or two  and see what is happening out in the world. I ended up doing the Comet to Hornby then Metrostar to Halswell then back to Papanui Road. I  recommend bussing like this as a nice way to do nothing in particular or just need to space out a bit to let your unconscious come to terms with whatever you are not ready to face. Of course it is never entirely a neutral activity for an old buspotter like me, there are always heaps of things to see and questions raised in terms of public transport.

The first thing is that bloody long queue - everybody knows Saturday and Sunday traffic can be just as congested as weekday queue, albeit less predictable in pattern. It is a bit hard in those circumstances to have  bus lanes activated but I do believe there a number of places around Christchurch where the twin councils, ECan and CCC, should be looking at permanent bus lanes. One is between Hawthorne Street and Blighs Road on Papanui Road - where they are building that stylish new three storey retirement apartments complex, up past the police station and Phone Exchange building. In peak hours this would just be part of the continuous run of bus laned road along the west side of Papanui Road. 

On evenings and weekends if full timed (or 7am - 7pm 7days a week,  bus laned)  it would offer roughly the same effect as a stent place in someone's arteries, guaranteed to keep the flow open. By adapting the traffic signal at the junction of Blighs Road with Papanui to have greater intelligence, outside peak hours week days this would be able to read if there was a bus waiting in that lane (or even within 100 metres of the traffic signal ) and allow the bus/buses a 10 second advantage to move off ahead of the queue and regain the centre lane or to move across into the bus stop. This will effect thousands of people but very few of them residents or motorists. Presumably to get a permit for this extension of the retirement village, there is ample on-site visitor parking (yeah right), and this is backed up by -  de facto - visitor parking on various side streets or parking on the other side of the road bring available. Removing parking on the west side of Papanui Road effects very few private residents and  it also avoids the likelihood of visitors to this new retirement complex slowing, looking for a front door parking space, or trying to back into same space etc, on a road already too busy to need more congestion. A seven day a week bus lane all day is a sensible by-pass of one of the most congested (most likely to be banked up) sections of Papanui Road.

It benefits most thousands of people are off peak passengers in buses, and those further afield on other stops, who rely upon consistent bus times to make transfers tofro these multiple buses coming up Papanui Road. 

Not a huge project but just one of many gains I believe that can be made if we stop thinking, as child might, of putting a toy bus on a toy roading system, and starting thinking "Think Rail - Build Bus" - get people used to the idea public transport has its domain, its place to stand in the world, its status, it has its its de facto tubes along which it flows.

A bit further on we strike the problem I have raised before - the silliness of letting two or three car parking spaces (right beside a substantial network of back alley car parking areas) control the road space used by thousands of bus users. As above in the photo of two buses waiting to get into the traffic queue. 

Ironically when I went to take this photo which is the same two cars but looking back the other way, after the buses had gone  .........


.....  from the same point, I could also see this virtually empty adjacent car park. Below it is reflected in the window of Metro's post quake public office which is in the same car parking zone.



I believe the  stop outside the convenience store beside the Mobile service Station should be moved forward outside the very busy KiwiBank and Post centre, with yellow lines or bus lanes and a widened road then right up through the Langdons Road traffic signals to Northlands main stop. Again a relative short stretch - this time involving some investment in infrastructure but again part of a 7/24 open passage. 



And - while we are on the subject of permanent bus lanes another high density location I would make permanent bus lane is where Milton Street enters Colombo St. The Council/City Care already appears to own the land currently being to store the multiple trucks that carry cones, barriers, signage for manifold ever shifting post-quake road, water and sewage repairs. I believe about four metres in width should be shaved off the side to create a permanent bus lane with a permanently open bus only left turn feeding onto a permanent bus lane up Colombo St towards Brougham St. It could probably be achieved merely by converting the flax bushes [in the photo below] into a hedge or ornamental shrubs with a more narrow footprint. This design might also need a curving island with shrubs or trellis type screen to separate Colombo Street northbound lanes from the bus lane and  buses as they swing around the corner - I think otherwise the unwary might get a bit disconcerted, see a large moving vehicle out of the corner of the eye racing towards them when the lights are otherwise in the cars favour. Non-buses would still turn left when lights favour them in their own lanes. The rest of the road - along Colombo Street is already no stopping or bus lane. With bus priority signals along Milton Street (which is anyway likely to be favoured over Strickland St and over Selwyn Street in signal phasing) and a "Give Way to Exiting buses" light where Simeon St feeds on to Milton Street this gives a more or less guaranteed straight run through from Barrington Mall to Brougham Street, irrespective of traffic queues. 

Working from choke points such as this - "hot spots" - and inserting bus stents to keep the flow always open to me is the logical way to slowly but steadily create consistent reliable bus services, that can run very close to same time every trip (with fast loading Metrocards a big factor too) and therefore a mosaic pattern of interconnected services can be created. At the moment the bus in the photo may have taken only 2 minutes or it may have taken 6 minutes to get from Barrington Mall to Sydenham Park the point  if traffic signals and the stop-start for passengers and the traffic queues vary so much - including Saturday and Sunday traffic 


At a deeper level, much more than just minor pieces of infrastructure - these permanent sections of bus lane are also a statement in the political or philosophical sense.  

If we want equality bus services, we must built bus pathways with all the strength and status of a prestige system - they don't always need to be in direct or significant competition with cars - but they do need to say, as with a tram or train line, the bus goes first. 

Motorists you are welcome to your cars but the bus goes first. That's just a fact of life.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Timaru goes into Orbit, a great concept for other smaller urban centres too?


Local urban bus services should be a national government priority in towns the population of Gore, Southland or larger according to NZ in Tranzit. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Plans to replace some bus routes in Timaru with an Orbital route bus are now well advanced, after suffering setback due the diversion of energies forced by earthquakes further north. It has been announced this service could be launched as soon as January. 

The concept of  "circular" route certainly wasn't invented by Metro (ECan),  which also runs the Timaru buses, but was adopted fairly early in the piece,starting in 1999 in Christchurch and has proved a great success, as have similar routes since established elsewhere, even in very large cities.

Like trams or trains, the distinctive branded buses, the regularity of services (though obviously not every ten minutes in a smaller city) and the multiple passenger generating facilities served gives "The Orbiter" style routes a definable and reassuring presence which allows even non-bus using residents some sense of confidence in access and sense of ownership pride in a city's public transport.

The sad thing is that our Government is prepared to pump hundreds of millions of dollars  into motorways and commuter trains for bigger cities and yet offers no support at all for core bus services for the residents of smaller urban centres.

NZ in Tranzit believes any Government should have a baseline strategy of delivering - indeed requiring -  a local bus service in all towns above 10,000 people, to ensure that people with disabilities (physical, mental, language or medical condition), children and teenagers, working spouses (where the partner takes the car), tourists and visitors and - not least - the increasing proportion of the population that is retired,  have access to "independence" transport. That is to say they are not reliant on parents (for kids) or friends or family or dial up the day before support services and do not have to pay more expensive cab fares or Driving Miss Daisy (however excellent the local service) every time they want to make an independent journey. It is degrading not to be able to go when one wants to go or dependent on others, even in situations, such as after an argument or with a person not well liked when it is extremely humiliating to have to ask support "unnaturally". Lack of Government commitment to baseline accessible independent mobility no doubts locks many thousands of older or disabled residents into less than desirable situations of being dependent in ways they do not wish to be, a horrible way to spend one's latter years. Lack of public transport can also add the cost of a second car for many families, where it is only really needed for one spouse (usually the wife) to get to work, whereas that same money less bus fares could be freed up for better things.

A similar principle to that the Orbiter as planned for Timaru, operating 7am - 6pm Monday-Friday and 8am - 5pm Saturday  could apply with a "S" shape or figure "8" shape route, adapted to local conditions running through the town centre and arms curving around to incorporate all major residental areas, hospitals, rest homes retirement villages, high schools, tourist accommodation sectors, major attractions, supermarkets, medical centres, and employment zones. Attention in the planning should be given too to keeping route arms reasonably homogeneous in social composition and to investigating whether any existing school bus run can be  integrated or replaced by the regular public service, or an extension of it at the appropriate time, otherwise offering services at a consistent time each hour between 9 am and 3pm.

Even, at bare minimum, if the parents of the 80,000 country children catching fully funded, free, country school buses were asked to pay an annual fee of $60  (ie about a month's bus/train fare for many city school kids) that would return about $4.5 million, more than enough I would imagine to cover most of a generous farebox subsidy to the 20 or so towns 10,000 -  20,000 in New Zealand eligible, and some support and admin costs. In Te Wai Pounamu four more centres would get assisted bus services, Ashburton, Greymouth, Oamaru and Gore** - the first three in particular have quite extended "suburbs" which spread well away from the town centre. Blenheim is already doing an attractive job (sandwiched between school bus runs it seems) with two orbital routes  but would also be eligible for comparable funding, requiring services operate over a more useful spectrum of time.

Of course it is not really just a "throw away subsidy", because a bright attractive distinctive regular circular bus service, at least hourly in each direction, would stimulate all sorts of flow ons including attracting retired or mobile disabled persons to live or stay in that town; foreign students (whose boarding fees help pay many a mortgage in the cities); help developers sell ownership flats in outer areas; assist tertiary activities of all sorts; encourage tourists without vehicles to stay and spend overnight;  and reduce retaining staff difficulties (particular teenage and part-time workers) at various employment locations. Not least it would return some of the transport tax dollars taken out of country areas to feed city growth and the cost-benefit ratio is more than likely to exceed many other transport projects. Probably local cab drivers would take a bit of an early hit - most likely less part-time work - but I think in the long run this would be replaced by greater "cab in an emergency" or "cab back from the supermarket" (now my daughter no longer needs to pick me up for that trip etc, as more people developed lives independent of  private transport. By way of a personal example I probably only catch cabs in Christchurch 5-6 times a year - but if I chose to own a car instead of relying on buses I imagine I would never catch any.

In the case of Ashburton, it may even be possible a tender to run an early morning service from Methven (to connect to Timaru-Christchurch commuter services as previously advocated) which could then service local industrial areas, before turning at 9.30 am into a suburban circuit including far flung Tinwald, and operating through to about 6.30 pm when, after connecting with an outbound commuter bus from Christchurch it returns to Methven. This is an example of an integrated service (which may even partly replace a fully subsidised contracted school run) which could be operated by a local bus company with a couple of buses to a distinctive livery (albeit signage could be covered/removable over for the bus not currently used, to do contract work) and possibly employing a couple of genial old semi retired drivers doing the bulk of the work.

Sorted!! Ahem.  Amazing how easy it is to sort these things out sitting at a key board! Really.

Core public transport service is an issue of small town viability, image and prosperity, study and work attractiveness. And is an issue of freedom of mobility, dignity and independence for all town residents. Government needs to get on that bus.


**One thing Core District Council does do well (apart from oversize brown trout) is supply an integrated  timetable for ALL bus services tofro Gore. - a public service no council in Christchurch seems willing or able to do, despite past submissions on this issue. Hardly a sophisticated tourist set up for a major city trying to woo tourists, nor a high level of commitment to encouraging people away from car use Canterbury.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Metro policy for blind bus users lacks vision

Saturday 15 September Update; 

Top marks to Metro for rebutting any nonsense that it does not advocate signalling buses, and for doing so rapidly too, and for not trying to further fluff this admittedly difficult issue

The news item linked above -a media statement from Metro the day after the NZ in Tranzit posting below (and title above, less the words now removed "and honesty") above renders much of the "news" aspect of the following item below irrelevant. However the principle that passengers need to flag down buses remain - and I am sure this is so also in the various countries overseas where many readers of this blog live - as does the need to find ways to deal with the issue of sight impaired access to buses.


Blind users of Christchurch buses don't need to have the wool pulled over their eyes, but that is what Metro seems to be trying to do.

According to a recent article in The Mainland Press it has been confirmed "flagging down buses is not Environment Canterbury (ECan) policy"

If this was actually true our public transport system in Christchurch would be in the hands of buffoons!

No urban bus system in the world could run a competent on-time service if it pulled over for every Tom, Dick and Harriet standing or walking in the vicinity of a bus stop or sitting on the seat of a bus shelter.

Bus driver's always have to read the situation, passengers always have to make some indication, however slight the body language, that they wish to catch that particular bus. It might be standing up from the bus shelter seat, it might be stepping forward or walking towards the bus stop pole, it might be catching the eye of the driver; best of all (for road safety) is a clear arm signal, raising the arm. 

It is hard to believe ECan management and that of some local bus companies is so out of touch with practical bus driving reality and practical road safety that they suggest there is no need to flag down buses. 

Often bus driver's unable to get a clear reading will slow in traffic hoping to catch the person's eye (they may be day dreaming or distracted) rather than pull in if uncertain. This is sensible, firstly because it takes time, secondly because  if traffic is heavy it takes even more time getting back into the traffic flow, thirdly because - if the person at the stop is not catching the bus - it can make the driver feel foolish, as if he or she misread the situation (ie lacks competent bus driver skills). This said there will always occasional misreads. Or let's be frank - there are also multiple thoughtless bozos in the the public who stand right beside a bus sign, either not waiting  for a bus or waiting for a different one - who make no effort to step back or signal the driver that they do NOT require that bus. They stand there staring right at the driver allowing the bus to pull in and open its doors. And sometimes they still  stand there. saying nothing even then.

No driver can get too embarrassed with the occasional misread; you can't get it right every time, and if in real doubt the driver will probably opt to check it out unless already under stress and running late.  But I imagine what passengers would think if the driver of their bus stopped for a non-passenger two or three times in one one trip! Which could easily be the case if drivers were forced to stop for every person within proximity of a  bus stop even though no attempt was made to indicate a bus was wanted - indeed why bother inidicating in that culture, keep on chatting to the bus stops. But if signals need to be made then obviously a clear, unequivocal raised arm or hand is by far the most preferable.

This does not resolve the issue for those who are blind, a category which includes mostly people with grossly impaired sight but who can see some degree of movement. light or peripheral vision, but insufficient to read bus destinations. In the case of busy roads and route corridors, used by multiple routes (the last place bus drivers want to pull over needlessly!) blind people can not discern which bus is the right one, or sometimes even know that the bus is approaching until too late, making no indication they want that bus. There have been regular cases of blind people being left behind.

Ecan has held a meeting with the Royal Blind Institute apparently to reassure blind bus users they will not need to flag down buses.

According to the Mainland Press "There never was an ECan policy regarding flagging down buses , so we are not sure how this situation has happened .." said a spokes woman for ECan.

In the first instance there has never been a [specifically written] policy because indicating you want to catch a bus, or a specific bus, is so intrinsic to the whole nature of public transport it doesn't need to be written - it is lunatic to even think that passengers don't need to indicate they want that bus, and illogical not to ask that they indicate clearly. It is international, it is human nature.

Secondly to say Metro never has had a policy is a load of bullshit anyway - here is a bit of signage off the Metrostar route - signage published by Metro itself!!


So really Metro's policy of trying to look good for the disadvantaged is a half-arsed situation essentially unworkable and undermining good bus catching practice and smooth consistent running of bus services.

To suggest this flaky "policy"will solve the problem is naive in extreme or just trying to dodge a hard question by pulling the wool over the eyes of the blind and their advocates.

I don't think they were too fooled. To quote the Mainland Press again " Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind orientation and mobility instructor Carina Duke said while she was pleased that the flagging issue was resolved she had reservations about driver training and communication issues". Personally I don't think that can ever be resolved cleanly, there are far too many variations in driver temperament; split second decision making; road safety; blind behaviour; situational variation (by the thousands) to get a good clean strategy.

Rather what seems to me to be needed is a raft of complementary strategies -  by the public health department; by bus manufacturers; by  bus operating authorities and by bus drivers.

In particular I suggest a protocol for blind of  asking anybody at the stop for support. The Mainland Press quotes one blind person saying how awkward it was asking total strangers to flag down buses for them - yes, it no doubt is, but maybe that is also the part if blind reality. Lots of people can't do things without asking for help in life, it is hardly restricted to the blind and disabled. However if there are no other people at the stop or the blind person does not want to ask for help, they take the optional protocol of standing right beside or under the Bus Stop sign, holding their blind cane up perhaps, vertically grasped around the middle, so it does not protrude outwards, or backwards into the pedestrian area and extending the arm holding the vertical red and white cane for any approaching bus. This immediately alerts drivers that this person blind and can not tell if the bus they are waving is the correct one. This said, most blind people can access the time, so the likelihood in most cases, apart from one or two corridors at peak times, is that this will be the specific bus required.

I wonder whether any experimentation has been done using lights in canes - cyclists nowadays have some very bright flashing lights, often highly visible even in the daytime even though fairly tiny in size. It would seem to me to design canes with the red bands of inbuilt flashing lights or a light at the tip, that can be switched on for situations like this would make a huge amount of sense. Surely this technology exists already?

Bus authorities can do a lot to help by putting out a protocol sticker on every bus shelter, saying (something like) "Please assist sight disabled to signal their bus if needed". A second interesting technological concept - a good one internationally - would be to get a distinctive bus approaching sound signal. This is not the conventional bus horn for blasting motorists, but a separate distinctive penetrating (though not overly loud or painful) "passenger alert: (hey you wake up, do you want the bus?) noise. I think of the funny noise Skype makes on computers, as an example. This distinctive noise may become very important as bus fleets move to fully electric buses, not wishing to repeat the olden times nick-name of trams "silent death".

If every bus in the world had the same sound signal, to be used judiciously (charter buses might also use to warn groups that the bus will depart in a couple of minutes) then many situations involving the sight disabled could be remedied straight away. On certain routes or scheduled trips buses would have a compulsory signal [small sign on lamp-post] when approaching certain stops, just as trains often have "Sound Whistle" signs track-side. And the stops themselves could have a textured ground waiting bay - even a leaner - where the blind person is high profile but safe and can easily move to the bus door when the vehicle stops.

An option is for buses to have bright coloured lights, just little ones, in colour codes for different routes. This was common practice with many trams years ago when a lot of people were not able to read (Blue-Red-Green means Smithville; Green-Red-Green means Brownstown,  etc). Modern technology could deliver far more powerful mini lights visible in day time, even to some of those with less clear vision.

Another way that public transport authorities could support the blind is identifying particular stops where blind persons catch buses regularly  - mostly near institutes, shared houses or workshops for the blind. These could be compulsory stops for bus drivers at all relevant times. This is consistent delay, even if only 30 seconds, that can be factored into timetables, so does not have the needless stop interruptive effect.

Lastly back to the good old driver. I think he or she can read all that. If a bus driver can tell by the nearest nod of a head or even the tensing of a body that it is highly likely the person  50 metres away -  is going to catch a bus, I am sure a blind person standing in the right location holding a cane - better still with a flasher indicating - is going to be readable.

These are just a few options; a couple more below.  To say that Metro has resolved the situation is just nonsense. It needs far more investment of time, energy and funding than a few fluffy words

And God forbid that those who never catch or drive bus impose their naive policies that will send Christchurch public transport reeling backwards into a a situation of e anything goes and and culture of not bothering to clearly signal buses - long run that won't help the blind or regular passengers.

Further Reading -  from Melbourne 




Thursday, September 6, 2012

Giving Buses the Technology They Need



I spend a lot of my life working out possible bus routes.  It is a rather odd habit seeing as I am not a bus planner. Indeed I not even a very logical thinker, which can add considerably to the task. But, as they say, we take for granted the talents God gives us and instead spend our lives doing what we are less capable of doing - the challenge of mastering the impossible. Irresistible!

Planning bus routes is a compelling and frustrating hobby for me. How do you get a service that can only go in two directions (ie linear movement) and only go so many times an hour to meet the huge range of needs of potential users spread across a non-linear location. And join up all the key generators (facilities which attract a lot of people coming and going) and work and study zones, in a pattern with relevant arrival and departure times at all of these, and allow for changes across the time of day or week, and yet offer as simple as possible a schedule, consistent enough to be easily remembered. To this must be added problems associated with congestion; or resistance to bus lanes along commercial and retail corridors; and not "over bombing" a quiet residential street with too many buses per hour; and avoiding unless there is a very good reason not to, dead sided roads (open land or large parks, golf courses etc); and interacting with other routes so people can transfer if needed with worrying about either too long a wait or too short a transfer time, or having to cross large areas of busy road ....it goes on and on.  Planning bus routes, even as a hobby or matter of interest is no easy task - of this I am very aware even if the frustration of waiting for poorly timed and inconsiderately scheduled buses often makes me hyper critical of others planning.

But one result of hours of dalliance with maps of Christchurch covered in felt pen lines (I'm sure that at least 10% of all Metro maps printed end up in boxes in my home!!) is that I have come to realise many of the best bus route options can not be built with current technology and town planning principles. 

All over Christchurch (and I imagine most other CANZUS* cities) are a large residential areas surrounded by busy corridor roads, often with a limited number of "easy" access points. In other words to funnel traffic, so it doesn't encroach too much on all residential areas, only certain entrance and exit roads typically have traffic controls or signals. Trying to use other exit points, especially if turning right (left in USA etc) across two lanes of busy traffic is hopelessly slow and stressful, and that is the intention of planners. Discouraging traffic from using this route, especially at peak hours. 

Fair enough. But it does create problems for bus routes through those areas, because they too often have to share the same corridor roads and the same congested access points which have the necessary Stop, Give Way or traffic signal support. Building bus priority, exclusive lights and lanes is one possibility but this often takes a lane away from motorists, slowing their journey or, as many "access points" are suburban shopping centres, lanes are in direct conflict with the immediate parking in front of shops associated with small service retail blocks. 

I have come to believe where planners do not want to erect a full traffic signal system, likely to encourage too much conventional traffic including trucks through the area (especially in peak hours where they may be trying to avoid queues at nearby traffic signals) an alternative option is to create a "bus only can go right " traffic management structure. This is particularly relevant to "T" intersections, a side road entering a busy main road. Here is an example below -


This is all very well in principle but how to stop traffic on the main road?  My theory is just as trains have a distinctive signal with red and silver stripes and red flashing lights so too should buses, but not being quite such a danger to life and limb these could be a bit more low key and tailor made for the bus situation. I reiterate the opening picture; 


One; a distinctive striped pole (larger than the norm in circumference and height) that can be seen from some distance and in particular fairly easily by vehicles approaching further back.
Pole probably to be stripes of dark colour, possibly dark green or green and yellow - whatever, a colour code designed to always be identified with bus infrastructure. Possibly they could have inbuilt static lights, just a little bright green or similar light, always on inserted in the post itself above vandal level.

Two; a permanent Give Way triangle with underneath a permanent, always readable sign such as;  [triangle] To Exiting Buses  and a dot and dash line across the lane, a stopping point if necessary but not so definitive as to confuse motorists when lights are not operative.

Three; Electrical illumination (triggered by the bus first entering the bus gate) of the words Give Way, and above that two powerful yellow lights that flash up and down in an urgent "tik-tak, tik tak" fashion, the light appearing to jump back and forward between them ..and impossible not to see. 

Think Rail - Build Bus is the North American expression associated with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors, but in this concept here that same thinking is being applied in situations that may can also benefit conventional bus routes as well. 

To me this a tremendous win-win-win concept. 

Firstly it makes possible a much simpler and more effective uses of buses, being able to spread services across suburbs but not so tied to having to come back to a particular access point, which often "corrupts" the most effective route option. Or forces routes to double back or add extra kilometres, thousands of dollars a year extra in operating costs can be the result. 

Secondly; it reduces the number of situations where public authorities have almost no choice but to bus lane a very busy intersection, which unless extra land and property frontages can be purchased typically means competing with motorists, taking lanes previously used by private vehicles and lengthening the queues on lanes remaining to these motorists, this in turn creating political backlash.

Thirdly it barely interrupts traffic flow - if the signs are distinctive and can be seen above other vehicles, I would imagine very rapidly a protocol would develop that as soon as the lights started flashing, even if traffic is moving relatively fast, cars would slow sufficiently (without actually needing to stop or at least not need stop more than momentarily ) for the bus to take the 5-6 seconds or whatever needed to turn right and enter the traffic flow, as simple and painless as that. Because the flashing lights are visible back 750 metres or more, following traffic will typically adjust its speed to allow for the brief hiatus ahead. Let us remember even on a ten minute service or two routes using the same exit gate it is unlikely traffic will be held up for more than a minute or two in total in any hour - but what a huge difference to buses.

Fourthly the same technology can operate even when there is no conventional road. Often there are route patterns and locations where purchase of two or three properties and conversion to a pleasant little park with hedges offering privacy, cycle and pedestrian lanes, and a smooth surface us lane, would greatly enhance speed of access tofro some areas, a "cut through" that bypasses a nearby congested area, particularly for express buses. The biggest problem here is often re-entering busy traffic lanes  - again our distinctive quasi rail like signals come into play. Ti Tak, Tik tak

Fifthly - despite the large striped poles this system is relatively unobtrusive (buses don't even need to spend much time idling at the intersection to the annoyance of nearby residents or premises) and barely effects motorists and yet, it hugely increases the status of buses as a public transport system comparable to rail and a system to be taken seriously, an image that seems likely to attract greater patronage. 

If NZ Transport Agency was to fund a trial of this concept at several locations they could discover all the pitfalls and precise distances and signal times and other requirements needed to make this concept truly effective. This could add millions of dollars in saved kilometres, better, closer and faster public transport access to all city residents, with more passengers attracted, and better adherence to timetables, this in turn allowing more effective transfer networks etc for bus services through out New Zealand.  The protocols and rules could be embedded in the national Road Code, they are not that different than for approaching roadworks with yellow flashing lights, or negotiating a conventional Give Way road control. Emergency services protocols or technology [flashing lights switch to red/sign switches to Stop?] could also be incorporated 

 All for a relatively cheap set of infrastructure.


* CANZUS = Canada; Australia;New Zealand; USA 




Sydney, too, considering "chop and change" bus service pattern?

File:Parramatta Road near University of Sydney.jpg
Parramatta Road, Sydney - Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald announced that the city's master transport plan is looking at a new route structure that will see many passengers having to transfer to make city-to-suburb journeys. 

It is a chop and change system that appears similar to that now clearly being implemented in Christchurch, despite great public concern (not that you'd know it from the city newspapers).   

In Sydney's case the long term proposal is to serve central city areas with high frequency buses linking at CBD boundary area interchanges to suburban routes. Part of the Sydney problem is there are 1500 buses a morning trying to thread through congested city streets (and of course adding to congestion themselves).

To quote the Herald report;

"This is how the master plan puts it: "The current radial one-seat bus service network, which attempts to provide single-service bus transport from many origins to many destinations, has little capacity for growth and is not adequate to the task of meeting complex 21st century travel patterns."

The Herald report goes on to describe the proposed new system ; 

Fewer bus routes would take people all the way from their home to their final destination.  The frequency of buses on major cross-city routes will increase. But "this will be enabled in part by consolidating some existing low frequency bus routes onto major corridors, and by reallocating resources to provide higher frequency on trunk corridors and their rearranged intersecting feeder routes", the plan says. "The need for interchange may be increased, but the inconvenience of interchange is reduced due to higher service frequencies."

Of course the devil will be in the detail including the route pattern and schedules and - most of all - actual frequencies.

Of special note in report above is that sentence "The frequency of buses on major cross-city routes will be increased"  This is contrast to Christchurch where it appears the concept is primarily being applied to cut costs.

In every Metro proposal sighted to date there has been either no increase in frequency or there has been reduced frequency (including reduced frequency on shared route corridors). Reduce services and making many people transfer even for short journeys such as city to Milton Street on Route 11 (tranfer at Sydenham Park !!) seems more like a recipe for discouraging patronage than a brave new world.

Under this new Christchurch system  many outer suburbs will be reliant upon 15 minute services (at maximum) linking to 30 or 60 minute headway services - these  either requiring a long wait (add 8-15 minutes to a current 30 minute journey) at the transfer point or, if timed too close to the service to which transferring, risk of completely missing the connection and passengers left stranded for between 29 and 59 minutes.

It also goes without saying that routes travel in both directions, so that with such infrequent services, transfers typically can only favour one direction of movement at the expense of the other direction. The question of adequate transfer stations it now seems may be addressed by the region Government transport funding announcement.

However the history of inter-connectedness and integrated schedules in Christchurch is a bleak one historically. As soon as we get past the fine words the wheels typically fall off.

Even just in my last week's travel I can think of  waiting Saturday night at the Sydenham Park stop (going in the opposite direction) amazed to three different city south services pass through Sydenham - all three so close they were within sight of each other, even though they were each only running on hourly schedules  - absurdly throwing away higher frequency potential to the L3 zone around Sydenham and Beckenham and Spreydon areas**.

And catching on a bus after work from New Brighton to Lyttelton - fastest journey time for someone finishing work at 6pm is just under one and a half hour -  to make a journey that can be done by car in about 10 minutes! This includes a twenty minute wait time before departure and then the choice of the two simultaneous services (!) to Eastgate (40 and 5) , but both too late to connect to the 535 direct to Lyttelton service, so taking Orbiter to Opawa Road, a short walk and then another 10 minute plus wait, before the 28 Lyttelton bus comes through, arrival time 7.25pm. This may seem pedantic - we are a small system, can't please everyone etc but to me it is just poor resource use. It is symbolic of how poorly connected systems designed by car users are to bus user reality.

Much of this particular failure can be linked to the post earthquake policy of cutting back service frequency at 6pm, even though at that time of night there are dozens of services running in from outer terminii "Not on Service" to their depots and there are still plenty of people heading home from work (working late or afterwork drinks etc).

Cutting back services so early (when there are still plenty of buses available) rather than utilising these return buses as "additional services" is hardly supporting the employment zones outside the city centre, part of the supposed strategy behind the proposed route changes. It is for reasons like this, regular bus users get a bit cynical about "integrated services" or "increased frequency" and other fine phrases so often bounced around public authority boardrooms as if saying it makes it so.

New South Wales Transit might even pay to closely watch Christchurch, for lessons to be learnt from application of chop and change in practise. The Sydney Morning Herald notes;

"Yesterday's plan puts the creation of new bus routes and interchanges some years away. Yet it also outlines the philosophy that would be adopted if a government was ever brave enough to redesign the city's bus network. In short, the philosophy recognises a simple trade-off: to have more frequent bus services, bus commuters would also need to get out and change more often".


Nonetheless, whether in Sydney or Christchurch no service will be a quality service if it is not set to meet high quality service criteria in the exact workings and interaction between all services. 


**Checking Saturday timetables to south Christchurch I found this; 

These buses depart the Central Bus Station for the Sydenham area/Christchurch south each hour on Saturday evening at the following minutes past the hour;
Route 8 - 08; Route14 -09; Route 12 -11; Route 11 - 21; Route 15 - 31.
...If you are only going to Sydenham shops or Brougham Street you could possibly catch the half hourly service to Lyttelton, leaving Central Bus station at (guess!) 10 and 40 past hour. 

Routes 8 and 11 both also serve Milton St - Barrington Mall - Frankleigh Street  (with a 47 minute gap with no access)

Routes 12 and 14 both serve lower Cashmere and hills over-lapping at different points, or adjacent enough to offer a "better than wait an hour" alternative for large areas of both routes  (with a 58 minute gap with no  bus access) 

No services at all south of Brougham Street for 37 minutes in every hour

Seven buses per hour and yet there is still a 28 minute gap between the Lyttelton bus (part way) and the No 8,  even just to the Sydenham shops/cafes area. 

Brought to you by the same people that say they can organise a far more complex chop and change system!! 



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Transport Plan - to take almost a billion dollars out of quake damaged Canterbury?


Threading through one of the many road and sewerage repair sites in post-quake Christchurch may be difficult but arguably not as hard as sifting spin and bullshit from the political sector!


Currently I feel like a cat who has had a large plate of something that might be meat put in front of him or her, and is sort of circling it, sniffing it, poking it tentatively with its paw, all in all - extremely suspicious!


I refer to the recent announcement that the National Government was going to invest $130 million into Christchurch public transport over the next three years. This is part of a three year package of $12.3 billion for a wide range of transport projects around New Zealand.  This amount is being met by increased fuel taxes and road user charges and about 25% by local ratepayers.


As Canterbury has 15% of the country's population and contributes a similar amount of taxation and the highest rate of car ownership, one might expect about 15% of that amount - $1.84 billion - will be raised in Canterbury  and spent in Canterbury. Of course with e disadvantages of the earthquake damage Canterbury costs are likely to actually higher than the average costs, so this time round anyway, the distribution of these funds will be slightly tilted in Canterbury's favour, just to get things back to a level playing field.


Although life and national (with a small n) economies aren't quite that simple, obviously, keeping this $1.84 billion figure as natural payback in mind  does provide a starting point, rule of thumb, a measuring stick. Are we getting back anything remotely approaching what we put in?


I might be wrong (I am no economist) but it seems to me it is "business as usual" with Gerry Brownlee at the helm and about a billion "transport dollars" are being lifted out of the pockets of  Canterbury taxpayer and motorists and exported across Cook Strait. There may be other funding inputs towards roads and transport related to the earthquake (in particular) that fall outside this exercise but certainly National is not giving Canterbury anything obvious in this current Transport plan. 


This said, greater Christchurch (about 80% of Canterbury's population) does appear to get a few peanuts more than usual back for public transport infrastructure funding.


Public Transport Funding


Looking around other NZ main centres that received public transport funding may  gives some perspective

Auckland
The commentary below shows all may not be what it seems, Brian Rudman, experienced leading NZ Herald writer on infrastructure and transport issues was certainly quick to read between the lines, in a  column entitles Brian Rudman; Aucklanders dorked again 

"What failed to appear in Mr Brownlee's press release, and got only an oblique reference in the NZTA statement, was that $2.6 billion of that cash didn't come from fuel taxes and road user charges, but from local ratepayers.   In Auckland's case, of the $3.37 billion Mr Brownlee plans to invest, $816 million comes from Auckland Council.

When this shared funding is taken into account, the Government's claimed love affair with public transport - support up 21 per cent, according to NZTA - suddenly looks rather weak. Of the $802 million expenditure highlighted for Auckland public transport, nearly half ($365 million) comes from ratepayers." 

ALSO later in that same opinion piece;

"As the home of roughly one-third of New Zealanders, and the payers of at least 33 per cent of central taxes and petrol imposts, the $2.6 billion of NZTA cash to be spent in Auckland represents 28 per cent of NZTA's funding. On a per capita basis, we should be getting another $500 million at least."

To this last comment NZ in Tranzit says welcome at long last  to our campfire mate!   In the previous decade Canterbury is 13% of the population; generates 15% of the tax and has paid - on this pro rata basis of funding - about $300 million towards Auckland and Wellington public transport infrastructure expenses, with only a few million back towards three bus lane corridors, and the temporary bus exchange and the promise of $41 million for a central city bus exchange, pre-quake, in return.  

Waikato
The NZTA statement for the Waikato notes that "$50m has been allocated to running Waikato's public transport services and infrastructure" ...so this statement makes it fairly clear, this three year payment is actually includes operating expenses and a budget (and a cap?) for the Government's contribution towards farebox recovery. Presumably this is also true for Christchurch.

As pre quake about $17 million a year came to Christchurch towards city bus services, and post quake the Government is meeting about 50% more, for a brief recovery period - the $120 million for Christchurch looks like it might be more likely to be only $60 million towards infrastructure. And do city ratepayers meet half of this? I don't know, I don't have enough knowledge of this but the implication of Brian Rudman's column above is that they may. 

Whether they do or not the second biggest payment Christchurch taxpayers will anyway have to make towards public transport sector will be the almost $120 million taken out of Canterbury and (de facto) sent to Wellington. It looks like poor old pussy may be having his dinner snatched away and given to the neighbour's cat!

Wellington 

  "Details of an ''unprecedented'' $1.25 billion investment in Wellington's transport network have been revealed, including almost $350 million for buses and trains" according to this article in the Dominion -Post last week. This is almost three times the amount being spent on public transport in Christchurch a city of similar population size. And this although Wellington already attracts twice the annual public transport patronage and has hundreds of millions already spent on a rail system that has failed to attract significant growth to date. All things being equal wouldn't it be wiser to pump money in to create real quality public transport systems in Christchurch? Or give every smaller city and town at least one quality bus system?


Again, I don't know anything about economics, but the simple farmer in me says (leaving aside Auckland and all other transport projects) if two cities of equal size both put in $2 each into a common kitty and city (A) then takes out $3 and the other (B) gets $1, then I can't for the life of me see this as anything else than city (B) giving city (A) a $1.00. 


Or to be precise; quake damaged Canterbury and Christchurch ratepayers/taxpayers are not only fully paying for their own repairs and  new public transport infrastructure but = de facto also giving Wellington  about $120 million towards the Capital's  public transport system.
 
Christchurch

 

"The NZTA’s Regional Directorfor the Southern region Jim Harland, says between $130 and $180m is expected to be invested for each of the next three years of the 2012-15 National Land Transport Programme in emergency works in response to earthquake recovery challenges. The thrust of the programme for the next three years is to grow the Canterbury’s economy and support the recovery of Christchurch. 

A key focus of the programme is continuing to support the region’s resilient export sector by progressing the Christchurch Motorways roads of national significance projects, and maintaining and improving Canterbury’s strategic freight routes.

Another priority is public transport, with $130m being invested to increase public transport patronage in Christchurch which has dropped by 40% since the 2010/11 earthquakes. The NZ Transport Agency supports Environment Canterbury’s recent proposal for a redesigned public transport network for Christchurch that will more efficiently service the market at lower overall cost, he said."

How can a service that used to run directly from one point to another be replaced by a service at reduced levels of frequency on main corridors, reduced level of route density (for instance in the east) and 50% reduction in services in the middle of the day on some routes (eg 40 Wainoni)...


...AND which as proposed requires about 40% of passenger trips (at a very rough guess)  to be broken - with transfer between buses needed, even to make (what used to be) a short 20 minute journey in lots of locations ......AND in which the transfers are between services may occur between bus waiting times as long as 59 minutes, but at very least must average an added disruption time of at least 10 minutes per trip requiring transfers [the minimum needed to minimise the proportion of buses/passengers missing connections] ......phew  ......How can such a clumsy option more efficiently service the market?


And WHERE in the world is a model of a small city, of comparable population, density and footprint size, that has run an effective transfer based system based on interacting bus services as much as an hour apart in time!??


Or for that matter where is the proof that ECan itself has ever had the ability to effectively co-ordinate bus departure times to minimise overlapping and maximise service options?

Ahhh. Mr Brownlee and his handmaidens running ECan aren't talking about customer satisfaction, or the total number of people using buses, or the cost per kilometre per passenger carried etc but about one thing only - the overall cost of the service. 


Significantly there is no stated services aspect in the stated goals of this Government Transport Plan despite the biggest user groups - children, teenagers, tertiary students, the mentally and physically handicapped (visibly so or otherwise), single car families with both parents working, retired persons and city visitors and tourists being dependent for the social and economic quality of life on quality public transport.  


All in all, for what appears after-operating costs/ farebox contribution of around $50 million ?? - Christchurch will have enough left of its own money to see completion of bus lanes and a few relatively low key transfer facilities. 


A genuinely integrated service with centralised computer control, bus gate entry to uncontrolled intersections, removal of all congestion choke points; purchase of property for road widening or bus (bike, skate and pedestrian) "cut throughs" to make more effective routes, express busway corridors with under passes; and major secure, attended day time, transfer stations and multiple transfer nodes is not on the agenda. 


Only rail gets that sort  of level of expenditure, and the only commuter passenger rail Canterbury residents are funding is the $120 million it is sending to Wellington to try to lure another few thousand living north of Wellington onto trains.