Thursday, October 31, 2013

Opportunity shop approach versus busway option in Christchurch?

The Maxwell Smart Way? The generous width of the Dilworth-Maxwell Street corridor, as well as the naturally slowed traffic created by car park buildings, suggests opportunities for an elegant, lanes unimpeded, busway and mostly car-free cycle lane through Christchurch's inner western suburbs. Depending on specific scenarios two or even three lanes could be built left of these parked cars allowing a spacious an attractively designed and landscaped multi-platformed bus station.


A joint committee of ECAN and the Christchurch City Council are proposing to build a new bus station on Riccarton Road. 


The building plans can be viewed at the Council site HERE, and show an attractive lounge area with cafe in a space that appears to about the size of a large village or school hall.

A consultation is being held and if you wish to make a comment you can do so via the website.

It will be of benefit if making a submission to first to look at the Frequently Asked Questions section;

This section opens with a description of the current situation - 

Westfield Riccarton is the busiest suburban bus stop in Christchurch, second only to Central Station.  Currently over 2,800 people board a bus in Riccarton between Matipo and Clarence Streets every day. This  number has grown 40% from just over 2000 in February 2011 before the quake so the importance of  Riccarton as a destination has increased since the quakes. This is impressive at a time when overall  patronage has declined, but is also placing a strain on the limited passenger facilities offered there. 

Another motive also expressed, is the need to have good facilities for the hub and spoke transfer system (of sorts) that Metro is now operating. 

This said, because the proposed bus station's nature and location is essentially storefront and roadside, on one of the busiest and most congested roads in Christchurch, the bus station will not have the normal hallmarks of a transfer station - dedicated stands for all buses heading in a similar direction, as has proven so successful in the city's Central Station bus station.

Riccarton road also has a hefty camber, and the roadside location of the bus station amongst shops severely reduces opportunity to create something more akin to level buses and door-level loading, a quality bus feature overseas.

Instead of  various services to one broad area (eg South, East etc) grouped around one platform or loading area the proposed bus station will have three allocated stops, with RealTime signage indicating at which of these stops their bus is about to pull in - theoretically in time for passengers to make their way to that location. This worked well in the Bus Xchange, but of course the loading bay pattern was slightly circular and sheltered, and not a public footpath with passengers coming off buses, and others approaching along the street, also filling up the relatively narrow (3 metres wide?) footpath as at the proposed Riccarton site. And also of course without passengers having to cross a busy road to access  platforms on the opposite of a busy road.as proposed at Riccarton.

People wishing to transfer to a bus travelling in the opposite direction (before peeling off north or south) will be advised in advance so they have time to cross the road at crossing lights.

This is certainly no small flaw, with added poor weather exposure and likelihood of teenagers (and others) running across the road when their connecting buses have run late. Situations of obvious stress for the elderly, those with young children, people carrying luggage or parcels etc are clearly likely to arise. The pedestrian crossing will need to operate often, or crowds will block the footpath  and/or jay walking will become the norm, and frequency and length of crossing time will tend to increase bus and car delays on Riccarton Road. 

But it is hard to see, anyway, how passengers even on the same side of the road as the lounge itself will not clash with pedestrians, the inevitable smokers outside or those rushing forwards or backwards to get whichever bus they hope to get.. The pretty picture of the proposed bus station's front facade drawn by an architectural artist is literally one sided, shows only part of the equation  - all passengers are moving in the same direction!!
A busy reality will obviously be much different.

Despite a bit of commentary on the Council website about working in with bicycles, it is pretty clear just from the width of the footpath it would be quite impossible - not least for public safety - to load bikes at this particular stop.

Another aspect is policing - any facility with thousands of people a day  including a higher than average number of younger people (with their natural exuberance -  innocent or otherwise! ) is likely to encounter a small proportion of regular "people management" problems - misbehaviour, drunkenness,,public arguments or displays of anger or pestering and panhandling for money or cigarettes, in worse case bullying and occasionally fighting and assaults. This has never seemed a big element element in Christchurch, but as a contingency that does occasionally happen it must be factored in and properly so. 

Also medical emergencies - heart attacks, asthma attacks, nose bleeds, vomiting etc. These sorts of things are not easy to handle in a tight space where a crisis situation can not be isolated out, ring fenced to allay fears or misguided public interventions, and police or emergency crews cannot arrive quickly, park in a clear space and access the problem easy with facility to create clear safe space for the crisis recovery situation. There is a sort of public misconception that just having CCTV or security guards is enough, but in my experience of working in a busy public space good design also.plays a huge role/ It is not entirely clear this sort of implicit situation governance can be achieved in this lounge, with its very limited space and forecourt zone over which no ultimate control can be guaranteed.

Incidents may be rare but no public space attracting thousands of people per week can afford  to not be very carefully designed to cover all possible contingencies - police park in bus lanes after what appears to be an urgent call out at Central Bus Station on a recent evening.


Why is this being planned in such haste? According to the Frequent Questions section 
Riccarton is a thriving commercial and retail area so lease opportunities for frontage premises on Riccarton Road itself are scarce and do not last long once they are on the market. The proposal to create a new street front passenger lounge will be part of a wider Riccarton Corridor project next year. Suitable premises have been  found, but the Council cannot wait to lease this property until the corridor enhancement is complete, as it is very unlikely that these premises would still be available.

Opportunity knocks - and with a low budget shopping basket -  opportunity shops! 

We have already had one Bus Exchange that became  - very rapidly -  to be far, far too small, leading to bus queues everywhere- how much future proofing - for people or bus movements - is inherent in this proposed design And let's face it - nothing is less attractive in public transport than what the Aussies have dubbed "cattle class" - overcrowding and body crush. 

Good design in public transport is not ad hoc as this project is but part of an overall 20 year plus vision, growing a city in every aspect by growing the infrastructure needed to sustain vitality, prosperity and quality of life. It is hard to see low quality bus lanes [not curb segregated, road surfaced, signalised priority 100%, bus stop platformed  etc] on Riccarton Road and a storefront bus station as a major city builder! 

Another aspect is there seems to be no provision for long distance passengers, or tourist and sightseeing buses to interact at this useful point with its added Orbiter and Metrostar connection, offering faster more frequent access to multiple areas, city wide.  In so far as public transport is the only transport for about 10% of the population (probably over 20% in high student population areas like Riccarton) the "missing link" between urban and inter city travel, is roughly equivalent to buying a car and being told it is not permitted to take this beyond the city boundary.

In the larger sense I wonder whether this constant ad hoc response is actually taking the city far.

According the the NZ Transport Agency funding policy introduced by the National bully boys Christchurch (and other NZ area) taxes are mainly expected to subsidise public transport infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington. This imbalance dates back to the 1920s and is inevitable to some degree but the extreme attitude of the Government, where - at very least - 15 times more per capita is being spent on Auckland public transport than Canterbury ensures Christchurch is so far below the horizon we can barely build effective modern public transport.

According to the Frequent Questions section The proposal to create a new street front passenger lounge will be part of a wider Riccarton Corridor project next year. 

Despite the $5 billion spent or planned for Auckland public transport, and $700 million spent on public transport in Wellington (similar to Christchurch in population size!) this rapid transit option along Christchurch's busiest transport corridor is only being Government funded to the tune of $6 million. This will buy little more than a storefront bus station and a few part-time bus lanes (against strong local shopkeeper resistance, as in 1996 and 2010, no doubt!!). 

AND AGAIN TODAY - [added 14/12./13]

In this sense the new bus station and the primary  decision, to build it on Riccarton Road, represents more of a defeat (of a battle not even fought yet) and a turning away from high quality mass transit by Christchurch authorities.

Not for the first time in this city's recent history there seems to be a failure of vision by those elected and paid to lead, a refusal to even look at the bigger and better long term opportunities, a failure listen to any other voices than paid officials (often repeating past mistakes), a readiness to carelessly throw away windows of opportunity without even investigating them. 

With the purchase of less than 25 properties (all but a few seemingly older stock rental properties occupied by students) the city could build a bus rapid transit corridor and landscaped cycleway all the way from Mandeville Street to Wharenui Road, or even Middleton Road, allowing buses to pass through the greater part of Riccarton ) - about 2.5 km in less than five minutes during peak hour!

Moving the axis of the Riccarton public transport corridor over also makes good sense too because the greater depth of adjoining housing (and potential patronage and "transit orientated development potential) is south of Riccarton Road -  the north side activity and density compromised by motels (only a small proportion of guests transit using), Deans Bush and the  lower density up market properties. Ideally public transport should be growing the city not just a knee jerk response to earthquakes and the momentary effects of unsympathetic Governments.


Rotheram Street entrance to Westfield Mall and Hoyts 8 Cinema Complex, from one of the car-parking buildings. A bus station in the vicinity of Rotheram Street here, built to the same principles as the Central Station bus station, could address many of the flaws  inherent in the proposed shop front model, and help grow the higher density neighbourhood.

In time (30 years or whatever ahead) an added cut and cover tunnel could be built straight across from from Riccarton Avenue under Hagley Park and under Brockworth Place and under the railway line, allowing electric buses** or even (if not an outdated technology by then), light rail,  to sail effortlessly through Riccarton, a mere 200 metres from the traffic queues on Riccarton Road, but, being a transit priority corridor, along a free-flow pathway where public transport vehicles reign supreme. 

Future proof, city building, top quality facilities.  Or the bus opportunity, shop now approach?


Mandeville Street  to Wharenui Road via Dilworth and Maxwell Street  - the potential to incorporate a bus priority corridor stretches into the future  - or not! 



**There can be little doubt now quick wire-less recharging (15 seconds), smaller battery rack electric buses will replace diesel as the main form of urban bus transport around the world. over the next decade or two.. 

Reminder - Clicking on most wording in bold will link to other sites

Friday, October 25, 2013

InterCity couldn't go the distance...nor can city and ECan certainly can't. The long history of sub-standard tourist services in Christchurch


Naked Bus - a lower budget InterCity competitor is able to offer tourist superior facilities. Departing from outside the Museum they offer a wide waiting zone, catching the sun, with seating and a whole adjacent Botanical Gardens to pee in.  Photo NZ in Tranzit

Recently the media have been slagging off InterCity Coachlines, normally considered the market leader in quality coach services around both the main islands. 

Passengers waiting for long distance Inter City services in Christchurch, in temporary stop located on Bealey Avenue have taken to surreptitiously (or not) pissing in the bushes on a adjacent empty section. The portaloo that once was there has been removed. Here is half the story from The Press and another half of the story  in  an You Tube excerpt from a Campbell Live (for God's sake!) .

Due to the earthquakes of 2010-12 and loss of buildings, or closing of roads and sectors of the city, the departure and arrival zones of various long distance shuttle bus and coach services had to be relocated. 
The original building occupied  by InterCity Coachlines had toilets, and a waiting area but no outdoor platforms. This (or was it the building next door?) caught fire in spectacular fashion, in front of the Mayor and Prime Minister, only a few hours after the first large earthquake on September 4 2010.

However most other long distance services departed from Cathedral Square and the Worcester Street west entry road into the Square. The only toilets were in the centre of the Square, not at all user friendly in distance (bus passengers  probably always feel nervous of moving away from the stop unless they have a very large amount of time) and not at all friendly to suitcases and backpacks - try using a cubicle (sometimes with a soiled floor) with nowhere to put a backpack or large case, let alone hang a jacket or coat. 


Pre-Quake - Atomic Shuttles loading at Cathedral Square west  - a useful wide loading zone with shelter from the rain, a handy convenience store for drinks, snacks, phone cards etc - but no immediate toilet user friendly to luggage laden travellers - Photo NZ in Tranzit 2010


In general - providing a bit of road space for bus stops aside -  the city administrations and ECan have not made any significant move to support long distance services for decades now. So it made me laugh that a Council employee, responding to the story in the Press [see above] said, "From the tourism point of view, people wandering around looking for the depot doesn't look good for the city." Yep I agree. So what is new though?

Christchurch still treats its lower end tourists with a neglect bordering on disdain. Based on casual observation from my many bus trips in and out of  Christchurch bus passengers come in all shapes, ages and colours,. However the largest sectors, I'd guess, tend to be  overseas backpackers, tertiary students, ESOL and Asian students, the active disabled, the active middle-aged  and elderly, high school students (boarders from country areas I presume) and travellers to rural en route towns, if outside airline access. 

I made a submission to a Regional Transport Plan about five years ago that the Metro website have a page listing ALL public transport operators running services in or tofro regional and Te Wai Pounamu areas. (for those not in the know ECan claims to be trying to get people out of cars, address pollution, improve quality of life ....and other such spin). 

This is the very bottom line of tourist bus and coach support, it involves the companies sending a website/timetable link, and of course, updating it as necessary, which is in their interests to do so. Regional Councils in Waikato, Manawatu, Taranaki,  Bay of Plenty and Otago etc all do this minimum service. Not Ecan. Too hard - outside our field - too messy - was the the essence of the Ecan response (despite a fictitious department and website called Smart Travel). 


Waikato's Regional Council has done more than most to create synergies and integrate services and information including all services in a basket - booking, urban, regional, island wide from the clearly identified Transport Centre      photo NZ in Tranzit

ECan's Metro site still doesn't even have any mention any of these services let alone offer a simple link to local one-site listings (and this list linked here is certainly nothing special in user friendly access for total strangers). 

This lack of inter- regional-city Metro link up from an organisation calling itself Environment Canterbury is bizarre! I'd imagine  even conservatively there would be about 15-20 scheduled bus and coach services a day for other places in Canterbury - Akaroa, Mount Hutt, Hamner Springs, Kaikoura - and rural locations on the way to Picton, Nelson via Lewis Pass, Greymouth and Arthurs Pass, Westport the Haast Pass, South Canterbury, Dunedin and Invercargill. And tourism of course hugely benefits the whole region.

Even conservatively (allowing for some van sized operations and winter service reductions or reduced patronage off-season on non-snow trips) these services at a very rough guess would average 20 passengers a trip or between 3-500 patrons a day, the same amount also arriving  in the city later in the day, often as complete strangers. Averaged out 600-1000 bus and coach passengers a day - much more in season -  likely to appreciate and benefit from infrastructure support. 

That is also to say, measured across the year, 365 days a year, probably between  220,00 and 365,000 shuttle and coach passengers a year are virtually ignored in their infrastructure needs by public authorities claiming to promote and support the tourist industry. Both major bodies also fatuously claim to be aiming for a clean green city and/or a province that encourages people to leave their cars at home. But the only thing being served up is a dog's breakfast !

I called the stories that took a swipe at InterCity facilities "half the story". It failed to look at the sparsity of easily accessible toilets for ALL local long distance operations; it failed to look at the effect of  having dispersed departure zones unlinked to local services. 

The fact is that most people catching long distance bus services don't have a car, or access to car, at that time (I know-  it's a strange co-incidence isn't it!!). Perhaps 30% of them will get dropped off or picked up at the bus "station" by a friend or relative or their host - but this still leaves a goodly number (hundreds of thousands per year) having to find their way tofro the departure point. 

Logic would suggest a city seeking to foster car-less journeys and support car-less tourists, and seeking to make moving around without a car more attractive,  would work very hard to link up urban bus and taxi services with long distant bus (and rail) departure and arrival zones. 

It therefore suggests  information linking all services, bus stop zones for traveling beyond Christchurch, would be readily and easily available through Metro infrastructure  itself. I am referring to long distant  bus stops with adequate shelter; timetables; luggage stacking facilities; ideally snack, drink and ATM facilities and easy access to toilets, that are coat and luggage friendly.  As the majority arrive or depart these stops by walking, urban buses and taxis,  logic suggests these stops would be integrated in -  or immediately beside -  major urban bus stations [that per se include an adjacent taxi rank. Yeah right].  

No says city council. That is not our policy. 

THIS STATEMENT IS NO LONGER CORRECT - see below*.

This was implicitly said  loud and clear when the city built the Bus Exchange in 2003 and was again implicitly said, loud and clear again,  when it built the Temporary Central Bus Station in 2011. 

After the CBD the two most viable (and used de facto)  long distance en route, outer suburb, stops would appear to be Northlands and Westfield, both served by multiple local and cross town services. (Hornby and Ilam also work to some degree but too many en route stops get tedious and difficult to stack luggage for drivers)

The city restated their policy of feeding the dog breakfast recently when they built the recent Northlands bus transfer "super-stop". Hardly room for urban passengers let alone suitcases and packs and long distance buses loading prepaid passengers. It appears to be planning to do so again, by choosing to try to cram in a low quality budget transfer station into the shopping centre of Riccarton Road. Such a location, clearly, can have no room or facilities for South and West bound regional and long distant bus and coach services, let alone be adequately sized and offer growth proofed wider platforms for expanding urban services. 

Which is a huge pity - in many ways Riccarton seems  a more important transfer location for such a link up than the CBD, because passengers can transfer tofro The Orbiter and MetroStar and Lincoln bus services here and access far more areas of the city, north, west and south particularly, more frequently, faster and easier.  A big portion of the long distance bus and coach service market is that of Canterbury and Lincoln University students and the west is very much their side of town too, hundreds of flats within easy walking or bus access of Westfield.

I call the current mish-mash  level of urban bus and long distance service services the "rusty tap" syndrome - urban, regional and national bus and coach services should flow like a good plumbing system, they fit together, are easily understood, are always reliable and trustworthy. Apart from a few nutters like myself people should not have to even think about buses or rarely need to feel irritated by their shortcomings etc. You turn on the tap and the water is there, you want to catch a bus and all the connections are there. Instead we  make it difficult to find the tap, and half the time there is none or you turn the tap and its rusted shut and nothing comes out, or all services rush out in the same moment and then you sit waiting for hours for the next drip. 

This is a D Grade service and it Degrades passengers and handicaps buses (the most effective of  all forms of mass transit) from moving up into the status, popularity, funding and earnings to attain the real high quality services they could be delivering.  

I have long campaigned for the province to look at a regional travel system - indeed suggested an integrated system that could offer eight passenger services a day between Timaru and Christchurch including morning and evening quality commuter services. I have even suggested to the Bus and Coach Association of New Zealand that they seek (with Government assistance) to create a unified brand "National Bus Network, with distinctive signage NZ wide, dedicated stops and shelters, area wide timetables listing all services and quality criteria and status of service identified.  Bus companies would pay a small standing fee and then an annual capitation fee to be part of a system with many benefits and great potential to lift bus use across the whole country.[no response - what is new].

We see millions spent on airport infrastructure and next to nothing on regional connectivity or supporting independent lower budget tourists "on the ground" travel 

Most of all, when will we stop treating bus services and passengers as second class citizens?  

I say we have a fantastic chance to create relatively low budget synergies  that would make Canterbury (and ultimately all New Zealand) hugely bus friendly and accessible to independent car less residents and travellers, understood in any language

Or am I just pissing in the wind? Where's those bushes InterCity?

Pssssssst - also where is the toilet gonna be at the new (not integrated with ANY local bus services!) InterCity Christchurch Stop in Armagh Street

* POSTSCRIPT After all that huffing and puffing above I have since learnt that the new Christchurch central bus station planned will incorporate long distance buses, taxis, and airport transfers. As this has long been NZ in Tranzit policy I welcome this particular step, but leave the original text for its reasons of integrity, other point raised, and generic relevance to all city bus systems etc.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Massive Auckland transport spend-up fails to meet transport funding demands.

As I have said on past occasions,  it is only by looking at the sort of money being spent on public transport infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington that one can really measure just how successful  infrastructure progress in Christchurch has been over the last decade.....

By this token today's NZ Herald has done another expose of the comparative state of public transport infrastructure planning in Christchurch! 

Obviously the case for funding public transport infrastructure of the northern cities IS stronger - but 15 times stronger?? Come Onnnn!**

Incredible.



** Stripping out the public transport projects (and part aspects) only from these figures I get a very conservative figure of $5.1 billion  for Auckland public transport infrastructure and a (very generous?) guestimate of $100 million on Christchurch public transport infrastructure (as per last posting).

Despite (greater) Auckland only being 3.5 x the size of greater Christchurch,  approx  $51 dollars is spent in Auckland on public transport infrastructure for every $1 spent on this in Christchurch; per capita this translates to "only" 15 times more per person on public transport infrastructure!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Should our buse services go gothic?


An entrance veranda of Knox Church, captures the city's Gothic revival roots in modern form

It is to be hoped with an almost entirely new council elected that the Christchurch metropolitan area public transport system will be placed in "catch up" mode. Many of those elected have strong proven records of service on community boards - one is a former three-time city Mayor - or socially orientated organisations, . The pre-dominance of left leaning coalition People's Choice candidates, hopefully will also bring some greater sense of common purpose, which seemed to missing in the last fairly disparate and unreadable bunch of individuals. 

In Christchurch public transport was on the "up and up" between 1992 and 2003, an inspiring turn around, but apart from a few new bus routes to outer areas, and cross town, very little more has been accomplished in public transport in following decade, if measured by the standards of many other cities. 

So far this century over two billion dollars was spent on public transport infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington but I would guess less something  less than $60 million in Christchurch. A significant portion of this was spent on the first Bus Exchange (locally funded? $20 million) which was munted in the earthquakes, and the simple but popular temporary bus station since. Other infrastructure expenditure would have been for installing Real Time and Metrocard; upgrading the number of simple bus shelters and recently building Northlands  "super shelter"; completing about half  the original bus lane programme planned to be completed by 2013; and some traffic signal and GPS bus tracking technology. 

Much of the expenditure in Auckland and Wellington has been involved in upgrading or building from scratch commuter rail systems, but probably at least $500 million has gone on similar technology to Christchurch (as described above) and also busways, bus lanes and bus stations, including park and ride parking. Also the bus component (usually a fairly small portion) of the total cost of rail and bus centres such as Britomart and New Lynn, both of them architecturally designed to enhance the streetscape and the public transport experience.


Award winning New Lynn Bus and rail (underground) station in Auckland, built at a cost of $168 million, as shown in" Architecture NZ", May/June 2012 (a good magazine also for those who love city infrastructure).



One of the main attractions of light rail is often stated to be the inherent public confidence accredited a route by virtue of the permanent infrastructure. 

Actually the world has hundreds of tram and rail and even underground rail lines that were built and sometimes even flourished for decades but have since been closed, removed, sealed over or abandoned. Viewed across the longer term the "permanent" aspect is more illusion than reality. But there is no doubt that good infrastructure says "this city takes public transport seriously" and "in our city public transport has status and is something more than just a 'last penny in the pound" "throw a few buses into the traffic" effort. 

The popularity of The Orbiter, the Metrostar, The Shuttle, and now the Blue Line, also bear testament to the importance of good clear branding in making specific services easy to identify and access. These distinctive buses also, importantly, create a familiar and known or knowable city -  for residents and short term alike - and even a certain pride, echoing London and its red double deckers, a sense of "our buses" 

Rather than go any further down the road of the fairly mundane "industrial" style bus shelters inherent in Northlands and the current Central Bus Station  (both temporary) no different from many millions of others around the world in form,  NZ in Tranzit believes the city should consider looking  for a defining style that distinguishes and brands all of the major public transport stations, and transfer nodes and any  bus shelters that cover the whole footpath. 

Indeed the same style in distinctive  "large" and  "medium" style could itself immediately indicate the level of service and facilities that passengers could be expect to find at that size station.

For example, I would expect a (large)  transfer station to have public toilets with baby change facilities; a cash machine, a drinks machine; a pay phone (to back up cell phone failure); sections for both indoor and outdoor waiting (the latter partly roofed and partly open to sun etc) and a fully enclosed section of waiting room with automatic temperature modification system (at least eliminating the extremes of cold or heat) open at least till 8pm at night. (Large size) Transfer stations would also of course have CCTV - live and linked to a monitoring centre - bus stations should aim to  be"safer than houses", safe zones which bad eggs avoid.  Included of course, Real Time "next buses due" signage but also city route maps and paper format all services timetables.  Ideally bus docking should be at close to door level (rather than conventional footpath height). In this scenario passengers can safely expect a transfer station to be served by three to six routes including at least two cross town routes, and be able to take it for granted that from a designated transfer station at least one route, or other, will take me to (a) city centre (b) university (c) airport. 

Unlike local planners I find the concept of just six planned bus transfer stations (all based at the major malls) grossly inadequate, and believe that a second layer of about 12 bus "node points" is needed to create a city wide grid pattern bus system where it is possible to travel virtually anywhere across the city, with transfers, including minimum wait and very little doubling back and often as not easy to understand options. These node point transfer stops would mainly be at secondary malls and major people traffic zones  - think Parklands, Burwood Hospital; Belfast, Sheffield Crescent, Avonhead Mall, Halswell etc. 

In the branded-by-building style scenario these would echo the transfer stations but be smaller, have Real Time signage but have no public toilets (though usually some are handy), no en site money machine etc, and only semi-enclosed or wind and rain sheltered facilities. At a transfer node, rather than a full transfer station, one would expect to find only two or three routes intersecting and only one of these  a cross town route, per se routed through other transfer stations. A key factor of transfer nodes - this current nonsense of making people walk hundreds of metres between one route and another, to transfer, would be eliminated as far as absolutely possible. All buses would be routed so they all pass through the same immediate stopping zone, albeit some may be on the opposite side of the road with pedestrian safety zones or signals to ensure ease of access between stopping platforms .

A key factor in the concept of branded transfer stations and branded transfer nodes is they have a distinctive design and I believe what better than a design that gives or retains an unique character to Christchurch. 

Despite the earthquakes, and the likely loss of Christchurch Cathedrals and the loss of many beautiful [and some so-so]  Victorian and Edwardian buildings  I believe Christchurch will still be distinguished from other cities in the Southern hemisphere by its unusually large numbers of buildings in the Gothic revival style. 

The Arts Centre [the old university complex]; the Museum, Christs College, the Provincial Government buildings, St Michaels and belfry tower, the Trinity Centre, the Christchurch Club on Latimer Square, spring straight from the core roots of Christchurch as a "conservative utopia" -  recreating a fantasy of England before the ugly industrial revolution wrecked it all! This city was not a casual settlement that sprang up as most do at a crossroads or river or convenient harbor point, but avery consciously planned attempt by dissatisfied residents of the United Kingdom, keen to move forward but also build a better world.  

I put forward the suggestion that the abstracted form of Gothic entrance way used on Knox Church, see photo above offers a very good and practical design. The uprights are essentially just steel poles, coupled together with steel ties, and along with the gothic arches could be made in kitset form - four poles joined for uprights on larger transfer stations, three poles on transfers nodes. Like wise the arches could be manufactured in two sizes, with lugs or ledges to fit reinforced glass roofing panels. Side wings at a flatter roof inclination plane could be added (the classic NZ "lean to" profile" ) as an option in needed for larger rooms. Being fairly steep and adding wide-gutters, these shelter roofs should largely self clean, not trap leaves and quickly disperse hail and snow. 

Their pointed height will be a big advantage especially if a large illuminated "M" for Metro is inserted in the top part of a trefoil arch; likewise real time signage and cctv cameras can be fitted up into the roof cavity, way beyond the reach of vandals and taggers. Also heated trapped in this cavity should be easier to redirect down again with a slow moving redistibution fan.

We are a city rebuilding from an earthquake and one where there seems to be a contest in architecture going on called "How many ways can you make a square box look interesting?" (only a few as far as I can see!). The old pointy gothic style, with its vaguely religious overtones,  restated in modern form, and use to make distinctive larger bus stations and transfer nodes really stand out in the streetscape, seems to me a very good way to say, buses not cars are what we should be worshipping!!



Friday, October 11, 2013

Northlands Bus Mall - simple, attractive and effective for modest patronage numbers?

East side of road

I am impressed with the new bus mall or transfer station [not sure of exact description] at Northlands Shopping Mall. It is about five years behind when it should've been built; it is pretty basic in facilities but is it is also only intended to be temporary (OK, OK, I just can't resist humour in this blog). 

Light rail advocates often talk about the way the permanent infrastructure of rail lines embedded in the ground etc give light rail a greater appeal and status, and attract business away from other areas towards the vicinity of the line. Certainly these simple but solid shelters immediately lift the public profile and status of bus use in Christchurch, give a more metropolitan air to the suburbs. The "super bus stops"  might be nothing fantastic in themselves but do draw a new line in the sand, so long needed in Christchurch.

  West side of the road

Sure they are not perfect, The shelters have no immediate toilets but the Mall and Supermarket stay open long hours, and if the wait is too long [and every stop has real time signage indicating when the next buses are due] then there is also time enough at least for the able bodied to get to those toilets and back. 

As with The Central Bus Station the bus stops are organised into Platforms A, B,C, D, two each side of the road, various routes departing each stop with bus pull out spacing between each stop. There is however no passing lane for buses to pass each other, so all must regain the main traffic stream, albeit in Christchurch there are usually a few good hearted motorists in any queue that will slow to let the bus merge back into traffic.

It was a bit of cool nor-east wind the day that I took these photos - the prevailing "sunny day but chill" wind in Christchurch  - but these shelters seem to block or to offer a lee wall in front of which hanging about was mild and pleasant enough. The other chilly wind comes from the immediate opposing direction - southwest - it is the wintry storm wind, bringing rain, hail even snow etc. It will be interesting to know whether the same buffering effect works the other way, though obviously no bus shelter is ever going to be exactly toasty in a sou'wester.  

A couple of sections are set back deeper and - if not fully enclosed at least protected by added front and partial side walls of glass, albeit probably intended for the elderly or young mothers and children.  Even allowing for passengers spreading sideways, around each designated stopping point (according to which route the bus is on), there isn't a great deal of room anywhere along the pedestrian area for the complex mix of loud, bouncy teenagers; frail elderly and young mums with toddlers in tow and a baby in the pram, that can soon fill a busy bus stop. Obviously some part of the pathway should offer clear passage, and even people crowding together, in NZ anyway, prefer to maintain a foot or two spacing from total strangers. If these aspects are allowed for, things are far from spacious.


In consequence of the uprights of the bus shelters and/or the space taken by people waiting, and walking the footpath is narrowed and this could be particularly difficult to negotiate when buses are busy loading. This is not a new problem as the NZ in Tranzit photo below of the RedBus loading school kids at the same spot in 2010 shows. 

Given the embarrassment caused by the first Bus Exchange not allowing for rapid growth in patronage -  it quickly became far too small -  one would suppose any transfer station (which per se is expected to generate increased waiting passengers) would be designed with room for larger numbers than current.. 

Site of the westside extended shelter - school's out in late July 2010 - free to use photo NZ in Tranzit

I imagine the Government funding obtained by the council infrastructure people, in line with Government policy of public transport having to reduce congestion,  has had to be spread this amount across several other planned transfer stations. 

Even so, it seems a bit stingy that the National Government,  that only 3 months ago committed another $100 million** plus to Wellington Regional Council as a payment towards further Matangi electric trains, could not come to the party with the extra $30,000 or similar it would probably take to buy (or lease for ten years) the ornamental tussock grass box between footpath and mall car-park. This simple gesture would have allowed it to be removed [not rocket science to rebuild later] in order to set the temporary shelters back along a greater length. This would also ensure more seating, more weather protection and of course greater comfort. ease and safety for both passengers and passing pedestrians trying to thread their way through jostling crowds. 

Tussocks more important than passengers and creating quality effective bus transfer stations? How very very Christchurch!  Yup.  Good old "busism" as work!!   

Still it is good to see some movement towards better quality public transport infrastructure (I can't moan about everything!). 


In a city of with growing competition for space  would landscape enhancement 
 be better achieved by vertical planting on decorative walls and trellises? 


** Possibly much more - [$170 million] contract signed for more Matangi trains for Wellington" 
- Greater Wellington Regional Council press release - 19 June 13 2013 

"This new deal is possible because of Hyundai-Rotem, who offered us more new trains at a competitive price, and the NZ Transport Agency, who have put in substantial funding".
 - Fran Wilde, Chairperson Greater Wellington Regional Council 




When fish get too big...finding the right names

  Yes, the road goes right through this mountain range - with some spectacular help from engineers

One of the most bizarre aspects of New Zealand/Aotearoa is that it has a truly astonishing mix of nature at its most beautiful and awesome.

This ranges from towering snow covered alps, to Scotland like high country glens and lakes, to semi-tropical rain forests (including relic of  plant species that exist millions of years ago) to thousands of kilometres of coastline of every shape and form.

It's a raw sort of land thrust up from the sea, a new land from the sea. It pushes ever upwards the result of the irresolvable clash of two tectonic plates, like two wrestlers battling to get on top with one half of each trapped underneath the other. New Zealand is a land of astonishing beauty but - like some hot headed archetypical beauty, the land and the climate are extremely temperamental -  capable of moving from benign to life threatening in mere minutes, capable of the most fiery violent volcanic outbursts and rip apart earthquakes.

Such an amazing land - virtually the last to be discovered - by humans, firstly about 800 years ago by Polynesian explorers looking for a new home, secondly by some incredibly tough, committed, strong minded, idealistic, hardworking colonial settlers - so exhausted after a days hard work they had not an ounce of imagination left in them!

So after a year or two mucking around, ignoring some officials of Queen Victoria in the colonial office, keen to recycle a bit of Ireland, who has named the three main islands of New Zealand, north to south  - New Ulster,  New Munster, and New Leinster, the voice of the people (from their tired heads, flat upon the table) said, "Hell man, that's too complicated, let's just call them the North Island and the South Island". (Later someone remembered New Leinster and it was renamed after somebody's uncle Stewart ).

And so it stayed - these magic Pacific Islands reduced to the world's most boring nomenclature. The North Island; the South Island. And uncle Stewart's island.

All this for 150  plus years until a year or two back when some soul in Christchurch pushed this issue into the limelight, and indeed up under the Minister's nose.

Indeed how could Maori be one of our three international languages and yet Maori names not be official for our islands?

So at last it is official; from today Te Wai Pounamu, and Te Ika-a-Maui 

Needless to say - ahem -  NZ in Tranzit  - being simultaneously at the forefront of [of actually researched] public transport,  and of course, a major voice in the arts etc (and in stretching credibility) has long been a leader in reclaiming the most beautiful of names bestowed centuries ago by Maori settlers - Te Ika a Maui (the fish of a legendary hero-cum-God Maui) in the north; Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of the greenstone) in the South (the smaller main island Rakiura below that).

I checked to see how far back ago I used these names, by putting them as keywords on my search the blog box [December 2009 and may times since] - what an interesting and rich and very varied mix of public transport issues, news, etc extending over the last four years these keywords brings up!!

[well interesting to me; its a bizarre life being a blogster, so much sent out, so little back -but I doubt a paper format magazine primarily about public transport would get hundreds of kiwi reader page views per month]

Of course now we have such lovely names "officially", human nature being what it is, I suspect "T'ika" and "Tewai" or "Pounamu", standing alone, could easily become the shortened, names most commonly used. Language never stands still. (call it corruption or call it evolution, it won't stop it moving in meaning and implication)

Well "Te Ika" or "T'ika" or "Te-wai" or "Pounamu' are still better than North and South!

Legend has it that Te Wai Pounamu was the canoe of Maui, and he fished up the other main island (a big question - how did Maori without satellite images know this island vaguely resembles a fish?)

Unfortunately in the midsts of time, since then Te Ika-A-Maui.was pulled out of the murk it has grown somewhat greedy, and obese and is eating its way through the tax basket of NZ, big fish eat little fish etc.

It might be time that we in the waka (canoe) cut the line - or at very least the power cable - and threw it back! Just joking. Yeah, well maybe.

There is a huge regional revolt building in New Zealand, in response to gross distortions, and it seems likely  the new Christchurch Mayor will probably be seen as the inherent - if slightly ambiguous - leader.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bus ridership going up and up - double deckers in Wellington and Auckland


photo ex NewstalkZB website coz there ain't to many other good images available. thanks.

Increases in bus patronage on the Northern busway and in Wellington on some routes has led to the planned introduction of modern 80-seater double-decker buses. 

In Auckland New Zealand Bus Ltd has been trialling double decker buses on the northern busway since March this year, using an 86 seater tandem axle Scania built for operator Ritchies, in Malaysia.

Patronage on the Northern Express is over double that expected when the $284 million busway was opened (in its current length) in 2008. **

Now Wellington will also see these super modern double deckers on their streets. Early this year Mana Coach services, the largest bus service provider on the Kapiti Coast, trialled a bus with a frame bolted on the roof, to double deck specifications, to see whether shop roofs, over-head bridges or similar would be a hazard to operating double buses on some of their busier routes. Apart from a few untrimmed trees these proved no hazard and the company is now working out the exact specifications of the double deckers - which will also be operated by companion company Newlands Coachlines.


Brian Souter who owns Alexander Dennis Limited , the UK bus building company, has about a quarter share in these two Wellington bus companies (as well as owning Howick and Eastern Bus company in Auckland) so it is little surprise the basic model will be an ADL Enviro 500, as shown in this promo photo supplied to the DomPost ( love the Mana logo with its strong nod to Maori rafter patterns)

A quick dive into the Past

Back in 1905 (when I first started driving buses.....ha!! ...yeah, yeah, yeah grandad) Lawrence Birks, the former assistant tramway engineer of Sydney's tramway system hired to establish a tramway in Christchurch, advised the newly formed Christchurch Tramway Board against double decker electric trams - on his Sydney experiences, they were too slow to load. And that was in the days when they had conductors to sell the tickets or help the elderly etc aboard.

In the event only three motorised double decker trams were ever put in service in Christchurch and after a fatal accident in 1918 which was partly attributed to the double deck motor car's instability, they had the top (open) decks removed, though many of the older trailers had open upper decks. 

This loading time aspect is something I still wonder about 110 years later - given their longstanding prevalence and recent revival in London, and given the way double deckers are being used in many different places in the world nowadays. Do they only suit certain routes? I would hate to see Christchurch lose the wonderfully short dwell time that has been achieved since Christchurch Metrocards were introduced. There is a huge difference in the quality of bus travel when buses can swoop into a stop,  load half a dozen passengers in 20 seconds, and then on their way [at most stops]. The introduction of Christchurch's  MetroCard cut dwell time 70%.

In Christchurch it may be possible to see double deckers one day being used between Belfast and Princess Margaret on the Blueline, even Selwyn Star services to Rolleston, for example, but one suspects they would be a huge hassle, even slightly dangerous, to drive tofro Rangiora the gale force nor-west winds that are not uncommon in Canterbury. 

I was told by a driver I chatted to one day that too many low bridges and strong side winds and wind resistance has been a major factor in deterring Ritchies' InterCity from implementing further double deck coach services in the Te Wai Pounamu.  This was said a few years back when I travelled top-deck the whole way from Christchurch to Invercargill in one day on a Ritchies' InterCity Coach. Even a hardened bus spotter like myself, thought "this is going to be a tough call! Sitting on a bus (coach) for all day - hell, I probably won't be able to straighten my back by the time we get to the end". 

In fact it was quite the opposite, magnificent view, beautiful smooth airbag suspension and seats so comfortable that by the time I got to Invercargill I actually felt more refreshed, almost as if I'd had a massage. The only problem - as in many coaches - was the air conditioning was too damn cool, coats stayed on. It is surprising that AC buses and coaches don't have some sort of gauge linked to the dashboard.

Anyway  that's by the way.  I would imagine the earth quake damaged road surfaces on many Christchurch roads (including some arterial roads awaiting new sewers etc)  are far too full of uneven undulations, pot holes, sink holes etc to make for comfortable travel on a double deck bus, so if the city does get them (as previously considered) I suspect it may be a year or two away yet. Or should I allow ten years?

In the meantime our Christchurch's "newest double deck public transport vehicle" is also one of our oldest - - the beautifully restored No 26 tram - with its graceful top deck back in business -  at the Tramway Historical Society based at Ferrymead Park. Check out the before and after photos on this site. Amazing



** Indeed if I may be cynical, I note Northern Express ridership per annum has now overtaken patronage numbers on The Orbiter in Christchurch! This service was getting over 2 million passenger trips per year prior to the earthquakes - despite poorly integrated stops or few transfer friendly times (evenings, weekends) And despite a huge lack of significant infrastructure support from  National Government (which cut funding needed for the - already long overdue - Orbiter bus lanes in 2009!) 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bus passengers trapped for 36 years on Riccarton Road



Planned Panmure Bridge and Eastern busway (Auckland) ** More details below

When I started as a Christchurch  bus driver back in 1977 it was not uncommon to sit in a slow moving, stop-start, queue from "Nancy's corner" (Riccarton roundabout) to well past the main shopping centre and mall.

It was possible to lose 10 minutes just in that queue (about one and a half kilometres) when the entire section of route from Cathedral Square to Church Corner - about 8 km of multiple traffic lights and queues -  was scheduled to be achieved in 16 minutes.

That was in the bad old days, when bus usage was in decline and the cost per passenger carried rising, and there was scant regard for passenger's needs, the environment, or attracting people out of cars.

In 1996 and again in 2010 attempts were made to create bus lanes on Riccarton Road, the shop-keepers (rightly I would say) saw this loss of parking as likely to directly effect the attraction of punters to their shops in the late afternoons. There was huge resistance, the Council backed off.

A few days ago I was chatting to  a bus driver and former workmate, and it came up in conversation it taken him nine minutes between Nancy's and Matipo Street the day before, the same as most evenings.

As Leonard Cohen sings "Old black Joe's still pickin' cotton....".

Where has the Council been these last 36 years? Buses still queue along Riccarton Road  in rush hour?

What are we as taxpayers and ratepayers and bus users paying for if the council, elected and appointed officers, is still stuck in low gear, if the council is still stuck in the thinking of 1977?



** Auckland area councils between 2000 - 2013 secured government funding for bus infrastructure that included $200 million for the Northern busway; de facto $26 million for that portion of the new Mangere bridge permanently dedicated to bus lanes; $20 million of the $46 needed for the Central busway over Grafton Bridge; and some small portion of the $396 million needed to built rail/bus interchanges at Britomart, New Lynn and Panmure.