Sunday, December 27, 2009

Light Rail - Light on Ground? Heavy on tax-payer pocket?

It is good to see Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker making a case for a more sophisticated public transport system (The Press 26 Dec 2009) . He is a keen advocate of light rail. Anyone who has read previous postings on my webblog NZ in Tranzit will realise I am extremely dubious about Christchurch have the metropolitan population density and sympathetic footprint necessary to carry light rail. However, I am very aware of the huge infrastructure costs being met for rail and busway corridors in Auckland, and to a lesser extent Wellington, and believe Christchurch is long overdue to receive funding at least remotely comparable. This will not happen without an identified long term strategy and without specific projects to fund. I think any possibility to get the city moving towards a better "mass rapid transit" strategy should be open to debate.

A good starting point is to gain some perspective is looking at comparable cities. We have a small and low density population, nationally and locally, a very small taxpayer/ratepayer base "per rail kilometre" (so to speak) as compared to Switzerland, Austria or Germany for instance. This greatly inhibits the amount we can comfortably draw upon. It also means congestion, roading, is not really very congested by world standards and parking very cheap or free, allowing for one of the highest car ownership rates in the world.

Looking at countries and cities that I believe best match Christchurch, across the last two years, I have identified 118 cities in Canada, Australia, NZ and USA, with between 300,000 and 1 million metropolitan [US census definition - easy commuting distance] populations. It should be noted that, outside a handfull of the very largest cities, investment, service quality (spread of hours, routes, frequency)  patronage in public transport in the USA is among the lowest in the world per capita, and suffering further setbacks in the current recession. Bob Parker's article refers to transit authorities in USA  referring to buses as "social transport" (for the poor, disabled) a view far less pronounced in European, Asian or indeed Commonwealth countries., such as Australia, Canada or New Zealand. A recent cross border survey revealed even tertiary student use/attitude/frequency of use differs between Canada and the USA.

Precedent for light rail in cities so small as Christchurch is not great - indeed, a couple of heritage trams aside, not one city of the 65 cities below 500,000 in metropolitan population in these four countries operates a light rail system. We would definitely being going out on a limb, the more so as quite a few cities, in Canada at least, appear to studied and rejected this option as too expensive. I am also completely unable to find any light rail line of any length (let alone a network) built or planned for "tens of millions" - the phrase bandied about in the Press article.

Of 118 cities in Canada, Australia, NZ or USA (CANZUS) between 300,000 and a million only one city, Tacoma USA,  operates a very short city section section of light rail, and three others - Kitchener, CA; Gold Coast Aus, and Honolulu USA - have committed to building a (single) light rail corridor.

The smallest CANZUS city committed to building a light rail system is Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. This is actually three adjoining cities (much to that city's chagrin the planners could not afford to extent the light rail to the third city, Cambridge) roughly in line, with a total area population of 451.225 (2006) and whose bus system currently carries 14.4 million passengers a year (compare Christchurch 17.1 million passengers (2008). I am unable to find the length of the proposed length of their single corridor line but it appears less than 20 km and the budget is $790 million. The Waterloo Region is one of the fastest growing in Canada and population is expected to rise to 750,000 with 25 years (the Greater Christchurch population is set to grow from 414,000 to 501,000 by 2026).

Tacoma, Washington, a small city within and forty five minutes south of Seattle. Typical of many north American metropolitan areas, city population (the area administered by the City Council) can be misleading - it would be easy to think of Tacoma is much smaller than Christchurch, a city according to the US census department (2009) of only 203,000 residents. However Tacoma is the county seat of Pierce County, only a tenth the land area of Canterbury but, according to the County's Annual Report of 2008, home to 805,000 people. Pierce Transit which is the public authority operating the buses and light rail system - and also contracts to Seattle based Sounds Transit to supply commuter services to Seattle 51km away - describes its system as serving over 600,000 residents.  It is a very impressive up-front system, but refelecting lower US patronage, last year still only carried 16.3 million passengers (2008). Tacoma is the only city of the entire 118 that is currently actually operating a light rail system (Sounds Transit operates the light rail). It cost $80.4 million to build the 2.25km central city line (a cost factor; though it is current essentially a lightweight streetcar system intention is to have heavier light rail trains using the same lines in the future).

The next of the cities planning a light rail system is already bigger than we will be in 15 years, Gold Coast in Queensland with a rapidly rising population, currently 554,000 population. The city is building a single 13km light rail line, now costing [it keeps rising] $1.8 billion. This includes purchase of 131 properties and some part (eg frontage) of another 111 properties. Currently their bus system carries 17 million passengers a year 2008).

The third city, committed to building light rail (after a huge political battle for and against, spanning several years) is Honolulu in Hawaii, with a metropolitan population of 909,683 (2006). The budget here is $5.6 billion dollars to build a 32 km line between outer residential areas, around the bays and inlets to downtown Honolulu. Part of the huge cost is sections of this will be elevated above the city streets, itself highly controversial. Hawaii receives 6.5 million visitors a year, less than Christchurch with 9 million but with-out of course a big portion of those arriving in cars from other parts of the country and this has no doubt spurred bus use. Honolulu punches way above its weight on public transport patronage,  "The Bus", patronage is the fourth highest per capita in the USA, at 72 million passengers a year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rabbit Investigates - Murder at Grimseys Road?

"If it bleeds it leads" is the newspaper publishing ethic (ahem) and the dwatted wabit realises he is currently only scoring a "D" for yellow-shade journalism. Sure, his webblog is fill of lots of local bodies, even a few local body politicians with knives in their back, but not really the gore one would expect to keep readers titillated and coming back for more.That is until I got on the old investigative trail again, cleverly disguised in best film noir fashion with a trilby hat, and my garbedine trench coat collar pulled up. I take an early Saturday misty-morning bus ride up to the top Grimseys Road - not visited since my bus driving days back in the eighties. Here is the rabbit remembering the time a Christchurch Transport Board Bristol bus - painted like Cadbury's Chocolate box - had a bite taken out of it by a major collision at Prestons Road intersection. Typically he is no longer able remember who was driving. It seems every lamp post will tell you a story if you drive around a city long enough.

But what's the plot today? Putting two and two together I see on the crumpled map the blonde dame gave me, that this large area of housing around Grimseys Road was severed at the waist (shades of the Black Dahlia case), cut off from the new Styx Mill area, and not by a river of blood but rather by the sweetly charming, meandering, Styx River and reserve. Styx? What is this, anotherTom Waits song? Eat your heart out rest of the world, our suburbs offer gothic horror and Greek tragedy all in one, thanks to the classical background of some of our early Oxford graduate pioneer sons. Now according to this scrap of paper this dame shoved in my paw, there is one one very large block of housing adjoining Grimseys Road, an elongated triangle of river bed and reserve, paddocks and then Radcliffe Road feeding into the very large shopping centre planned for the junction of Radcliff Road and Main North Road. The gossip around town and in the sleeziest bars is that there a major new library is also intended for the new block. And the Supa Centre is no small corner shop either. Willie the squeaker has even told his old friend the rabbit that there are moves by Ecan to get adequate bus exchange/transfer point facility included in the design. Well as Mandy said, "They would, wouldn't they". But how to get across the Styx? There seems to be an achilles' heel somewhere in this plot! The rabbits in a stew, part carrot and part mangled metaphors and he knows it.

So I asks this kid on a tricycle, "Hey what gives kid?" "Mister don cha know they is gonna built the norten motorway clean down the eastern side of our area". Aha. There's motive here anyway. A motorway - we'll my old drinking buddy Mr "Booze" Alan had them tagged a few years ago - no transport infrastructure in New Zealand pays it's real costs, good old Johnny Taxpayer gets held up every year to meet the billion dollar shortfall in real costs, including yours truly that rarely hops in a car but pays $3-400 a year for others to do so (as does my granddaughter and yours). And Etcetera's kids too.

"Kid," I said "You're talking highway robbery". The little brat squinted at me. "Hey mister, you aint trying cut out my boy racer career, just as soon as I graduate to long pants. That investment is my future."

The poor little bugger breastfed on the bullshit of our society -"investment" for roads for cars, "subsidies" for public transport, guess whose calling the shots, the car addicts twisting words to suit their case. Now I look at the map this dame has given me and see there aint no way cars can get down to this area except through junctions with Prestons Road, off the motorway (or beside it) or off Main North Road, all a bit of extra mileage and traffic light queues, fairly clumsy, all in all. An opportunity to give buses an advantage? Truth is I have been thinking for a long time this case could be closed by building a bus only corridor straight across from the top of Grimseys Road, curving across to meet Radcliffe Road before the railway crossing, with an (attractive) stone embankment and bridge across the gully and stream. But now I am here, now Google Earth has actually come to earth I find another of those damn quasi gated upmarket subdivisions plonk in the way. This one is called Redwood Park (you guessed it, it is one of those types of subdivision where they chop down the trees and then give the streets their names). There is a road straight through to the reserve, a boulevard (ok ok, with new trees) and de fenceless USA style lawns - but so narrow and intimate in style that in short their aint no way anyone is politically gonna drive a bus through here, though presumably the street came out of public funds. I put two and two together and it comes out about ten - that's probably about the mumber of new ostentatious, "keep out Mr Burglar and your son Idle Tagger", gate posted communities built around the edge of Christchurch in the last decade. In other words when it comes to public transport we are dealing with a serial killer stalking the outskirts of Christchurch - yep, just as I feared (cue creepy music; dum de dum) - another case of strangulation by commuter belt!!  I recognise the modus operandi. But this much bigger than an Italian motor scooter.  A couple of years ago vigilante gangs armed with nothing but arrogance tried to take over publicly built streets in Northwood, claiming territorial right to their neighbourhood, and scared off a straggle of politicians and bus planners. But this rabbit wasn't born yesterday! Everytime an investigation takes him into a cul de sac, there sure is a lot of them, everytime he runs up against a brick wall (usually with big brass numbers) the question pops up, "Whose pulling the strings, making this happen or turning a blind eye - allowing subdivisions without clear bus corridors, indeed enhanced direct alley way access to stops from streets behind streets? Who are the real hoods behind these hoods?"

City hall? The rabbit keeps his ears to the ground (not easy with his perky breed). And what he hears tell is the overly large influence of the Green-Darling family, who themselves are related to those famous medical fraudsters, the Doctors Spinn. Big on talk, fancy words, but slow and small on their feet. The spin is bigger than the footprint on the ground. Opportunity after opportunity slips by - this rabbits been staking out city growth for a decade now - opportunity for a council fully committed to public transport to lay down a few ground rules [every road classified as a feeder road is also automatically classified as bus service suitable - that is what you buy into, no retro arguments please]. Opportunity, too, to buy bits of judicious land between cauliflower ear crescent patterns to let buses straight through, and to say to developers "Man make as many fancy stone gates as you want but somewhere in that mosaic there must be is a central or peripheral bus corridor, easily accessible from all points. Modern buses barely make a noise much greater than a small pick-up, and at the outer terminals who gets on but the immediate neighbours (God forbid you might even get to know them at the stop). Hey wake up,  the tagged fences in those neighbourhoods won't be by immigrants from poor areas, how naive - they will be your bored and rebellious sons and daughters!

Thinks the rabbit - congestion aint just proportional, 50% slower; it's absolute - add 50% to a 10 min journey - what's five minutes? Nut'n. Now add 50% to 30 minute journey, you lose 30 minutes a day. And so on. His fluffy paw clenches unconsciously. Ya have to hit congestion where it hurts most - and will cost most - out in the outer burbs, chomp into those longer journeys. That's the rabbit's martial art training coming in. Watch that big foot tapping. Plan now to jump [rabbit think] across the inner suburbs rather than drag through them, bus lanes or not. There's a lot of misty green talk about how wonderful we are in city hall but methinks this dame doth prattle on too much . This Green-Darling family seem to be taking more than a few for a ride - it just aint going to be by fast direct bus corridors.

Actually the dime store detective thought the Redwood Park area overlooking the Styx reserve and river area was particularly beautiful, what a lovely outlook and such a neat wild zone for older children to play in, willow trees, long grass and stream bed, the places kids need to make the own world. It would anyway have been a crime to build an embankment/ bridge at the middle point!! I think the busway link should cut down beside the motorway and enter the Grimseys Road block near the top from the eastern side, two or three properties would secure it, several options, then run straight down Grimseys Road, under QEII Drive (beside the cycle subway) and passed the end of Winters Road, ramping up and over Cranford Street and on a slight embankment across the flood plain paddocks, joining up with City-Edgeware-Northlands bus corridor along the eastern edge of the very attractive new park created by extending Rutland Reserve up to Grassmere Street, with a fenced, shrub covered busway running around the eastern edge.

Strangulation doesn't always kill instantly [not like the old rabbit chop! Hey,wash your mouth out!] and we still have a few minutes left for revival. Tick tock tick tock - the clock is going fast to built a world class city before rigor mortis locks up the outlets that will stop rthe big red blood supply pumping between centre and outer suburb. Distance from Bealey Avenue to Belfast via Northlands Caledonia Road-Rutland Street busway, veering northwards immediately past Paparoa Street, onto the embankment over Cranford, down past the Winters Road enclave, under Grimseys, onto Grimseys Road, around the edge of the motorway onto Radcliff Road - about 6 or 7 km. Non-stop travelling time by express buses - from West Belfast (to be built), Belfast, East Belfast (to be built) , Rangiora, Woodend, Pegasus, Kaiapoi (all growing rapidly) - about 8-10 minutes max, from Radcliffe Road and Main North Road corner to city, steady speed nothing fast. But no stops! Current journey from Belfast (with bus lanes) to Bealey Avenue all stops 20 minutes hopefully [the timetable] in reality as long as 24 minutes just from Northlands to city with bus lanes (hot from The Press this morning). The busway option not only shaves 10 minutes plus off the journey twice a day (multiplied by a several million journeys measured across 25 year), it also creates wonderous comfort and superior pleasure to run straight into the heart of the city without stopping. The loop from Radcliffe Road to Grimseys Road, also provides an all day, all stops access as well (non-express buses,still quicker than other routes and every hour, everyday) from city to Grimseys Road and from Grimseys Road to Styx. Or city and St Albans to new Belfast industrial areas. Give buses the gutsy advantage!! As the blonde dame whispered in this rabbit's ear (hey, that's a lot ear!) "Think Rail, Build Bus, Buddy".  Its cheaper, faster, more frequent, more flexible, it creates the corridor for light rail of the future, if that is ever necessary; it can be built to handle100-passenger plus passenger articulated buses in the interim, if that is necessary. The rabbit takes nothing for the case solved but tells the dame, it will only cost you high tens of millions to solve this case - daunting yeah, but only a tiny fraction of the cost to build the multi-billion dollar [no joke] transport infrastructure of Auckland partly paved with Canterbury dollars. Putting two and two together the rabbit can't see why a city three and half times our size is being bankrolled by Government for about twenty times more infrastructure funding!

The Green-Darling family may talk the talk, perhaps one day they will walk the walk. This rabbit guesses they may have to walk! If fuel becomes too dear to waste on work commutes from outer areas and no second strata of express bus corridors has been put in place to keep the city intimately connected, hub to outer circumference and beyond. Overcrowded buses jamming up through Papanui -Northlands, Victoria Street on outbound journeys instead of fast direct journeys OR an amazing city to zip around. Rabbit sees a city that has always done bus well doing bus superbly, bus laned arterials past the malls interspersed by direct outer area-city free flow corridors completely by-passing congestion. This weren't no dumb blonde, no wild goose chase. 

ps. Basham up? Not more lurid crime? Not at all. Top marks to see that bus routes have already been factored in for the new Basham subdivision out Hei Hei way (pity about the area name though!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Transit Way

Yesterday I had a letter published in the local newspaper, The Press. No big deal, I write three or four a year, usually on public transport topics. This one was in response to a photo in the paper on Wednesday of the derelict Edgeware Swiming Pool, and a text saying the Council was advertising it for sale, including on "Trade Me". My letter began with a reference to this and ended with a comment about the Council trading away its bests assets. The pool is surrounded by mostly older housing stock, some appearing to be rental, and is close to two council housing complexes and a tennis club . All of this sits right on the alignment of the simplest and most obvious rapid transit corridor between Northlands Mall and Edgeware Village.

Unlike Auckland where the AMETI scheme is expected to take 329 properties, or even Wellington where the widening of Adelaide Road for bus lanes requires the acquisition of all or part of some 47 properties, or local Mall expansion which gobbled up scores of private residences, my guess is that this corridor, landscaped like a park with cycleway and pedestrian paths as well, would require less than a dozen properties, three of the larger blocks anyway council owned. If it decided to purchase more properties it would be because because the council had belatedly realised the significance of such a large block in promoting UDS goals of intensification, and overseas practises of creating such intensity around key public transport corridors. The Edgeware enclave could include attractive apartment complexes, to several storeys, without intruding on lower housing nearby,  linked to the adjacent Edgeware shopping centre, intersected by the transitway and a north-south/east-west transfer station, and offering access to city centre or Northlands in less than 6 minutes.

Transitway? That's a new word for the dwatted wabbit is it not? Indeed, it is word that had never previously passed my lips. It seems to be term only widely used in Canada,  for what are usually fully segregated bus corridors . Previously I have thought the word "transitway" a little clumsy. In letters on this subject (dating back to 2002) I have used the term busway.  But I didn't want to preclude the light rail option for this corridor - I don't see the numbers stacking up for light rail and it doesn't have the advantage of feeding on and off the trunk corridor in multiple directions as do bus systems - but it seems premature to exclude it, particular if the city is trying to encourage high density housing in this area. So searching for a more open ended term I used " transitway " .

Well the The Press editorial crew in their wisdom wacked off my tilt at the Council advertising on "Trade me" and the trading off of Council assets and printed the letter without these bookends.  Just porinyted  the core advocacy of the corridor, given the letter the simple title Need Transitway. Checking to see whether the letter got in the paper that word "transitway" leapt of the page at me. It is possibly the first time this term has been used in reference to local transport in New Zealand! Most powerfully it by-passed the whole light rail versus busway argument as neatly as the suggested corridor from Northlands would by-pass all the congestion and traffic light intersections on both Papanui Road and Cranford Street. It put emphasis on the corridor not the mode, and it was obscure enough (yet clear enough after 30 seconds reading of the letter) to not immediately create neat jerk reactions, such as the "buses are loser cruisers" fantasy held by people who never catch buses and seem to imagine they are all filled with the great unwashed, taggers and marauding patched gangs.

In the spirit of a previous posting (Looking for the Corridors of Power) the word transitway defines that the real battleground for future public transport is creating the fast corridors that link outer suburbs to the central city (and key employment zones) in much faster time than currently  offered, including those with part time bus lanes.  Transitway says to me, we need to know where we are going now, and therefore protect the corridors, even if other medium term uses are made of them. There is also a nice ambiguity - I like the resonance of things like this that carry many different references within them  - the transitway is also the transit way - the way to go if we want to keep a sane, happy and prosperous society after oil prices squeeze out indiscriminate car use.

PHOTO (above- source; wikipedia commons ) - Westboro Station on the Ottawa Transitway system, a system first begun 1983, with 35km of completely segregated bus lanes, such as those shown here.
At 123 trips per head of capita per annum Ottawa's public transport system is probably the most successful in CANZUS, in any city under 1.5 million. Ottawa and the adjacent city of Gatineau (which is building a 15km bus only corridor) have a metropolitan population smaller than that of Auckland but their transit systems carry over 120 million passengers a year, well over double Auckland patronage. Only 2 million of these carried on a short light rail line, with plans to introduce light rail on a further section of high density.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rubber tyred trains?

An interesting trend is guided busways, where the bus driver does not even need to steer (small guide wheels which face outward towards an enclosing curb do the steering for the driver). The advantage of these is that very high speeds can be obtained with very smooth passage, and precise docking at entry level platforms. In this way they can deliver much the quality of a rail journey without the jolts or lurches, without the greater safety problems and constant track checking required of rail. They also avoid the messy business of needing big car parks at stations or (as recently reported in both Melbourne and Auckland) the irritation of residents close to suburban stations having car doors slamming from 6am onwards, and otherwise quiet cul de sacs becoming all day carparks. The same buses that have guidewheels, can in most systems run off the guided busway onto normal streets, the de facto equivalent of a trains carriages all heading off in different directions to drop people in their own immediate neighbourhoods. The potential in the right situation is enormous. In Cambridgeshire in the United Kingdom the longest guided busway at in the world is nearing completion. This will link a range of rapidly expanding towns and settlements with Cambridge itself - 25km in 16 minutes at 100km per hour.  The success or not of this is something that apparently many English transport planners and the Department for Transportat are watching with great interest, the corridors of many other closed or minor railway lines offering potential conversion to guided busway. The photo at top of this article is from Wikipedia Commons, is unamed, and may be a different system, but it does show how much more attractive and less intrusive a high speed bus corridor can be in the rural setting. Below is not quite so sylvan in its charms, the half built busway on a gloomy English day, one of the buses (which also have leather seats and wi fi access) running a trial past a busway/road intersection - note what appear to be car traps!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Looking for the Corridors of Power - brrrmm, bbrrmm

The successful development and growth of public transport, as it is evolving around the world, seems very tied to corridors and land use. All over the world, regardless of whether the mode is light rail or quality bus systems, the big push seems to be towards getting public transport as much exclusive corridor space as possible. This means taking buses, trams or larger light vehicles out of the mixed traffic situation as far as possible, and giving them much of the "clear run" advantages that previously only commuter railway enjoyed.(check out for a good discussion going on this and related topics) 

In this respect the advocacy of light rail by Mayor Bob Parker is fairly typical of public thinking, which always lags behind technological changes. The core investment is not the mode but the corridor and Christchurch does not do corridors well. It fact it barely does corridors at all! It has taken an inordinately long time to develop part-time, part of road length only, bus lanes, so far on a single alignment - Main North Road & Papanui Road, with bus laning of two more routes in development. Everything else after that up in the air, due to the National Party Government cutting funding. The slow progress of buses leaving the city, up Victoria Street (not laned) and again through the sticking point of the Papanui/Harewood junction and Northlands, takes much of the sting out this solution. Sitting on a recent peak hour bus, loving the sections that were bus laned, I couldn't help thinking with a segregated busway straight up through St Albans, passengers for outer suburbs would have been at Northlands before the bus I was on even got to Merivale. Papanui Road will always be a key arterial corridor and bus lanes are great advantage, even in limited form (bus drivers I have spoken to certainly enjoy them) but I would hate to think this the sum total of Christchurch's strategy to address peak hour congestion, and/or carrying of large numbers of passengers in the event of oil prices going through the roof.
I started advocating a bus corridor, directly from Northlands to Edgeware back in 2002, a fairly modest affair linking feeder streets by attractive green boulevards [with a bus, cycle & pedestrian access only].One that would require minimum purchase of property but wack a huge ten minutes (x 300,000 trips plus a year) or more off commuter journeys from northern areas, as well as providing quality expansion capacity way beyond the potential of bus laned roads. During the early years of this century I watched the Labour Government pump hundreds of millions into public transport infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington. This included all or part of Auckland's new station Britomart, the Northern Busway (about $200 million tax payer dollars each) the Central Connector Busway and, of course double tracking and upgrading Auckland Commuter rail ($600 million - $128 million alone spent just on the New Lynn Bus-Rail exchange). All this was funding towards the rapid transit strategies evolved by Auckland in 1999 - four rail corridors, two busways. Wellington with its existing rapid transit corridors - four commuter rail lines - identified extending and upgrading commuter rail lines and only got a $500 million contribution towards a general upgrade of rail, and $70 million to expand the Kapiti Line to Waikanae and $45 million for a new station at Raumati. Oops, almost forgot, and most of the $31 million to upgrade the carriages and stations on the Wairarapa Line. Everybody over 40 know that capitalism goes in boom and bust, and political cycles shift left lane, right lane, with regularity. I kept thinking (a) surely this can't last (b) where is Christchurch? Almost the same population as Wellington but not getting a brass razoo for infrastructure. How does even a sympathetic government or its transit agency fund projects that don't exist?

I can tell you now (with loony gaze) there is no profit in being a prophet! Unless you like crying in the wilderness. Just a lot of hard work with little response to nourish the soul. Nothing ever penetrated the hide of the body politic, the city lacking any analyse or competent research into what was realistic and appropriate, appeared to undertake no professional studies what other cities overseas of comparable demographics and public transport investment were doing. Anything that was done was rail orientated - a study of the potential of commuter rail twice, not an early starter - obviously looking at the size and dispersement pattern of the population (my consultancy fee - a couple of dollars will do!) - and the building and expansion of a Heritage Tram system, totally clumsy and unusuable for any local purpose; the advocacy by various elected politicians of light rail.
Public opinion looks to Melbourne trams or attractive German light rail systems - oblivious to the times ten population base that fills or finances these expensive systems. Indeed, according to the rough rabbit calculator, if the total land area of the South Island had the equivalent density to that in Germany Te Wai Pounamu would have 60 million population!!  A perverse nature that is attracted to hard slog, long term projects of little obvious reward led me to check out for myself, rail and light rail systems and plans in small cities under 500,000 (later extended to under 1 million) in countries that shared similar demographics - Canada, Australia, NZ and USA. Only one city under 500,000 metropolitan population, of 58 "stand-alone" cities identified - the Kitchener-Waterloo region in Canada has decided to build a light rail system (current transit patronage well below Christchurch at 13 million trips a year). The metropolitan population here 450,000 but expected to grow to 750,000 in the time Christchurch will still not have achieved 500,000.  And only one city out of 118 under 1 million metropolitan population across all four countries (CANZUS) operates its own unique full commuter rail system - Wellington, NZ. (A few such as Wollongong, Newcastle, Tacoma, Bridgeport etc get back flow benefit from being on regional commuter lines to Seattle, Sydney, New York etc). But what is happening is in some of these small cities is the building of segregated corridors - mainly in the larger cities beyond the scope of my 'scope, most notably and successfully Ottawa and Brisbane - but also in some of the medium size Canadian cities, arguably the best match to New Zealand. More of these anon!

Photo Building the Central Connector Busway in Auckland - $46 million to give buses quick access in and out of the city. Government transport agencies gave $20 million and Canterbury residents presumably chipped in about $2.4 million of that amount.  Source Wikipedia Commons

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not such a NICERide after all!

In my long experience, members of the public making submissions to reviews (let alone random unsolicited suggestions) to large bureaucracies is about as effective as a mosquito trying to bite the bum of a hippopotamus!

About a year ago I received a rather off-hand response from Metro to to a concept I developed called NICERide (running all evening and weekend services to the same integrated pattern, with the pattern itself designed to achieve optimum spread and even flow of services through each area and to and from the city). To prove it was possible, I spent several months, entangled in a huge sudoko, ratcheting current running times back and forward to arrive at the optimum, symmetrical and logical pattern. This took months, because each route interacts with about five others, and also I was trying to get arrival and departure times from weekend employment zones to work well. Although there were logistical problems in this concept, none of them seemed insurmountable. The benefits of such a memorable -same minutes past the hour every hour off peak -  and consistent pattern (including same transfer pattern every hour) seemed huge enough to warrant more substantial investigation. Alas not. I was told (3 months later, after I solicited a reply) the public would not understand it.  

Despite this response, I sense the mosquito might have rumpled the rump a bit. In the last round of changes it is noticeable Metro in its recent route changes seems to be finally moving towards making off peak services better integrated. As commented previously, the Papanui Road corridor buses (5 routes) on a week night run in what is virtually a quarter hourly pattern. There are are quite few other successes here and there, two services along the same corridor running in a half hour alternating pattern etc. But it is also clear that planners ran up against many of the difficulties I did - and not having the immense amount of pressureless time I do (or having to fit timetables around driver hours or jointly tendered routes) - could not resolve many difficulties, leaving some dreadful anomalies as well. Looking just at Saturday evening and Sunday services - so poorly integrated on the major Papanui Road corridor - I find poor integration patterns all over the city. One of the worst of these is the service to Beckenham/lower Colombo Street and the Cashmere Hills.

I sometimes I pick up extra work Saturdays in this neck of the woods, and travel that way a few times a year, for other purposes too. It always used to be a piss off getting up from Beckenham to find three buses each hour, all ran in a 20 minute window - leaving 40 minute waits or a 25 minute walk to Sydenham in hope an alternate route might arrive. Well now that has been changed!! Great?  Only two buses now service this corridor, routes 10 and 12 . They depart the Bus Exchange only 6 minutes apart ("improved service" = now a 54 minute gap) on Saturday night; and depart simultaneously part of Sunday (4 minutes apart at other times) to Colombo Street south. In other words a de facto doubling up of services along a 3km shared corridor served by no other buses. This is coupled with the route 10 running to the Cashmere Hills only 4 minutes apart from the only other route to the Cashmere hills route 14 via the Somerfield St area (the routes intersect twice on the hill) on both Saturday night and all day Sunday. (And in case you're thinking, what about heading back into the city, both services depart the common terminus at the Sign of the Takahe also only a few minutes apart Saturday night and all through Sunday!). This is the terminus visited by many tourists and Sunday walkers wanting to hike up Victoria Park and the hill tracks!

I can't believe bus services can be planned so carelessly and with so little commitment to effective resource use and the patrons welfare. I will campaign for timing changes, as I do, in letters to community boards and other local organisations, and in the local newspapers. Ironically there seems more potential to change this absurd situation than most.

Changing the departure times of 12 and 14 is difficult (they offer reasonably integrated patterns with 15 and 18 routes to Bowenvale, St Martins and Huntsbury. and 14 a half hourly pattern with 16 up Cranford Street) ) The 10 route, coming from the airport, reduces down on Saturday evening and Sunday from half hourly to hourly, but runs in pattern with 3 and 29 routes from the Airport. Usually the big routes are untouchable but the irony seems to be that in continuing only one of the half hourly patterned services, the "wrong" one has been maintained (40 minute past the hour rather than the 10 minute past the hour has been continued). That is to say, the hourly 10 route would be more effective if run half an hour difference, and hourly 29 likewise. Switching the Saturday evening and all day Sunday 10 services with the hourly 29 Airport services would produce a significantly better (de facto half hourly!) service to Beckenham shops and Colombo Street south, the Cashmere Hills, the Sign of the Takahe and Victoria Park; also marginally better pattern down Papanui Road (longest service gap reduced to 22 minutes) and a more user friendly spread of services to those living between or close to both the 20 and 29 routes, around Clyde Road and north of Memorial Avenue (current 20 and 29 inbound services run virtually simultaneously and outbound only 12 minutes apart).

Probably more than anyone in the city, perhaps more than even the Metro planners,  I know just how complex it is trying to integrate 33 routes that all interact with five different routes minimum - mind boggling at times. Adjust one time and about three others have to be addressed, then three more etc  Back to the drawing board dozens of times over! NICERides do not come easy. I think perhaps it also gives me some platform to being righteously scathing of sloppy integration!! 

How much the absurd overlapping of minimal level services  is fall-out from the curious mixing of subsidized services and commercial services at the airport end, which I believe Metro don't fully control I don't know.  But does it matter to the consumer what the causes?  We pay taxes, rates, fares - we get stuck waiting for these buses, however carefully we try to plan around the flaws. These running times - to coin an old expression - are just plain crap. .

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Putting transit through the Mill

One of the very big network shifts in the recent Metro route changes has probably gone unnoticed by the general bus user, but I suspect over time will become very popular with the many who will benefit. This is the large number of city areas now linked to Addington.

From the east comes 21 Ilam route Mount Pleasant, Linwood Avenue, Gloucester Street, and all of Colombo St down to Moorhouse. This also, of course, links Ilam and the University transfer point to Addington, a service also offered by The Orbiter, which connects many areas of the southern Spreydon-Cashmere-St Martins area of the city as well. Links from the northeast - Parklands, the Burwood area and The Palms - are achieved through 70 route, now combined as a 15 minute through route with the main Lincoln Road route, 7 Halswell. This is complemented by the vastly increased services to Kennedys Bush, running along much of the same route, but leaving the Bus Exchange via the former 7 route (Colombo Street/Moorhouse Avenue) - the 7 now running via Hagley Avenue and the Public Hospital. From the north the reconstitured Redwood service, 22 Redwood-Spreydon runs through Northlands and Papanui Road, offering direct connection to the Public Hospital and touches the same Addington area (at Grove Road) before linking the Selwyn shops and Spreydon to the same corner.

Addington? Are you joking do I hear you say?. That depressed conglomeration of narrow streets, aging houses and old shops, attracting, south of the railway line anyway, so few of those monotonous chain shops that make every mall the same as the next.  The Addington that when  I first came to Christchurch forty years ago looked like a replica of Sydenham, double storey Victorian and Edwardian buildings lining the street from immediately across the railway line southwards -  but now looks like a grenade has scattered all coherent historic ambience to fragments.  No. Not that Addington. The Addington of which I speak is still being born. The new (re-routed/linked) bus services run via the potentially busiest, most intense "industrial" and housing area of the city. Along with the Tower Junction big box centre north of the railway line, Westpac Stadium, and the (currently under-utilised) railway station the Addington area is (a) going through a major identity change, including home to three major office park projects expected to provide work space for almost 6000 workers (b) has the largest single contiguous triangle of inner city land - between the railway line/Whiteleigh Avenue/Lincoln Road - that is almost totally derelict and/or filled almost entirely with very old and substandard warehouses, yards and housing. In other words, a rare section of the city on a steep upward trajectory where total area-wide planning, rather than piece-meal development, is ripe for implementation.

Being an amateur busspotter, a keen amateur not tied to any bureaucracy or busy defined work schedule, has all the playing-God-in-a-small-domain fun of creating a model train set. But a virtual one using the whole city as a canvas and calling forth all sorts of interests, options opportunities and limitations. And God knows might bring forward some idea of social value that can benefit the lives of thousands, and the environment. I dig the word "model", as in Christchurch becoming the model of one of the most superb small city transit systems in the world (goal) but the word "train" shakes my head in doubt. I have read enough about rail and light rail to see these are shooting far above our city's weight, and anyway can not offer rapid transit access to the whole collar of outer suburbs, in a way that bus corridors can, or at a much greater frequency. Unlike a rail variant along a single corridor bus rapid transit can offer a 15 minute service around the operating hours clock, and be complemented by a dozen or more other peak hour routes (express variation) feeding directly into these corridors and running key stops (2 or 3 at max) directly into the city. Potential 95% of the outer areas get a home area, direct service (no car parks, no transfers) faster than car travel utilising judiciously designed and landscaped bus corridors. This is a very impressive model train set indeed, but a more apt one adopting the US slogan - think rail, build bus. (to see a model on a larger scale check out the Human Transit site, listed in my rabbit-like profile, and take a tour of the Brisbane Busway)

In search of a potential western or southern rapid transit corridor, and to correlate what seemed at least possible on Google maps (no doubt becoming the bane of public transport reviews!), I often go walkabout. One absolutely bleak grey winter's Sunday morning, last year, with a chill chill wind scudding spits of rain and crumpled newspapers across almost empty city streets, I caught a bus to Addington and went for a wander. It says something for the state of this area that large parts, out of sight of the public eye, were unfenced and accessible with little sense of trespass (though presumably someone owns the land) - particularly the wide corridor between warehouses and the old Woods Mill landmark, formerly a multi-track rail siding. Old corrugated iron warehouses, loose sheets banging in the wind, the weeds and incipient broom colonising the old railway gravel, a yard filled of seized cars, the various For Sale signs - behind the old five or six story brick flour mill, there was enough material here for at least three different songs by Tom Waits! To the south there is a large residential area, of in most cases very old (without being historically charming) houses, often flaking paint or rusted roofs, adjoining Whiteleigh Avenue, barely as yet penetrated by the new two or three storey block of flats. I am an intuitive thinker [Carl Jung's definition of "intuitive" = seeing the possibilities in any situation],a joiner together of dots. The pokie machine in my brain was running all the high scoring symbols on the one line, lights flashing and bells ringing simultaneously. Wow - what a unique opportunity for the city to build a bus-rail centre by going under the line at Clarence Street; by factoring in routes and public transport infra-structure before redevelopment; what an opportunity to complement the intensity of office park development with urban redevelopment of medium rise apartments, four or five storeys, small shops and cafes below, a la Paris, in the European style, perfectly situated to access university, hospital, central city. Yeah, sure there is a nearby railway line, just as in thousands of parts of Europe and Asia, people who attracted to vibrant high density living will hardly find this a major deterrant, even if presuming sound can not be mitigated and broken up (indeed some of the most expensive houses in Christchurch near Mona Vale are built at eye level with adjacent rail!).

Strangely this area - with all its potential to address sustainable transport goals; intensification of inner city housing and with (by virtue of adjoing office park areas) a forseeable evolutionary path unfolding as day time gift shops and boutiques and office worker cafes> night-time restaurants>boutique hotels related to conferences and business travel - doesn't even feature on the published maps of expected city housing intensification. The one area with the greatest potential to pre-plan an attractive infrastructure - building entirely new lanes or new streets - is a blank. Likewise exactly how such a small area twice intersected by the railway line on major arterial roads (Lincoln Road, Whiteleigh Avenue) will absorb the 4000-5000 extra cars a day, that on current commuting patterns will be needed to convey the workers to these office parks, plus the increase in traffic coming from new subdivisions at Halswell, Awatea and Henderson, is obscure. These streets are already congested and the new overpass to Blenheim Road is filling with cars as fast a hole in the sand fills with water. Whether the city should be trenching the rail corridor, or tunnelling the roads under the rail or building more (awkward ugly) overbridges seems to be nowhere raised in the public arena. Whether the city should be creating bus underpasses - hardly rocket science and relatively cheap technology - doesn't seem to be on the horizon either (that irritating rabbit suggests underpasses are never on the horizon but I'll ignore him!)

Auckland's latest spend up the $409 million Victoria tunnel will off course be partly funded by taxes generated in Canterbury (say $40 million). The amount of money Canterbury taxpayers have now spent on upgrading Wellington rail and Auckland rail and new busways, hundreds of millions, is an impressive show of commitment to public transport by our province!! Alas the foresight to use our political clout, before it is completely lost to the "SuperCity", to help finance and build quality public transport and urban redesign infrastructure, over and beyond the Bus Exchange, right here in Canterbury, obscurely seems to miss our civic leadership. But bless their cotton socks Metro has at least realised where the action is gonna be, and within the parameters of a conventional bus service, very much put the new Addington in the loop, indeed in various loops. No transfer needed services from multiple points across the city and by virtue these travelling via the bus exchange - a multiplicity of services per hour between central city and the little tiger crouching around Woods Mill.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Language of Transit

One of the most interesting public transport web blogs is "Human Transit", operated byJarrett Walker, an international consultant in public transport who has led numerous major planning projects in North America, Australia and New Zealand. Walker also has a doctrate in literature and the arts, and writes on botany and Shakespearean drama , an interesting character by any standards. OK, OK, the Wabbit just can't resist this - a varied life but seemingly over obsessed with one essental question - (Route) 2B or nor 2B/ two bee or not two bee/ to be or not to be. (That is the question)

Back to normality! One of the things I most like about Jarrett Walker's postings is that treats the nitty gritty details of public transport with the committed interest and respect due, things like transfer patterns or timing of services, or the psychology of bus use, or prerequisites in urban development for different modes to be appropriate. When I tell people my main interest in life, apart from communal living and gardening, is public transport they do not yawn, they just look totally lost. How could anyone find any nourishment for the soul in a subject so mundane and dry I suspect is the underlying essence of their unspoken bewilderment. I have come to believe that any hobby or interest carried forward in depth offers a doorway to the whole world. One of course, one has to work hard to avoid monomania, being a bore or righteous paranoid delusions that there is only one answer (yours!) but this aside, a genuine interest will always call upon multiple facets of character, and developing knowledge in a dozen diverse fields intrinsic to mastering one's interest. Certainly public transport is bigger than a grain of sand, and it combines for me a lifelong interest in urban living, urban landscape and historic buildings (in part fostered by 15 years as a city bus driver and sightseeing bus driver whose intimate workplace was an evolving city) and history in general . In the late 1970's I interviewed retired tramwaymen whose working careers started as early as 1908, the rare honour of a window into a past world (running time of a tram, Cathedral Square to Stanmore Road, in the days before cars or traffic lights - time allowed 3 minutes).It brings in my interest in environmental matters, not least effective resource use. Following overseas transit systems, vitual travelling as a investigator rather as a tourist, is a bit like popping ones head up through the manhole in the middle of a different city - it experiences other cities at a very inside the system, underlying way. It has given me quite a feel for small city America, areas not normally even on the tourist periscope. Plotting out new routes, including schedules to match departure time patterns to key employment/education zones, is a complex evaluation of hundreds of variabilities and mathematical patterns that stretch my small intuitive brain, but an irresistible hobby (not least whilst sitting on buses). I would hate to do it under pressure, in the professional sense, because it often takes months before all those variables gel into a pattern. That almost nothing suggested ever gets past the bureaucracy does not surprise me, but I feel strengthened in my awareness confidence and knowledge of the city - often walking route proposals, discovering new parks and cut-throughs, examining attendance figures at event centres, and learning about proposed industrial developments. For me public transport is a very rich language, composed like the English language, of words derived from a huge variety of sources.And I believe it is a language we need now, and will probably need far far more in the years to come.

Jarrett Walker speaks that language and does it well - access his web blog by clicking on the title box above (I have to get a bit more computer savvy with my links, but that will do for now!). His recent posting on the cutting of services on the Portland light rail - the USA transit systems are being hard hit by loss of funding - is an interesting example, and of some passing relevance presuming the post-poned trip by Mayor Parker does go ahead.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Hidden Cost of Bus Lanes

The Papanui Road bus lanes appear to be working, not least the vastly improved safety zone implicit in the cycle lanes. Despite some publicly expressed worries, and the vaguely confusing, vaguely zig zag quality of the road corridor itself the underlying concept seems simple and sensible. The lanes precede queue points at traffic lights, in both directions (according to the time of day) and to achieve this the centre line permanently shifts along the course of Papanui Road to accommodate both a lane of in and outbound motor traffic and a combination of bike and bus lane heading into the sticking point.

The saga of bus lanes in Christchurch is a sad one, bordering frankly on the pathetic. Some decades after other small cities began building bus lanes (by way of an example I recently came across the first bus lane in Gatineau, Canada, a city two-thirds the size of Christchurch was created in 1971) attempts were made to bus lane Riccarton Road in 1997. So fierce was the shopkeeper opposition that transport planners had to retreat licking their wounds. Bus and Coach Association (BCA) excutive director John Collyns told a city transport committee in 2003 - six years ago - that Christchurch was lagging behind other cities, citing 52 bus priority projects already operative in Auckland, with 25 more planned in the next two years (The Press 11/6/03). However before bus lanes came trialling the bus boarder - an intrusive device in the middle of Hills Road allowing the bus to stop without leaving the lane, and the queue of cars behind it to stop as well! This was a 18 month trial, presumably with the hope of saving on the cost of bus lanes, which City Councillor Chrissie William's identified in an opinion piece in The Press as a big city device, used in narrow streets of high congestion, not appropriate to Christchurch. The rabbit's flightpath doesn't normally include Hills Road, but he recalls a Saturday afternoon trip, when Hills Rd traffic is constant, and the minute and half debate/argument between the driver and a passenger who had joined at the bus boarder, about the fare or route direction (rabbit was too far back in the bus to hear which). Thinking of the long queue of cars banking up behind the bus - on a Saturday afternoon for heaven's sake - the rabbit's insight?  "This system is never going to work!".

Decades behind many other cities, and 12 years after the first attempt on Riccarton Road in 1997, finally Christchurch get's its first corridor long bus lane's on Papanui Road. When a reporter interviewed a passenger, on opening day, and she said the bus trip was the same speed as it always was, Christian Anderson Council Project Manager responded "It is really about getting consistent times down Papanui Road, rather than trying to make it faster" (The Press 7 /10/09).

The cost that worries the rabbit is the inordinate amount of time the city is taking to arrive at a mass transit strategy capable of lifting public transport's share of peak hour commuter traffic up above the 4.5% figure. This is world class only in one way - it is an inordinately low percentage for a city of our size!    And the hidden financial cost - the lost opportunities to date, the tens of millions in potential Government funding towards commuter transit projects that Christchurch had a strong political case to receive when Wellington and Auckland received hundreds of millions between 2000 and 2007. Christchurch received no comparable funding because we had no plan and no projects to fund, even the Bus Exchange being funded locally.  

And the cost to the future when this city finally wakes up to realise rail and light rail are (a) hugely expensive (b) can only benefit a small portion of commuters, and even more so in a city of our geographic footprint (b) can not be effectively built in places that can be utilised by both local commuters and tourists, the latter fundamental in most cities to sustaining mid day and off peak use that helps sustain light rail (d) that will, unless routes are expensively long (including operating costs), not travel far enough out from the city centre to make park-and-ride a cost or time effective option for city or individual commuters. Meanwhile opportunities to create rapid transit corridors - segregated from traffic in part - are constantly eroded.  The City Council itself has thrown away the Edgeware Pool site - perfectly located as an Edgeware transger station along the path of the easiest, most cost effective, and least intrusive potential rapid access corridor, between Northlands and the city.

Many of the cities that years ago adopted on-street bus lanes (road markings only) are moving towards creating such bus corridors, not least the aforementioned Gatineau utilising the land beside a rail corridor to build an 17km bus only east-west traverse of the city.
[More about why Gatineau chose busways over light rail, click title box above]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thinking outside the circle

Nope, the rabbit hasn't got one foot nailed to the floor, he is just trying to be logical (not his best suit).
When people - local politicians, people writing letters to the paper, local residents in casual conversation - talk of public transport growth in Christchurch the words Rolleston and Rangiora slip easily from their tongue. Lazy thinking flows along the easiest path, which is to transpose the situation in Wellington on to Christchurch. Sure, the outer areas are growing rapidly. Rolleston is one day expected to be 14,000 and the Waimakariri District expects to reach 46,000 by 2016.  For all that, pretty small bickies, no massive urban sprawl. My thinking is that we have to be very careful of not talking this situation up, out of proportion.

By and large Christchurch a fairly compact radial city. One contiguous housing area radiating out from Cathedral Square is home to the vast majority of our population. In contrast, Greater Wellington has almost half of its 410,000 population living up either the Hutt Valley (110,000) or through Porirua and the Kapiti Coast (85,000) - it is a very linear pattern, a vee shape with the Wellington CBD at the apex of the Vee. This sort of footprint is very favourable to rail, because of the distances and numbers involved, and the relatively narrow character of the corridors served. 
If we want to do any transposing, lets get off the train and have a look at the actual landscape we are living in. Let us take the equivalent of Wellington's 50% of the population living furthermost from the centre (up those corridors) and say where does the 50% of greater Christchurch population living furthermost from the centre reside?  Currently we have about 340,000 in the city and 40,000 around it, mainly in the peripheral towns. Hey, that's less than 12%  in the commuter belt beyond the city boundary. The 50% of greater Christchurch residents living furthermost from the centre aren't out amongst the cows, they are mainly found living in the outer suburbs of Christchurch itself. About 38% of our outies are actually inside. It appears (particularly with the focus on the Urban Development Strategy of intensifying central city residential growth) that this ratio will not change significantly as we grow. 

That is to say three out of four of our outermost residents (our Hutt Valley/Kapiti coast equivalent) residing  not across the Waimak, nor in the mystical land beyond Cookie Time, but in the collar of suburbs roughly outside the circle formed by the route of The Orbiter if the circle is carried across to Breezes Road. This includes western areas beyond Church Corner, and North Western areas beyond Greers Road, northern areas beyond QEII Drive, north eastern areas around Parklands, and the hill suburbs from Sumner across to Westmoreland. It will also include the southwest area planned for major residential growth, Henderson and Awatea, And, the other quarter, of course, in Rolleston and Rangiora etc.

Anyone who read my posting "Missing the train in Halifax" will realise Wellington is a rare city in CANZUS demographics in having its own commuter rail network. The argument of course is that it probably doesn't have much choice given its geographic footprint. Metlink commuter trains in Wellington carry 11 million passengers a year from a catchment base of about 220,000 population (adding in Wairarapa towns). Presuming that Rolleston and Rangiora/Kaiapoi reach a combined 50,000 population, still some years away, and - absurdly optimistic - commuter trains were used as heavily as Wellington, this might, just might, generate 2 million trips a year. As most trips are return journeys, or daily commutes this equates to about 40,000 trips a week made by, probably, about 5000 actual individuals.

"Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker has made the return of commuter rail services to Christchurch one of his "most important and determined" goals. Estimates show the move could cost at least $250 million" according to a report in The Press (7 May 2008). Leaving aside the figures which look curiously low beside similar projects elsewhere, this seems rather a lot of money to spend on transporting, optimistically 5,000 people, or about 2.5% of the population by that point in time. And of course it is the other 97.5% people in greater Christchurch that will have to pay, in rates and in their portion of taxes for a system that few will be able to use, though doubtless the rest of NZ may also chip in some tax funding too. Of course, the rail line passes through Belfast, Papanui or Hornby (etc) so there will be a bit of local city patronage, but given the relatively short distances involved in driving to the city, and the ratio of time waste involved in driving or busing to Belfast station, waiting for a train, getting off at a station in town, and catching another bus into the c'mon!! Too many en route stops will anyway nullify the speed value of railing from greater distances.  

The alternative is we could create a fantastic multi-direction rapid transit network to serve the whole city!

Ironically while the Mayor and others may be held hostage to the romance of rail there is a new player on the public transport field, with systems being built in many of the world's largest cities - Lagos, Istanbul, Jakarta, New York, London etc - and carrying in some cities hundreds of thousands of passengers a day. Of even greater relevance is these same systems are being built in dozens of medium and small cities under a million in population. The systems are called busways (Australia) quality bus corridors (UK) or bus rapid transit (North America). In particular they are well suited to low density dispersed populations and areas of single unit sprawl, because they combine most of the advantages of a railway line - a clear run from city to outer suburb - with the advantages of conventional buses - being able to pick up and drop off at multiple points across wide areas once they leave the busway corridor. These systems often employ sections of bus lane on roads but their real success is largely linked to having key sections of their route in entirely segregated corridors, purpose built to by-pass congested areas (or go under or over them). As bus corridors - often landscaped and including adjacent pedestrian and cycleways are relatively narrow, two thirds the average suburban street, the numbers of properties that need to be acquired are relatively few, minimal beside houses consumed in building mall carparks and four lane throughways. Without need for transfers, or (except in very distant locations) park and ride facilities total journey times can be vastly superior to rail over short to medium distances. Until patronage reaches a very high level - which might then sensibly recommend a light rail, an alternative which can be factored into design - labour costs are not markedly different higher; more bus drivers but less subsidiary staff (track maintenance, or the conductors, and  transport police needed for longer units).

For the sorts of sums of money with which Mayor Parker believes he can built a single commuter rail line, five or six busway corridors could be built radiating out from the centre of Christchurch. Non-stop (or limited stop) peak hour buses would serve the outer suburbs, whilst extended services, outside these times, and/or services to intermediate locations along the corridor, would be met by a branded service, a la Metrostar or The Orbiter offering 10 or 15 minute services throughout normal operating hours. This system would allow peak hour services to get to outer suburbs, non-stop corridors, accessing Northlands, and Bower Bridge, Hoon Hay Road and Canterbury University etc in less than ten minutes - half the peak hour crawl time -  before fanning out to serve each locality at the top of the trunk.

I have been trying to raise the concept of Busways with the Mayor, Councillors, Ecan since 2003. These systems are not some weird aberration (though dressing as a rabbit might be!), they are mainstream trends, and major investments being made by many cities of comparable size and demographics to Christchurch, as well as those much bigger, after weighing up the options which also typically include rail.  Alas, above the rattle and roar of fantasy trains no voice can be heard. Everybody in this town seems to have a one track mind!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Airport bus service gains wings!

Who could fail to be impressed by the superb new level of bus services to Chrisrtchurch Airport, being implemented by Metro, beginning November 2nd?

Firstly, Metro has placed the Avonhead -Airport extension on as consistent and reliable base, a thirty minute service  - every second daytime bus service, and every evening bus service, to Avonhead continues on to airport.

In a geographic sense this gives an added wing - three separate routes approaching the airport from different directions - the most direct 29 route  via Fendalton and Memorial Avenue, the body of the bird, with one wing to the south, 3 route via Riccarton Road, University, Avonhead and Sheffield Park, and another wing to the north, 10 route via Papanui Road, Harewood Road. The latter two routes are the main tourist motel, hotel strips into the city, and 3 route also serve the university/prime student accommodation area.
But the most impressive thing - albeit it long overdue in many other parts of the city - is the absolute commitment to integration of timing. The three half hourly services depart the Airport in an integrated pattern that effectively gives a service departing the airport to city every 10 minutes, during the day and much of the evening, including Saturday.

The last weekday buses from the airport depart at 11.50pm (10 route) and 12.10 am and 1.00 am. (29 route)

A part from the 5 million airline passengers passing through Christchurch airport, a high proportion of whom probably just want to get to the city centre (or Bus exchange) the sooner the better, about 5000 people work in the area. The alternating pattern will advantage those that want to access The Orbiter, or The Metrostar - all three routes cross the path of these routes, at different points. Local users transferring to these cross town routes will have added choices, catch the next bus coming even if means joining the crosstown routes further back along the route, or wait for their specific more direct service in 10 or 20 minutes. Especially in cold or inclement weather, I'd rather be moving, sitting in a bus, enjoying the ride -if it is 10 minute wait versus a 10 minute extra bus journey, I'll take the ride almost every time. 

Although the wabit's ears are twitching about late night (Monday-Thursday) cuts on his home routes - earlier finish times of services on accessible routes chopping 30 minutes off his evening (or adding $10 plus cab fare) he is not going to be churlish about the airport service - definitely 5 carrot gold stuff!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Metro (Christchurch) releases new route and timetables

Metro has released details of route changes and timetable changes, to begin on November 2nd 2009. These mainly include (but are not limited to) North-South axis routes.

As someone who  enjoys Christchurch's reasonably good (by 20th century standards!) evening and weekend services hundreds of times a year, but is also sometimes victim of its anomalies and uneven spread of services it will be interesting to evaluate how much improved they really are. In the past the it has sometime seemed no checking against a set of baseline service criteria has been applied at all. Maintaining evening social visits to friends in the Spreydon area, for one example, was always a bit dicey - four services an hour from Barrington to city, but all in a 16 minute window of time, leaving an often inconvenient 44 minutes to fill, whether at a hosts, or at cold and exposed bus stop.  

For rabbits who hop about all over the city, all hours day and night, and other people who depend upon buses for freedom and mobility, each set a route or timing changes, is roughly comparable to sending the car to the garage for a tune up. Smooth moving depends upon it. The same set of frustration arises over poor bus service planning that doubtless besets a motorist who gets a car back with too many coughs, splutters and glitches. The eagle eye has yet to fully examine the timetables, in the meantime click on the title box above to judge for yourself your own often used routes.