Monday, September 28, 2009

Perhaps we are in Canzus Dorothy

No, its not that dwatted wabit coming out of the closet clutching Judy Garland photographs hopelessly expecting to win a spelling bee. CANZUS is my easy use-name for Canada, Australia, NZ and USA, the "four colonies" as identified by USA neo-con think tank consultant Wendell Cox in a speech to public transport industry folks in Wellington in, I think, 2001.


Cox identified these four countries as sharing a common style of city - low density urban sprawl (even the big ones like New York despite the Manhatten skyline image), high levels of private car ownership and a relatively even spread of wealth, at least compared to other former British colonies such as Malawi or South Africa etc. Hard territory to foster public transport use within. Picking up on this similarity across countries, out of curiosity [this is ultimate busspotter territory!!] over the last 18 months I have been trying to build up a picture of public transport in all four countries to see what we might learn. Unlike Bob Parker, who shoots rather high, I have been visiting all the cities of roughly comparable population size to Christchurch, firstly 300,000-500,000 metropolitan area population, more recently 500,000-1 million. By internet and the odd magazine or book.


There is approximately 117 cities in CANZUS within the three hundred thousand one  million box (approx because one or two are a little murky in their admin boundaries). Lots to learn - notably the abysmal state of most small city public transport in USA generally. The highest annual patronage (ridership) figures barely rise above half the annual patronage of Metro in Christchurch (17.1 million) even in cities twice our size. This said there also are some very progressive city transit authorities here and there - mostly in the western and northwest states - and  still lots we can learn (one lesson our Metro took on - bike racks, very widespread in North America, an idea brought back  to Christchurch I believe by local city Councillor Chrissie Williams).  Canada, seems far more relevant to NZ, in most transit matters patronage and funding comparable to, or more advanced than NZ. (CANZ makes more sense than CANZUS in most cross country evaluations). Canada has about ten standalone small cities under a million, and about half dozen contingent cities - separately administered cities, with their own transit systems adjoining, or across the river from (etc) the larger Metropolitan centres Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa.
Australia is short on smaller cities as well as water - only Newcastle, Canberra and Gold Coast in the 300,000 plus/under million bracket. As they're our neighbours, I tend to keep smaller cities Hobart and Wollongong in the busspotter surveillance loop too.


I hope to follow this intro to CANZUS up in weeks ahead, sharing a bit of insight I picked up along the way the sort of wider vision, pitfalls and interesting conceptual patterns etc not easily spotted in a 2 week whistle stop tour of cities, none of them less than 2 million in metro population!. Although it was a challenging exercise, still ongoing, a sort of form of relaxation and virtual travel, it certainly puts what is happening - or not happening - in Christchurch in perspective. It is clear, for example many of these cities, have gone down roads we are following,  before us. (Aspirations to be "world class" pop up with nauseating regularity). While each case is unique but we would be foolish to not learn from others. Because I have set myself the goal of keeping pithy I will share my knowledge of CANZUS in smaller bytes to come.  In the meantime I have added by far the best website/blog I have found on North American public transport to my profile" The Transport Politic". Mainly big city busway and rail type projects in North America, this is obscure territory indeed but it is sensible, intelligent and not, it seems, unduly biased to any one mode.


This site also has listings of all major transit projects and it may be well worth keeping this on tap; it may help evaluate, complement or counterbalance what ever findings Captain Bob and the gallant endeavour crew bring back from their visit to the other side of the world to admire the venus of transit.


Wabit that is a shocking pun (if you can call it that!). See ya soon in CANZUS

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