Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cartoon Controversy!! Bugs Bunny slags off at Mickey Mouse's planning ability.

Let's leave behind the ghosts of yesterdays public transport and move forward!!

"It follows that routes need to be designed, or paired (including multiple routes that tendered to operating bus companies as a set) in the first instance to benefit consumers"

Last night I caught one of the last Sunday night bus services of the day home along Papanui Road, a major traffic and tourist corridor in Christchurch. If I miss this bus service from the city, around 10pm Sunday night there is an unholy wait of 58 minutes to the next, and absolutely last, service, at 10.58pm.

Jesus, Joseph, mother of Mary I get down on my knees and thank the Gods that be that we have a Sunday night service at all. I have scanned enough timetables in the other 120 cities of CANZUS to know many cities, including some much bigger than Christchurch, don't have a Sunday evening service - some indeed have no Sunday services at all (these mainly in the USA). Appreciating what we have, does not in anyway diminish the realisation of how far short we are of a really top quality bus service

And please, can I ask the big G why he in his infinite wisdom allows the services in periods of limited frequency to be  planned by Mickey Mouse?

I am waiting at the stop north of Victoria Square around 10pm and what should appear simultaneously but TWO buses - route12 Northwood and route 10 Airport via Papanui and Harewood, both travelling bumper to bumper. Both of these services run for half of their routes (approximately 5km) up a common shared corridor - viz Victoria Street and Papanui Road. In the daytime, weekdays, services (from five different routes) run approximately every ten minutes up Papanui Road - in other words a service of such frequency that some doubling up is almost inevitable. Given passengers boarding along  Papanui Road are not at disadvantage, left with a long wait, by such doubling of services it may not be best resource use but it doesn't cause the resentment of misuse of wasting buses and passenger's time during  periods of more limited service. 

In some other parts of Christchurch Sunday evening services don't operate, or run only hourly. Well we are not a huge city, miracles are not always possible, but on Papanui Road resources ARE AVAILABLE AND ALREADY BEING USED to run five services an hour. And here come two buses travelling nose to tail - running along so close together that they may as well be dogs trying to mate! On a Sunday evening pattern of five bus services an hour but with a gap of 20 minutes, then 21 minutes in service and then three services all in a 11 minute span! Definitely not a quality service if measured against the resources used to deliver it!! Bloody hell this is a route that could be serviced on a consistent 15 minute  pattern with an added service somewhere in the pattern all day Sunday and Saturday evenings (another erratic time) as well.

If we try to establish the IDEAL model of a committed professional quality service we may also see where current services rupture, crash and burn.

Starting with an ideal pattern the following principles would apply;
(a) Services along shared corridors of significance, or to the same general area should be pulsed to create 
consistent patterns of service and consistent frequencies [a service runs every 10 or  every 15, or every 30 or 60 minutes etc NOT an 8 minute gap, followed by a 21 minute gap, followed by 3 minute gap etc]

(b) Services running to the same outer areas should be pulsed to maximise the frequency of services to that area [eg if two hourly services run to the same general area they should be pulsed to offer access , by one route or other, every 30 minutes rather than both at a similar time]

(c) Usuale arrival and exit times for the corridor from the city and where possible other major employent/functional areas should be applied as far as possible [services should not arrive or depart the CBD between A.55 minutes past the hour and B.05 after the hour, because this voids access by public transport to most part-time evening workers and to various other functions starting or finishing on the hour]

(d) Services on a busy corridor (which also carries many tourists) should wind down in a logical pattern - not suddenly drop from five per hour to a 58 minute gap then the last bus, rather move from five per hour to half hourly then finish eg Papanui corridor would be rejigged to wind down smoothly 10.01, 10.30, 10.58pm

An application of these principles on the Victoria Street/Papanui Road corridor might see the five different routes operating a pulsed pattern of northbound departures of 05  +10  20  35 and 50 minutes past the hour. 

This is a major route, and a complex one in the number of different services entwined, as well as serving many tourist accommodation points, so priority is allocated to simple and memorable times [eg rather than 07, 13, 22 past hour etc]. Rather than convert it to a service every 12 minutes, to keep symmetry, easy recall of departure times and  to allow an even 30 minute pulsing of several of these routes that work as pairs, beyond the Victoria/Papanui Rd shared corridor, the service every 15 minutes, plus one extra, concept is used. I believe symmetry - logical patterns - are of huge significance in public transport planning; the human brain is a logic and balance seeking seeking mechanism (if it was not maths would hardly exist) and closer to a logical pattern a bus route or network pattern is, the more quickly and intuitively it will be grasped, feel familiar and harmonious, correspond to the inner person, be adopted, remembered and readily used. This includes the feel of a bus system network wide - a 15 minute pattern at the core on this corridor is systematic with 15,30 and 60 minute service patterns  elsewhere in off peak.  

The five routes serving this north bound corridor are 8, 10,11,12, 22 and they each interrelate with each other and some also intereact significantly with other routes at outer points (10 with 14 via Cranford St serving the Harewood area, and with  29 and 3 to the Airport) 8,11,12 with routes 16 to Northwood, and with 60 and 90 serving the north Belfast area). On the south leg of these north-south axis through routes 8 and 11 offer paired access to the Milton St/Barrington Mall/Hoon Hay corridor; 10 and 22 access to the Cashmere Hills; 10 and 12 access to Beckenham and Thorrington areas, and 12 with 18 and 15 to Bowenvale and St Martins areas. It follows that routes need to be designed, or paired (including multiple routes that tendered to operating bus companies as a set) in the first instance to benefit consumers rather than administrative easy fixes. What is the point of running both services to one of these outer shared areas - such as the Cashmere Hills - at virtually the same time, cheating patrons of what should be de facto 30 minute access? With so many variables, there are thousands of options, and many possibilities have to be tested and worked through to produce a best possible network pattern of maximum use and minimum anomally. Clearly it will take more than a couple of days analysis to design quality integrated patterns for a network!! This is what we are not getting in Christchurch. Indeed it is not even clear that an attempt is being made to achieve such patterns, but if it is it is being severely distorted by budgetary factors, trying to create attractive tender parcels; by mismatching the through routes so that running times of the route patterns make a balanced pairing both ends impossible or very expensive in added buses needed; by commercial services (without any subsidy eg Airport service) being designed to generate money with out reference to network needs overall.

Under the current Sunday regime services to the Harewood area (10 and 14) run at virtually the same time 57 and 58 past the hour; services to the Northcote area (11 and 8) at a passable 25/35 minute pulsing; to the Northwood/ Belfast area (8, 11,12,16) at a passable but hardly brillant pulsing of 07, 27, 29 and 54 past the hour) ; to Milton St-Barrington (11 and 8) at an attractive, regular 30 minute pulsing (13 and 43 past the hour); services to the airport (3,29 and 10) offer consistent 15 minute access to the city Sunday night but as noted in previous postings, as currently patterned by Metro or Redbus at great expense to patrons in south Christchurch areas. The result is,  to Beckenham-Thorrington area (10 and 12) at an absurd pattern of 01 and 05 past the hour; equally absurd is the service to the Cashmere Hills and Sign of the Takahe (10 and 14) at the  01 and 09 minutes past the hour. A corollary of these patterns is that the 90 Rangiora service and 16 service (both serving outer Belfast) leave the Bus Exchange only 6 minutes apart.

When I climbed on the first of the two buses running simultaneously up Papanui Road I looked to see if any transport planners were aboard (the distinctive round over-size ears a great giveaway). Not unexpecedly there were none - I can't imagine anyone in Metros planning organisation actually using the mish mash services on Saturday night or Sundays for their social life - who would condemn their own mobility to such needlessly long gaps on poorly coordinated services if they had the power to plan better? 

Currently on the City Papanui corridor Sunday nights there three services run within a 11 minute period (at 50, 58 minutes and then 01 minutes past hour) and that there are two gaps as long as 20/21 minutes in a service whose baseline should be every 15 minutes!  This is barely a baseline quality service when measured against the 05,20,35,50 pattern described above (with an added exit time at 10 past) and seems even more shoddy when measured against the host of anomalies undermining services to the various outer suburbs also listed above. In fact it is tantamount to throwing away public money, running so many services in sch a duplication of roles.

I know a lot of people (including those in planning here and there around NZ and the world) might read this and think "Not so much a rabbit as a grumpy old man" or "what's he wanking on about, Sunday night services for Godsake!" Everything I have seen here [or more recently in Taupo -see next week's posting]suggests people designing timetables are not the people relying on buses 24/7 (or really 18/7). Most them do not even grasp the nature of the product they are marketing - maximum ease of mobility for those not using cars, per se consistent reliable integrated and multi-optional public transport scheduled and marketed in such a way it is instantly grasped and understood, easily retained in memory.
It is the trip, each priceless departure time, set like a jewel in a necklace of predictable patterns, that is being sold; all the fancy new buses, marketing campaigns and pompous bullshit - "greenwash" - about getting people out of cars doesn't mean a thing if a public transport system hasn't got the nous to get out the 20th century "she'll be right" public service [for the peasants] attitudes. With big oil rises a major prediction for the coming years, can we as a city not get into offering a decent sophisticated highly planned timed and integrated service, instead of something that resembles a clothes line fill of Mickey Mouse's washing strung any old fashion.

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