Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Christchurch Metro - Where now ?

Temporary Bus Exchange at Parkside as autumn heads for winter.
Nine weeks on - What is Metro's next step ?

The temporary bus service for Christchurch city gratefully received in the week immediately after the February 22nd earthquake is starting to wear a bit thin, particularly so now it is two months down the track and wintery weather starts to get more common.For those dependent upon buses the complications of the temporary or emergency cut deeply into their time and freedom, in ways that often seem unnecessary. 

I think it would be reassuring for most people to know what Metro's game plan, because the current set-up seems a long way away from being adequate.


It is believed about 10,000 people have lost their jobs due to businesses that have collapsed, literally or financially, or can't be accessed because of the expected closure of some central areas for many months while several unsafe high rises are demolished. Also it seems a few thousand people have left the city, some permanently. This said, the other 85% or whatever it is of the city's work force and students are are mostly back at work or study, often in businesses relocated to premises in outer suburban areas.


The earthquake will I imagine do great damage to patronage levels of Metro services and, partly because a dip in Christchurch's economy, services may take several years to recover to current figures of about 17 million passenger trips a year. The goal of 10% growth put forward in the last strategy was always a bit fatuous, given growth of this sort of level typically only occurs in systems where there has been a significant capital investment (in rail lines, busways etc) in route infrastucture! Definitely not the Christchurch way! 

This said,recent oil price rises - which world experts predict will be permanent - are helping foster increased patronage on public transport elsewhere.

In Auckland this has led to overcrowding on buses and trains but the earthquake and its dislocation to business and education has stolen opportunity for growth in Christchurch to surf the same wave. Rather than seek excuse in the current situation, however, it would seem to call upon Metro to work harder than ever to overcome difficulties, keep services attractive and retain as many loyal passengers as possible.

Based on my observations, my own bus catching experiences I don't think that the current service patterns and/or recovery strategies (as far as they can be determined by an outside observer) are going to help that process!

A bus exchange? - maybe so, if you bring your own brolly!


Week after week passengers are offered a service that can only be described as very clumsy and often badly timed and which can prove hugely time consuming to use for many longer journeys requiring transfers. Only people using buses with multiple transfers can truly appreciate how rarely times link up - Murphy's law applies here - or work well. The simplest cross town journeys can take two or three hours for trips that were previously possible in 20-30 minutes..

Please rescue us from this system as soon as possible!!


Information seems to be limited to dial-up one trip and internet - neither systems, not very helpful for many dependent users with limited knowledge of the city or no access to computers or who have lost computers or computer access to major areas being blocked from public access . 

Nor are drivers themselves always much use. When I asked a bus driver for info about a route operated by a different company he replied laconicly "That's not operated by our company and if I radio our base they'll just tell me to f--k off". I was suprised to find there is no direct radio link between buses and Metro Info. How odd - from my 14 years behind the wheel of buses after actual driving buses answering questions is the second most common demand placed upon bus drivers.

Whilst some routes with fully suspended services do have notices saying so, few indicator notices are placed on routes with temporary changes, nor are notices placed on bus shelters themselves - not even a simple generic sign warning passengers that temporary services replace those shown on timetables on other routes.  

Others like Route 7 Queenspark (below) have NO warnings that they are not operating, even at major hub points such as The Palms or Parklands shopping centre. 

Bus shelter at Parkands Shopping centre - no signage or posters advises visitors to the city or casual bus users who may not be up with temporary services this route is currently inoperative, let alone advised nearest alternative and operating times. 

Added to this, eight weeks after the earthquake, when some broad idea of traffic conditions must now be known, no attempt has been made to include at least the key intermediate timing points - the relevant time for  probably the two-thirds of bus users living in denser inner areas - on website timetables. Even a rough figure and warning (Due to traffic conditions following earthquakes actual services may run later than shown time) would be a huge help.  

With current time-tables fairly simple, and so many people dependent on making transfers (sometimes 3 or 4 in one journey)  it would not seem rocket science or more than to produce a broadsheet or pasted poster listing departure times for all routes and ball-park figures for approximate journey times, and very broad long term expectations for those routes currently in-operative. It would at least allow passengers to better plan journeys to avoid the current time waste and 30 -60 minute roadside waits.

Bizarre, in a disrupted situation info has to better than normal, info not worse.


Nor have I heard of any attempt being made to supplement and reinforce weak areas in the network, such as adding buses to The Orbiter route, to alleviate delays caused by ruptured roads, and road works and heavy car traffic along others. It does not seem any effort is being made to identify other areas where a shuttle link could compensate for the truncated services offered or to analyse areas needing new links. If through routes can not be re-established for the forseeable future some of the surplus buses and drivers could be re-directed to direct links between transfer rich hub points served by the two separate temporary exchanges.(eg Eastgate direct to Bealey exchange).  

We hear so much of emergency regulations "martial law" imposed over-riding normal regulations, surely Environment Canterbury (itself an imposed junta!) can not justifiably hide behind tenders and contract restrictions;  can Ecan rise to the occasion and say  "service comes first" in this recovery situation. As many contracts are operating at half steam, presumably some budget originally intended for bus services might even exist to use the buses.


One of the mysteries of the present temporary system to me is why the Parkside (Hagley Avenue) Exchange is being operated on one side of the road only. This means almost no through routes can operate and all routes have to do a big circuit of south Hagley Park along busy Deans Avenue to approach the stop facing northwards. 

Given that (a) it is an emergency where motorists expect to see and obey temporary signage and containers and other barriers and impediments to easy travel (b) and Hagley Avenue does not currently feed into the CBD via Oxford Terrace and probably won't for months, it would have seemed more sensible to create a "whole" (all services) temporary bus exchange here. That is to set temporary barriers and create a slow lane (15 kmph Watch for buses; watch for pedestrians) up the middle of the road and made a sort de facto transport piazza across both sides of the road, stretching from hospital corner to St Asaph Street. This would allow through route buses from all parts of the city to continue to operate more or less as normal, all through a common exchange point and most of them to continue as through routes. Allowing for past city traffic, timings (Avenue to Bus Exchange) of services running  directly from Carlton Corner to Parkside, or Parkside to Colombo Street etc are not likely to be hugely different than previously existed in most cases.  Or if so, as now, adjusted to compensate in the new temporary through route timetable. 

Stops on the west (current side) of the road could be divided into front of rank (Northern areas) back of rank (western areas); on the opposite of the road buses facing southwards, front of rank (Southern areas) and back of rank (eastern areas).  As it is,  apart from the clumsy journey around Deans Avenue and Moorhouse, when one arrives at the bus rank it is necessary to scuttle along like some frenzied crab to try to read all the destinations of a long line of buses in hope that one will suit your travel needs. 

A system Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western ranks is obviously far superior for passengers and for bus movements,  as always symmetry and good design foster ease of use and understanding. Plenty of lay by in adjoining streets, such as Selwyn St would be available. 

Maybe this or something else is part of a year long evolving strategy. But if not that - certainly something else equally effective is needed and if planned passengers should be advised soon, at least reassured the present system will be upgraded before winter sets in truly. One only has to see the minimal levels of current patronage, particularly on radial routes,  to see that their has been a drastic loss of confidence in our previously popular bus system.

Bus passengers are still paying rates, taxes, fares and several hundred dollars of subsidy per capita to motoring in general. Even within the context of post-earthquake recovery they deserve something better than current service quality. As does the future of public transport in this city.  Metro can not afford to treat such big wounds with a sticking plaster approach indefinitely!

On a lighter note - it is an ill wind that doesn't profit some body! Recent Metro improvements

Bus drivers (and public) get a convenient convenience at Parkside terminus,

A new first - integrated City/Regional/Long Distance Bus Exchange -  with a Redbus operating a local suburban service and long distance coach (Passenger Transport operating the Naked Bus franchise to Dunedin) loading from the same location at the Bealey Avenue temporary exchange area. Tourists and local car-free people find paradise at last!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Space Travel on The Orbiter

"As any bus passenger will tell you, a twenty minute wait is three 
to four times longer than a ten minute wait!!"

Above; The classic example ! Two buses arriving simultaneously after about a 20 minute wait (another passenger at the same stop said "yesterday I had to wait 25 minutes"). 

Passing two buses in The Orbiter service heading in the opposite direction, about two minutes later, crossing Brougham Street expressway.

After shopping in Barrington Mall I rejoin The Orbiter opposite Spreydon Library heading north.  After a lengthy period in which quite a few passengers gather - again - two buses arrive simultaneously

Recently I have taken to using The Orbiter and The Metrostar more often than normal. This is partly because these cross-town routes offer potentially faster journeys than the radial routes which have been split in half and rejoined with sellotape!

Traveling around town on The Orbiter can be faster than cutting across town. Also, unless transfers can be done more or less continuously, hop off one bus route/hop on another bus route with less than ten minutes wait, I'd rather spend the extra time sitting on the one bus and travel a bit further and longer. One advantage of both these cross-town  routes is frequency - The Metrostar runs at 15 minute intervals (official term = headway) and generally does. The Orbiter - Christchurch's most heavily patronised route - service is advertised as running at ten minute headways. Yeah right.

Both times I boarded The Orbiter (see photos above) the other passengers and myself had a wait far longer than ten minutes. In both cases after a gap of around 20 minutes, two buses arrived simultaneously. As any bus passenger will tell you,  a twenty minute wait is three to four times longer than a ten minute wait !! (perhaps scientists who explain Einstein's famous theory of relativity using trains in examples should try using buses to explain black holes).  Longer "waits" for short hop regular urban journeys dynamically change the whole nature of bus travel and induce significant psychological changes in those waiting!

A service every ten minutes? This is a product being falsely advertised and Metro should do something about it. Such very long delays should not be happening. If a service is advertised at ten minute intervals it should arrive at ten minute intervals or very soon after. It is as simple as that. Eight minutes late can kill any chance of a transfer connection - in the present post-earthquake restricted service situation leave people sitting roadside with a 60 minute wait! [believe me, I know!] 

We can land a man on the moon, create mini-computers in cell phones, do micro-surgery on heart valves etc,etc ....but we are meant to believe that the city and Metro can not organise a bus system that keeps effective time?  Get real. 

Yes there are heaps of factors behind the photos up above such as it is school holidays, extra post-quake traffic congestion, ruptured roads from earthquake damage, that put stress on the bus system.   But a closely timed circuit route through Christchurch's busiest of suburban hub areas is always going to encounter delay and the sort of patterns - big gap then two buses - did not begin with earthquake. I gave up trusting The Orbiter as a morning peak commuter service link - from Shirley Road to Linwood - after the "ten minute" service turned up 25 minutes late one morning, making me embarrassingly late for work [which also involves a timetabled delivery]. The potential for delay and "slippage" of the gearing in The Orbiter route is huge. Trying to run it as a conventional timetable route, I suspect, greatly exacerbates these delays.

The problem to me seems to be the attempt to run a timetable service clashing with what the public really want - a service every ten minutes. Buses run late then rush to catch up and buses behind the late running buses soon have their nose right under the tail of the late bus. I need hardly say this a source of huge irritation to individual passengers and brings great contempt upon urban bus systems everywhere, doubtlessly losing millions of passengers every year world-wide.

Australian based International public transport consultant Jarrett Walker writing in his blog  "Human Transit" last year defined the conflict between timetable and achieving consistent headway,  the sort of contradiction that Metro has yet to address well if it wants to create quality bus services.

But once a line is running better than every 10 minutes, no customer is waiting specifically for the 5:32 as opposed to the 5:35 trip, so the on-time performance of that trip doesn't matter.  What matters to the customer is the actual waiting time.

For a simple model of why this matters, imagine that you have a bus line running every 10 minutes, and every single bus is exactly 10 minutes late.  From the standpoint of a classic on-time performance measure (which typically counts the percentage of trips that are more than five minutes late) this situation would be described as 100% failure, because 100% of all trips are late.  From the customer's standpoint, on the other hand, this would be perfection: buses are coming every 10 minutes, exactly as promised.  

With the sort of infrastructure that 21st century public transport can have, should have and in some cities does have - including GPS, remote signals, and a computerised central control room, and staff facilities on route at a transfer station, The Orbiter could operate fully as a holistic system. In an integrated system a computerised map, virtually a clock face would show where buses were and signals (either directly to the bus or to roadside signal points) would indicate for buses to slow down or speed up, within the operating margins of the law.   A large circular system like The Orbiter should include a stand by bus at a central point that can access the route in either direction from multiple points, so in the event of serious delays an extra bus can be inserted and another phased out at a set point, according to a publicly recognised protocol. 

Strangely enough - quite counter intuitive - it seems to me a circular system such as The Orbiter would best maintain even 10 minute headways - run on time (so to speak) not for the most part by buses speeding up but by buses slowing down !  When a bus running "on time" is running ahead of a bus running behind time, and the bus behind the bus running late catches up everybody loses out.  A departure time pattern of  three buses evenly in succession 20 30 40 can become 20, 38 (running eight minutes late) and 40 giving an 18 minute wait for those arriving at the stop just as the 20 minutes the hour pulls away.  A holistic system by comparison has elasticity and the 20 past the hour and the following couple of services drop back, a few minutes each temporarily, while he 40 past drops back a whole 5 minutes, This in turn allows the bus 8 minute late to catch up three minutes (because it is picking up less passengers), by ten minutes journey down the road the pattern should look 30,40,50 (and 00 10 etc) but is actually 33, 45 57 09  20 etc....achieving a set goal of no wait greater than 12 minutes, subsequently allowing the system to re-establish stable consistent 10 minute headways.  Under a monitored central control room situation such adjustment and fine turning would be the norm, a constant fine tuning to get 21st century quality service.

Although complicated on paper it is no more than the skills required of air traffic or railway shunting yards, a combination of technology and and learned and honed skills of assessment and judgment, no doubt also able to factor in different congestion sticking points, expected passenger heavy loading points such as High Schools etc and recognise when inserting a stand-by extra bus is required. I imagine at times high stress but immensely satisfying too, once skills are honed by suitably adept persons - and of course part of complete network wide mapping and tracking. Overseas giving bus systems the same sort of infrastructure support as traditionally given rail is showing buses can out-perform rail by almost every criteria, including cost-effectiveness, and can be superior in almost every category to rail except moving very very large numbers of people all traveling in the same direction over longer journeys (definitely not the Christchurch situation). 

Even in the days before computers city bus systems often had timekeepers on corners, indicating by hand signals for buses on shared routes to "speed up or (more likely) slow down". It is sad that Metro can not achieve even this level of technology, 50-70 years old!

A trendy space age name The Orbiter rings a bit hollow, when photos like those above are so often so easy to take. Christchurch has a very long way to go if it wants to get 21st century quality bus services!!  

Space travel on "The Orbiter" - it's a strategy needed now more than ever.   

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Timaru to Christchurch in 40 minutes - it's a super bus service planned!!

Photo Source "Public Transport in Ottawa" Blog

Move over SUVs, Ferraris, BMWs and 18 wheelers; move over Intercity, Atomic, Naked Bus and other bus operators, the  mad bus driver is coming through!! Yes he or she is hurtling north from Timaru at 260 kmph. with 23 passengers - and with possums, hitch-hikers and slow motorists bouncing off the bonnet!

Well maybe.  The superbus is real, a prototype was recently launched.  I can't help thinking, hey, this is just an update on the old "service cars" that delivered much of the travel between towns and cities in New Zealand before world war two. Instead of a centre aisle each row of padded seats had their own external doors, most of them were built on the chassis of big American cars such as Packards and Cadillacs - wonderful looking machines.

However the idea that rural commuter services might be operated by district councils and ECAN allowing South Canterbury people travel within their area and others to travel tofro Christchurch by quality coach to arrive in time for work or lectures at Uni or CPIT, or meet morning appointments and attend all-day events, remains purely a fantasy. Even more unlikely on the Metro record, a committment to regular services in an integrated pattern.

For an attractive commuter service from a small city to a bigger one in the USA check this out. For You-tube of the superbus designed by Wubbo Ockels and students at Delft University of Technology in Holland check here 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dunedin City Holdings to Sell Citibus

Dunedin City Holdings, the city council's commercial arm,  has decided to sell Citibus,  its bus operation. This follows recurring financial losses and most recently loss of several routes in tender rounds. Citibus purchased 17 new buses back in 2008 which may have added to its vulnerability and reduced its flexibility in putting forward competitive tenders. As with Redbus's major route losses in Christchurch it seems firms making big steps to upgrade fleet quality lay themselves open to losing contracts to those who can come in with, or take over, an older fleet.

I am not familiar enough with the nitty gritty of public transport in Dunedin to add much by way of intelligent comment but my guess would be the comment by Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull in today's Otago Daily Times is perhaps the most pertinent [my bolding]

"....Mr Cull rejected any suggestion ratepayers were about to lose a valuable asset.
"It's a public asset that's losing us $800,000 and the profitability of which is overwhelmingly ... in the hands of another body, another jurisdiction [the Otago Regional Council]," Mr Cull said when contacted.The council was not in control of the service, and was effectively "just a bus company" with no control of whether the service succeeded". **

Just about every City Council in NZ (including Christchurch and Timaru) has its share of Councilors and Mayors who think the Council could run public transport better, assuming it is simple art!  However on track record Dunedin City may have more cause for its grievance than most. The record of the Otago Regional Council in running an effective bus service has long been under fire, to the extent the Otago Daily Times made no bother with diplomacy in a 2008 editorial saying bluntly "The regional council......has made such a poor job of running the city's bus services". Certainly patronage levels are not overly impressive, particularly for a university city.

** Read all ODT reports about the Citbus sale proposal here

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sure to Rise Christchurch - the dwatted plays town planner!!

Disaster for many but also opportunity - this blogster believes that city should investigate buying the site of these shops (now demolished), rebuild the chemist on a new corner site 50 metres northwards, and  take the opportunity to join Tennyson Street and Somerfield Street. This would allow removal of the awkward Strickland Street/Colombo St intersection  200 metres northwards and be part of creating a easy flow continuous secondary arterial ring road linking QEII Drive in the city's north to Barrington Street in the south.

Every man and his dog has now become a town planner of the new "Sure to Rise" post-earthquakes Christchurch.  I may as well join the throng, though I confess to only the most limited knowledge of relevant statistics (such as traffic stats). As a full-time by choice bus user I don't normally give too much attention to the needs of those pesky motorists!

My concept is based on six ring roads, concentric rings pulsing outwards from Cathedral Square in which road management devices (to varying degrees) enhance ease of traffic movement along each of the ring roads. Add to this five or six outer suburb-CBD busways - corridors partly off road and partly on laned sections of road (where necessary) with priority traffic light triggers and the occasional underpass or overpass. Long term I believe the corridor for a commuter (and freight) rail line from Styx to Islington and Hornby ..then to city and a rail terminus/complex beside the Colombo Street rail overbridge. [search "busway" or "railway" for  postings previously made on these topics]


I believe Christchurch should reduce the one-way system to the outer-most circuit, clockwise direction only - St Asaph St, Montreal St, Salisbury St; Barbadoes St - and one way traffic is only within this loop - the roads that connect to the outer four avenue (such as Montreal north of Salisbury Street corner) become two way again, allowing people greater opportunity to flow on and off this rapid access corridor. This takes rapid access much further away from the central shopping. office and hospitality areas and makes this roading system more of a "get around the central city (CBD) system" that can be entered and left at any point, though obviously works only in one flow direction. A large round about, not a through-way, so to speak

My reasoning is that this still allows rapid access across the CBD - notably and probably most commonly travel in an "L" shape (eg Salisbury then Barbadoes to get to CPIT from Carlton Mill) for local city area and inner suburb residents and from any part of Christchurch doing business and shopping etc in and around the CBD area. In a sense the "L" shaped journey becomes a de facto diagonal, a way to cut across traffic to get to a different quandrant within the area between the four avenues. Built as a rapid access corridor "around the CBD only" it discourages the use of the central areas for through traffic from further away eg Shirley across to Addington.  As it currently stands I suspect alot of people are drawn to travel through the central block (within Four avenues and Hagley Park) because it represents a superior choice to less than effective arterial roads skirting the city centre. (More of this further down)

Enclosed within the one way system would be four two way, in some parts widened boulevards (perhaps with new names) Tuam Boulevard; Manchester Boulevard; Kilmore Boulevard and Durham/Cambridge Boulevard. These would have trees and ideally four lanes with the roadside lanes "slow lanes" combined bike/bus/slow car lanes. Where there are no buildings (or no longer buildings) widening is possible so that on-street parking could be inset. Where large buildings built to the current footpath line exist there would be yellow lines (no parking) retaining the entire street width at this section for moving vehicle lanes and trees and footpath. The inset sections of new buldings between the larger non-earthquake damaged buildings would create little partly sheltered bays at various points along each boulevard, room to park or include outdoor cafes or shops with outside display racks etc

Some arms of these Boulevards over and beyond the square defined above could become major "village streets" ...higher density inner city areas would have "village" style focal points for instance in smaller boutique shops and low rise  apartments above in Manchester Street south of Tuam corner. (For my previous posting on this area and ideas for attracting the pre-retirement more middle of the road types see "Will the REAL Garden City Stand Up", posted back in January)

Green streets [Kilmore, Manchester, Tuam. Cambridge/Durham] - including severely damaged retail streets pushed wider (where possible) and converted to Boulevards; orange retained clockwise (only) one-way system but with two way links to four avenues; pink existing four avenues (to include Deans Avenue)


It is not suggested that the next ring out - beyond the Four Avenues - be a "heavy" ring road such as the Brougham Expressway or QEII Drive  but rather just enhanced arterial roads. Part of the "fourth ring" suggested (from the centre) exists already - Barrington Street/Whiteleigh Avenue/Clarence Road/Straven Road/Idris Road/Glandovey Road/Heaton Street/Innes Road. Typical of the sort of arterial road type enhancement that might occur is south of Fendalton Road, where street side parking has been removed by yellow lines, allowing an extra Southbound lane on Straven to clear the lights.

What is missing in my mind is the other eastern and southern part of this "fourth loop". I believe Emmet Street in Shirley should be connected to Barrington Street in Spreydon by a more or less continuous arterial road running down the eastside, including Stanmore Road. All the existing connections that do not meet exactly would be straightened out to create clear simplified run + intersections. Thus Emmet Street straight across (at lights =L) Shirley Road, down Stapletons veering into alignment with +L Stanmore Road straight down to connect directly to Nursery Road across Moorhouse Ferry (in new intersection pattern) to Wilsons Road past AMI, veering left into Opawa, then (new much needed lights and possibly road widening) to Ensors - straight across Wilsons(south) into St Martins Road, veering right (new T intersection favouring this arterial) into Tennyson Street - until crossing Colombo Street at Beckenham shops. Perhaps Christchurch's annoying habit of often changing the names of straight streets, just because they pass through an intersection, could be addressed and reduced to much longer and more logical sections eg "Tennyson Road" from Opawa Road intersection right through to it hits Barrington Street?

The catastrophic collapse of older shops on the westside of Colombo Street at Beckenham [see opening photo above] and their subsequent demolition leaves the road open for the council to connect Tennyson Street straight across to Somerfield Street (shifting/rebuilding the intact Chemist shop onto the high profile corner to create a straight alignment) and allowing the current clumsy Strickland/Somerfield St/Colombo St intersection to be removed and the land used for added retail or hospitality businesses.

These "clean intersections" - four way +, will allow much smoother traffic flow, than many current situations, not only at Beckenham but also such as at the bottom and the top of Stanmore Road. The plus side of widespread demoltion of quake hammered buildings on corner sites (and not just on the proposed ring roads) is that it will allow road widening intersections to create extra lanes, "queue jumper" lanes for buses and safer bicycle lanes. I imagine these secondary ring roads will take a lot of pressure off arterial roads near Malls, particularly as oil prices starting levelling off or decreasing car use.   

The fourth ring from the city centre (after the boulevard ring, the clockwise only one-way ring, and the Four Avenues ring) joins QEII Drive in a fairly straight run down through Stanmore Road to Tennyson Street, giving clear access to areas currently convoluted by out of date rioading layout.

Noted - The fifth ring road is the existing  major ring road/expressway system which includes QEII Drive, Greers Road, Brougham Street etc.

The sixth "ring" would be some variation of Halswell Junction Road, Carmen Road/Russley Road, Johns Road/ Prestons Road, Mairehau Road) skirting the south-west and north of the city.  

Six rings to rule them all! Pesky motorists!

Running rings around suburban areas of Christchurch probably not a CBD priority I suspect but hugely beneficial to city residents in general.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Quake boarding

Getting around earthquake-riven Christchurch by skateboard has some  definite advantages over bus or car and heaps of cool opportunities !  All captured in this groovy you tube, already an icon of our times 48 hours after first posting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Little value seen in extending Metrostar service back through south Christchurch

"I think extending The Metrostar as proposed in the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy - particularly extended back through south Christchurch - is just a waste of resources, better spent on advancing development of a much needed western suburbs link service."

MetroStar - about to head westwards from New Brighton across the inner northern suburbs to Halswell. But is a likely return loop via the city's southern suburbs truly warranted or should Metro be looking to target resources to other areas of greater obvious need first?

As mentioned in the last posting I am not sure whether Metro's review of cross town services, The Orbiter and The MetroStar has now closed its letterbox flap or whether the whole process has been up-ended by the explosive disruption of the devastating February earthquake.

Metro when it advertised the service review cautioned transit consumers and other interested persons about not expecting too many changes. This said there has long been an expectation that The Metrostar is one day going to become a completely circuitous route, a sort of elongated east-west version of The Orbiter, travelling in a loop across the northern part of the city and then back across the southern part to arrive back where it starts at New Brighton. According to the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy document this extension is meant to occur in 2012 following this review.

But why? My question is why presume this needs to happen?  Metrostar works well as an east-west cross town but does it make sense to make The Metrostar a circuit? 

Is this concept based on serious analysis of demand patterns?? Or is just some "pin in the map, sounds good suggestion of planners or politicians who haven't done sufficient homework to be making such suggestions? Is it a sort of "imitate The Orbiter and expect the same success (despite lacking similar key ingredients?). To me it feels like sloppy planning which will cost other higher demand areas a more adequate service for several years to come.

Busy cross town routes rely on connecting a lot of dots - serving many major traffic generating points. The current Metrostar itself serves (and links to en route residential zones) New Brighton, QEII, The Palms, the combination of schools in the Palm's area (Shirley Boys High, Shirley Intermediate, Marian College), Shirley Community Centre, Edgeware, Merivale, Heaton Intermediate, St George's and St Andrews,  Christchurch Boys High, Riccarton and Westfield Mall, University of Canterbury, student hostels, Church Corner shopping area, Villa Maria College, Riccarton High School , Sockburn, The Air Force Museum, Hornby Mall and surrounding areas, Halswell.  

But when I try to find a similar string of jewels in the potential pathway of a Metrostar return route across the southern part of the city it turns up mostly blank. Sure there is Pioneer Stadium, Barrington Mall, Cashmere High, Princess Margaret Hospital, Steiner School and a few minor shopping areas, then Eastgate Cowles Stadium etc ....but not really any big traffic generators not already well serviced. Certainly not, as far as I can see not the sparkling base of activity focal points that coould create sufficient demand to warrant wasting money dragging Metrostar back to New Brighton across the south and east areas.

The south and eastside links that are  most needed  -  tofro Barrington Mall or Ferrymead or Eastgate from surrounding areas, are already largely implicit in well-planned existing city suburban route patterns. Add to this; much of the south city suburbs from Hoon Hay across to Beckenham and Opawa are anyway well served by the existing loop pattern of  The Orbiter (which operates at 10 minute headways for much of the working day).

The south and eastside areas not being serviced are mainly the larger industrial enclaves - Edmonton Road area south of Hornby; Parkhouse Road enclave and Birmingham Drive (and nearby Hillmorton Hospital) or even Addington-Sydenham in general - areas that need specialised peak hour routes, ill suited to The Metrostar style 18/7 operating week of a high profile cross town route. They need peak hour business day routes only - notably directly from key eastern transfer points at Eastgate and Ferrymead running directly east-west through Sydenham and Addington, by-passing an unnecessary trip to the Bus Exchange.

It is not often I campaign to NOT have a bus service!! Perhaps it is a Wabbit first!  But with budgets tight and getting tighter (partly due to the incredible retro 1950s car-use orientated National Party policies) I do not think this city should be wasting  money on expensive high frequency services along routes which would clearly seem to have insufficient locations likely to generate high frequency demand.

I think extending The Metrostar as proposed in the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy -  if extended back through south Christchurch - is just a waste of resources, better spent on advancing development of a western suburbs link service. 

 A  broad area I see as grossly under-serviced and well suited to a Metrostar type branded operation - albeit more modest in scope - is the need to offer a cross town route cutting across western city-suburbs radial routes between Northlands and Bryndwr, Fendalton, Burnside, Avonhead, Russley and Hornby. I don't live in these areas, but have a long familiarity through employment factors and like all car-less people (who don't JUST catch buses to work but travel in all directions) regularly catch buses here for social reasons. Apart from the immediate catchment zone of "The Orbiter" it is very hard to travel cross radial in this area. Indeed I am amazed so many VERY busy locations are so sparsely serviced - often services in two directions only or no services at all, when really the whole area cries out for a far richer network of services and travel options. According to the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy document it is not intended to investigate further cross town links to 2015, four years away. I think this is far too long as far as the gaping gaps in services links in the western suburbs go. Amongst other things this policy fails dismally to support the multi-million dollar investment in pool and fitness complexes at Papanui (new) and Jellie Park (upgrade) made by the Christchurch City Council.

I have suggested such a route to Metro a few years back (in the days when I did such crazy things!). Below is a crude map of the central portion of this suggestion with potential to run to Russley (and possibly Hornby) off-map extending to the left, and definitely to Papanui Road heading into Northlands off-map to the right. Described below, north to west, this seemingly simple route incorporates facillities generating potentially thousands of bus passenger movements a year tofro malls, swimming pool complexes, libraries, educational and work zones - links in directions not being offered at all in most cases.

How can a bus system not go where so many people go and claim to be effective?

Double click on image for larger size

Consider the following factors; despite the plethora of routes tofro Northlands, on Metro's map there is a fairly large residential sector immediately south of Northlands, around Blighs Road and Wairakei Road towards Bryndwr for the population of which Northlands is the nearest major suburban hub yet has no bus access to Northlands whatsoever! Bizarre!

This includes the southern area of the zoning area of Papanui High School and catchment area for the local new pool complex, library, cinemas etc.  As the suggested route turns from Blighs Road into Wairakei Road it enters the northern part of the zone of Burnside High School - over 2000 pupils and 200 staff in total, those living in this area here currently have no bus access at all from this direction.

Travelling along Jeffries Road (or Via Glandovey Rd/Fendalton Rd/Clyde Road if Jeffreys Rd is too narrow) the route passes Christchurch's second busiest library, Fendalton, which I believe attracts over 300,000 visitors a year, another major local facility (and passenger traffic generator) ill served by the current limited route patterns for older residents and kids etc in the northwestern suburbs it was built to serve. Passing through Ilam Village - with its supermarket, doctors, hairdressers, neighbourhood cafes  etc an immediate service centre for the broad area being traversed by this suggested route  - the suggested route then travels via Ilam Road to pass Jellie Park Aqualand, Swimming and Fitness Complex (another huge generator of traffic, probably approaching half a million annual visitors including of course many kids and teenagers).

Turning right into Memorial Avenue the west bound route then passes a useful transfer point to The Orbiter or 29 Airport services, and passes Cobham Intermediate School and Christ the King School - adding another 1000 students and 100 staff to the 2200 based at the adjacent Burnside High. Not to mention the major entertainment facility, the Aurora Centre. My calculation of 3300 kids/staff in this zone is 33,000 movements a week times about 40 weeks a year. And barely serviced by Metro by current route patterns!! **

Currently*** only two bus services a day - a deviation of 23 route before and after school - link this huge educational and employment zone to the Avonhead, Hyde Park, Ilam and Russley areas from which many pupils and staff are drawn (and of course no timetable services at all link to the Fendalton, Bryndwr areas). One bus before school, one bus after school. If kids or staff finish early (or work or play sports late), go sick, have appointments during the day etc it's stiff bickies with current Metro policies.

Turning from Memorial Avenue left into Grahams Road and then Merrin Street the proposed route links to Avonhead Mall before travelling down Withells Road then across to Russley at Bentley Street and transfer options to 84 buses to Hornby [possibly only some trips a direct link to Hornby]. This would make Avonhead Mall - served by this suggested westside link service plus routes 35 and 3 -  a minor node point for transfers - to Airport, University, Burnside, Fendalton, Northlands and Hornby. Excellent!! It is not only major glamour transfer stations Christchurch needs - it is also a range of associated node points where transfer tofro travel in six or more different directions is possible, allowing many options and fluid movement for transit consumers across the city.

My guess is that this relatively short "Western Link" (Northlands-Russley) service could probably offer a 30 minute service using only four buses at peak hours. And joining all the dots, in the right way will build up a very solid patronage as the years go by, with added frequency likely.  It is an intelliegently designed  route adding many new options and linking many very popular facilities in ways not currently met at all, by any current routes. In contrast taking Metrostar back through South Christchurch would entail big extra outlay for few benefits and mostly doubling up existing connections, a knee jerk route concept I suspect not based on focussed planning.  Well might the gravel voiced ghost of Lee Marvin sing "I was borne on a wandering star!!"

So yes, I oppose extending MetroStar when far more effective bus systems are needed elsewhere!

**School populations are based on pre-earthquake and long term patterns. It is recognised both Papanui and Burnside High Schools are both currently time-sharing facilities, with Avonside Girls High and Shirley Boys High respectively, because earthquake damage has rendered these latter high schools out of action temporarily.Currently ** * = before the earthquake disrupted services patterns for the immediate future

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"The Orbiter" Service Review - a chance for greater route integration?

Before the February 22 earthquake ripped most normality from our lives Metro was holding a service review of the two cross town services "The Orbiter" and "Metrostar". Whether the "send-in your comments" date has passed, or this review has been suspended in the meantime I am not sure, the promo bit on the website has disappeared.  One could hardly blame Metro for putting in the non-urgent basket as they struggle to try to restart some sort of temporary service pattern that operates without the core central city exchange.

As remembered the wording for this review was somewhat guarded, words and hints to the effect "it should be realised major changes in such popular routes are unlikely". It is hard to mess with a winning formula, I know,  but I do see one thing I believe that must be done if Metro (and CCC) are going to meet their commitments to creating transfer stations in the coming years.

Currently much of the Christchurch system is fairly radial - heading in and out of the city, sometimes with a bit of sideways travel towards the outer terminii. It is not a particularly good system for getting across the suburbs, directly and without having to go into town and change buses to travel back out again. That said the introduction of "The Orbiter" (orbits the CBD via the suburban malls and areas about 4km from the centre) and "The Metrostar" (travels far east-to far out west tofro passing about 2km north of the CBD) has transformed bus travel in Christchurch in those broad areas through which they pass. These are both branded services with distinctive livery, frequent services and own coloured timetables and distinctive stops. In the nature of such services stops tend to be slightly further apart and the routes avoid fussy or winding sections, keeping mostly to straight running arterial roads. A major role these cross-towns play is a "connecting link" - if one travels outwards [or inwards from outer suburbs] on the radial route nearest home or work it is sure to cross "The Orbiter" and transfer tofro this gives access to a wide range ofareas and facilities without further transfer. A key aspect of every major transfer station - ostensibly planned by Metro and Council - will sensibly be the inclusion of at least one and possibly two or more cross town routes, brought into conjunction with the other city-suburban radial routes.

One of the key transfer station locations, servicing the whole south-west of the city, will inevitably be at based at Barrington Mall. I don't think it needs a presumptious dapper looking know-it-all rabbit to guess this - the bus stops in Athelstan Street, beside the south entrance to the mall,already offers services from multiple directions from several intersecting routes (11,8,20, 22). But the actual stop itself is bypassed by The Orbiter, which stops out of sight on another street (Barrington Street) about 200 metres away and for northbound Orbiter buses involves crossing a very busy river of traffic to get to the stop opposite the public library.

Athelstan Street offers a perfect setting for a transfer station, because being hardly more than a side street with few private residences and is mostly a de facto driveway in and out of the carpark. It would allow a bus transfer station to be built relatively cheaply - no need to build pedestrian/passenger links over or under a busy road to connect bus services flowing in opposite directions. Rather a simple but attractive palazzo system of raised islands and larger shelters with a reduced traffic slowing through pass for private cars would suffice. This can't sensibly be built on super busy Barrington Street so it makes sense that The Orbiter needs to travel via Athelstan Street as well. Anything less will be a grossly inferior transfer station, indeed almost meaningless. Asking people to drag kids, shopping trolleys, through rain etc - to a stop around the corner or across a busy road a couple of hundred metres away is hardly a transfer station!

To achieve a really user friendly popular transfer station The Orbiter travelling southwards probably needs to turn left off Barrington into Coronation Street, right into Simeon Street, then right into Athelstan and then (as do other buses) left into Barrington Street and resume the current route. About an extra two minutes, if that,  in travel time and disadvantaging few locals (whilst - a bonus - greatly increasing acces from a much larger local catchment including access tofro South Intermediate School). As The Orbiter  often struggles so often to run on time I imagine it will anyway need time adjustments so expansion by a minute or two can be factored into the new timteables originating from the current review. Some roading management changes may be needed, Coronation Street has been narrowed (years ago) towards Barrington Street corner in a rather pointless and unattractive way and this short length long term could be better designed for easier bus movement, and lights may be needed at Barrington.  Another alternative (far less useful, attractive or logical) is to dogleg The Orbiter via Althelstan, Simeon Street and Milton Street.

For many peak hour commuters good transfer stations will be hugely useful - for full time bus users, who need to traverse all corners the city with at least some degree of comfort, clarity and speed matching the freedom of a car they are absolutely crucial. The more intersecting points from which passengers can travel in six or more different directions the greater the fluidity, mobility and options for bus travellers. Indeed, We do not begin to move buses into the 21st century until we realize (make real) the potential inherent in modern technologies to deliver an integrated network system of multi-directional travel.

Understandably in the midst of catastrophic earthquakes and budgetary blowouts for council and Environment Canterbury the move towards a multi-nodal integrated bus pattern might get a bit lost. But we have seen how poorly Christchurch fared in the first decade, taking 12 years to get three part-time part-route bus lanes, and then lost even funding for those,  while Auckland and Wellington received hundreds of millions in rail and busway funding. These cities were able to take advantage of a sympathetic Labour Government (and prosperity) in a way Christchurch could not because they already had a mass transit strategy in place. This sort of funding is no longer available but it is amazing how often if one has a strategy "things turn up". In Christchurch this includes two very violent earthquakes, and shrewd far sighted strategy - if only we had one - could take advantage of roading rebuilds, widened intersections by virtue of lost buildings etc. to hugely enhance the viability and effectiveness of public transport in Christchurch.

As a city we must have a more forward thinking, active and assertive policy on public transport than has been the case to now, not least because many changes can be piggy-backed onto improvements and restorative work post earthquake.

Although Christchurch lacks the larger vision - such as already determined busway corridors and long term commuter rail strategies - it has at least committed to creating suburban transfer stations. The Orbiter review offers the city a good chance to start putting this policy into practice.

View from the current Athelstan Street in-stop at Barrington Mall on a wet Sunday morning.
Lots of room for vision here, but can Metro-city transit planning rise to the occasion??