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.

BACK TO WORK

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.

DAMAGE CONTROL STRATEGIES?



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!

SERVICE SEEMS VERY CLUMSY

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 LACKS QUALITY AND HAS MINIMAL OFF-LINE ACCESS

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.


NEW AND ADDED SERVICES NEEDED TO RISE TO THE OCCASION?

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.

MYSTERY OF THE CURRENT EXCHANGE PATTERN?


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!



1 comment:

  1. I agree with just about everything you said but canning some routes/services will now put a further strain on the system than ever before. I suggest to bring back these routes/services so that commuting by bus would be made better. Also putting in more routes/services would be a great help. I for one would like to see number 16 Belfast route put back in service. Don't you agree?

    ReplyDelete