Friday, July 29, 2011

South Australia, rural school bus contracts being lost to big outsider firms

NZ in Tranzit in South Australia

Protests have been held in Adelaide by owners and drivers of rural bus companies operating country school bus contracts across the state, as large out of state companies winning more than half the tenders

Bus and Coach Association SA president Roger Quinsey  told Adelaide Now those contracts were being lost to a business that appeared to be a Queensland-based company.

"Some of our members have operated their services for 55 years, some 37 years and many others in between," he said. "They have not missed a day of their service ...yet when they've gone to tender they have found they have not been awarded their tender. It appears to be price-based.
"We have great concern that a lot of goodwill will be lost and a lot of good service will be lost." Opposition leader Isobel Redmond said the decision was a devastating blow to regional communities.

The process echoes that which occurred in New Zealand in 2008 when over 60 mostly smaller rural bus companies many of these long standing businesses in their  rural communities were effected when Ritchies Transport Holdings and Go Bus Ltd won a large portion the nation's six year school bus contracts.

At the time a former policy adviser Greig Neilson, of Queenstown, who helped draft the ministry's bus tender guidelines, said the ministry ignored recommendations that would have preserved competition among bus companies.  According to the The Southland Times (December 18 2008) He advised the ministry that most bus company owners in Southland were close to retirement age and if their business was severely cut now, in six years they would not have a company capable of re-tendering to pass on.  

However it wasn't just those close to the retirement who lost their livelihood, all smaller companies suffered and some had to fold their small operations.  In Reporoa, near Rotorua,  operator Cave Coachlines owner Ian Cave said he would be out of business when his contract runs out at the year's end. The 46-year-old man owned six buses and employed two staff, in addition to himself and his wife.

Ian Cave told  The Daily Post (Rotorua) in September 2008 his bus company had been operating for 20 years but he was not surprised bigger companies got the school contracts. "The big companies just keep getting bigger, they can afford to do things a bit cheaper than we can. It is disappointing after all this time. We have been a part of the community for so long.

Following Ritchies' success in winning so many tenders the company ordered 120 new, purpose built school buses from Designline in December 2009, saying at the time they had rejected importing higher emission Japanese buses or cheaper Chinese buses, in favour of going for the higher quality offered by Designline.  These were to be supplied over four years [it is not known where the immanent sale of Designline will leave this process].

Free market drivers leading USA down increasingly bumpy road?

NZ in Tranzit in USA

"We've transformed our economy from the world's most prosperous manufacturing economy -- with reasonable national savings and trade surpluses -- to the world's most indebted service economy, with negative national savings, chronic trade deficits and Total Credit Market Debt Owed of $52 Trillion."
So comments one of the readers of the US publication, The Fiscal Times, in response to an article reporting the growing shortfall in government spending on America's deteriorating highways, bridges and transit (public transport) systems. 
The American Society of Civil Engineers identified added costs arising from more obvious deficiencies in the country's surface land transportation systems as draining households and businesses of nearly $97 billion in increased costs to maintain and repair vehicles and $32 billion of increased travel time because of congestion and delay. The engineers say costs of the sort, coupled with lower investment in land transport infrastructure projects  will undermine the economy and lead to increased unemployment

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Auckland must pay for what Auckland spends

NZ in Tranzit - campaigning against obscenities!

The Government has announced an added nationwide fuel tax to build its extravagant programme of motorways and - unbelievably - another $140 million  to "fix up some anomalies" in commuter rail systems in Auckland and Wellington.

This is the same Government responsible for cutting about $5 million funding to a (pathetically modest) programme of bus lanes, cycleways and road safety programmes in Christchurch in 2009.

Despite Stephen Joyce's naive fantasy that the rest of New Zealand, the smaller cities, the rural hinterland wants to be milked to feed that bloated spoilt brat,  the the so called supercity, most kiwis have some natural sense of fairness and justice!!

If roughly similar amounts of GDP are generated in other parts of NZ, then they should get their share of the cake - not be asked to subsidise Auckland. Most of New Zealand's wealth is generated in dairy products , forestry, coal, tourism etc -  very little of this directly generated in Auckland or Wellington!

Yet absurd amounts of money are being spent on rail and public transport in Auckland and Wellington while public transport in Christchurch and every other centre is being starved of adequate funding!!

Let Auckland pay for what Auckland spends!

NZ in Tranzit suggests a regional fuel tax be installed as originally planned, similar to that which has had a major effect of creating major new rapid transit infrastructure and boosting transit usage in Canada, now at an all time high of 1.9 billion trips a year.

NZ in Tranzit suggests essentially a simple pattern -  3 cents a litre extra  between the Bombay Hills and Rodney; 2 cents a litre in the central Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch areas,  and 1 cents a litre elsewhere...if a few dickheads drive a few extra kilometres to use country service stations to gain a few cents, good luck to them!

In other words let Auckland pay for what Auckland spends!

And let the three other largest major urban centres generate extra funding to build their own adequate - indeed quality - attractive public transport systems.

And let rural areas generate enough to allow for a modest bus service tofro provincial capitals and towns over 10000  residents a minimum 7am-7pm Mon-Fri hourly orbital (via Town centre) link to support those with no or limited and inconstant car access.

FURTHER TO THE ABOVE POSTING LAST NIGHT -  it appears Auckland is willing and eager to finance its dreams but rate increases and fuel taxes are seen as less effective than small motorway tolls(b) some indication of the huge amount of money needed to finance Auckland's $5 billion transport dreams - a regional tax of 30 cents per litre! would be needed to finance borrowing $5 billion over 30 years!

Of course all this future stuff - the city has already received public transport funding  of over $1.4 billion (pro rata - $195 million from Canterbury taxes! - with some part of $148 million more to come).In return Aucklanders will contribute $15 million towards our New Bus Exchange if it goes ahead - the only major bit of government public transport infrastructure funding our council has been able to secure - well, get promised -  in almost a decade!

Greens - Transport spend locks New Zealand’s economic future to the price of oil and greater debt

Tranzwatching - Green Party media release (reprinted in full)

The Government's short-sighted plans for transport funding will lock New Zealand's economic fortunes into dependency on the price of oil and further Government debt, the Green Party said today.

The 2012 Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport Funding was released today detailing how the Government plans to spend, on average, $26.6 billion on roads over the next ten years and only $5.8 billion on more sustainable alternatives like train and bus services, walking, and cycling.

"The National Government has prioritised spending on new motorways above more sustainable alternatives, effectively locking our economy in to the price of oil for at least another ten years," said Green Party Transport spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

"We need to move quickly to decouple our economy from the high price of oil.

"Research has shown that for every US$1 increase in the international price of oil, NZ$40-60 million of annual GDP is wiped out here at home.

"This is not a smart way to run an economy, to make our transport system so vulnerable to the price of oil," said Mr Hughes.  The Government has established a new borrowing facility for the New Zealand Transport Agency to enable them to obtain additional funds for new roads.

"The Government is effectively borrowing to pay for new motorways, many with low benefit-to-cost ratios," said Mr Hughes.

"This is poor quality Government expenditure made at a time of record levels of Government debt.

"The responsible way to invest in future transport infrastructure is to take a more balanced approach to transport funding — one that doesn't require further borrowing.

"We can future-proof our transport systems by investing more in better rail and bus services, coastal shipping, and the critical Auckland CBD rail loop without additional borrowing," said Mr Hughes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dunedin buses go flat for free

Tranzwatching in Dunedin, Te Wai Pounamu, New Zealand

It was the coldest snap of weather in 16 years says the weather office of the snow storms that blanketed much of the south and many parts of the northern island. In Dunedin buses were flat out or out flat, only able to drive on some of the flatter route sections of this attractive but in many parts steep city. Passenger Transport Dunedin which recently became the major player in service contractors by buying out the previously council owned Citbus offered passengers free rides "just to get people out of the cold"  manager owner Kane Baas told the Otago Daily Times

Monday, July 25, 2011

Before we go to the dogs should we not check out the wolves?

NZ in Tranzit goes dancing with the wolves

While Christchurch's once highly admired bus system slips ever further into the mire, human disasters compounding geological disaster, the United Kingdom city Wolverhampton (about 260,000 metropop) has just opened its new 19 loading-bay bus station. 

Costing pounds sterling 22.5 million ($NZ42.6 million at current exchange rates) the bus station includes three enclosed glass concourses feeding onto a system of saw tooth bus docks. In this system, now being widely adopted in many places, arriving buses nose into each small dock, then veer or reverse out once loaded. More effective than it sounds,  I believe saw tooth docks were also planned for the new $119 million underground bus exchange in Christchurch).

In the Wolverhampton model the doors of the concourse appropriate to each loading platform only open when the buses arrive. An artists view of the design is here; more info about the bus station for the wulfrunians and their wandering ilk (local news) here and (BBC) there.

I don't know what bus patronage is like in Wolverhampton but 19 bays sounds a generous amount, even if critics do say a significant number of bus services won't even stop at the new station. For comparison,, in Christchurch a fairly complex bus system was operated from the current Bus Exchange (closed since Feb earthquake) with what amounts to 15 separate loading areas and that includes the adjacent stops for "The Shuttle" on Colombo Street.

A loading area this big in Christchurch could probably sensibly include a long distance and regional coach departure zone, as is done in Hamilton, NZ. Even as a local it is always something of a hassle to find and lug cases to the dispersed departure points of various services departing Christchurch, not quality tourist support, that's for sure.

Without having done any measurements (!) it would seem to me Christchurch could get started with something about the same size, or come in even lower, building in stages, not to over commit until it is seen which way the city is going to go.  By stages I mean not including all extra areas for cafes,shops or a food market, but perhaps a small (but expandable) central atrium, ticket office etc area, and perhaps having some part of loading areas platformed and simply roofed but not fully enclosed (perhaps only used at peak hours Mon-Fri) until the future of the city and patronage demand is better determined.

The Key Government has previously refused to give the Mayor Bob Parker led administration  the extra $21 million to put the proposed new bus exchange building underground - a definite advantage with hundreds of exiting buses a day, but a problem not insurmountable with adjacent road and footpath management strategies. Creating attractively wide, open bright and planted pedestrian underpasses in an area of limited pedestrian traffic anyway, would probably save about $18 million for a starter!

The New Zealand Transport Agency did however already agree to contribute its share, $45m, for the above-ground version of the facility.

Hello, that's funny,  $NZ45 million sounds just about right to emulate Wolverhampton's arrangement,  at no cost to the city! A nice goodwill gesture from the Government given the money being poured into public transport in Auckland and Wellington - the latest another $88 million for trains carrying less than 60% of Christchurch bus patronage. Christchurch could even buy the plans from the UK architects as a starting point for a NZ adapted design (double the thickness and strength of the concrete pillars will you Fred?).
If the project is being built in stages or includes built in lessees for shop space or food concessions etc there may even leave some funding to start adding suburban transfer stations, a real key to cross city mobility.

Looking for a Christchurch rapid transit CBD access pattern that can handle higher capacity.

On patronage per capita Ottawa- Gatineau (1.4 million metropop)  is the most successful public transport system in any city under 2 million metropop in North America or Australasia. This is achieved almost entirely using buses and segregated busways;  a downside of  the success -  too many buses in central city streets, here on Slater Street

NZ in Tranzit - advocating good planning in Christchurch

From my reading one of the big problems for all public transport systems is the tendency to end up with too many vehicles - buses, trams, light rail vehicles - crowding in the centre of cities, particularly at peak hours, in effect creating almost walls of vehicles which pedestrians then have walk around or risk negotiating a passage between them.

Another problem is that there is little point designing flash segregated busways that dramatically cut travelling time from the outer suburbs but then come off a segregated busway straight into several blocks of inner city congestion. This was a problem (I don't know if it still is) with a T-Way bus rapid transit corridor in Sydney a few years back.

It is a matter I have given some thought to and I suggest the following solution, based on the removal of the existing one way system around central Christchurch - rather only the outer clockwise circuit is retained - not so much as a way of cutting through the city but as (despite being a square pattern) a short hop way of cutting "diagonally across the central city" (eg Victoria Street to CPIT), or "corner to corner". 

Although a range of other transit services (including an inner city shuttle and the heritage tram) would travel through other streets, the bulk of those travelling into the inner city from outer areas would travel on very fast and direct the bus rapid transit system utilising segregated busway and traffic light priority strategies.

In the map below this retained "outer" one way system is blue.

The orange bus rapid transit from Belfast via Redwood and St Albans comes into the CBD down Durham Street- Cambridge Terrace (two way)

The pink bus rapid transit corridors enters from eastside via Gloucester Street then Durham St (Cambridge Terrace)

orange line from the South west via Milton Street Gasson and Madras (two way) and to CPIT then along Tuam to the Bus Exchange and northwards

the pink line continues westwards after the Bus Exchange, the BRT lanes would exit via Tuam (and Hagley Avenue - not shown) before moving westwards more or less parallel to the rail corridor

BX = Bus exchange (buses would go through the Exchange rather than past as implied in this rough sketch)

Circles - bus stops - the larger two (behind the Casino, near Madras and Tuam streets ) being also points where other routes pass through and offer additional transfer nodes

With bus rapid transit likely to employ articulated buses and be controlled by a central control room and a speed indicator system as they enter the area between the four avenues, it is important the systems has extended length stops [notably drop off zones] and "banking areas" where multiple buses nose to tail do not cause either practical hindrance or visual pollution in a central retail area.

Anyone who knows Christchurch well will recognise here that Gloucester beside the (present) Coachman Backpacker building with no immediate south side of the road retail area;  and Cambridge Terrace (AKA Durham Street) between Worcester Street and Cashel  Street beside the river park,  offer excellent spots - the latter heading directly into the Bus Exchange - where some passengers can alight and longer queues of buses (perhaps one day elongated light rail vehicles) can bank up with minimum disruption.

Access to most parts of the CBD within a short walk are offered by both pink and orange lines, leaving just supplementary bus routes and The shuttle to connect these dots.

Although we are by no means as big as Ottawa or most cities with light rail or trams, getting mass transit systems into central areas in a way that is passenger friendly but preserves the pedestrian friendly centre is a challenge to be faced. The pattern here extends the Bus Exchange's reach in a way that is largely non-obtrusive even with large numbers of vehicles, or larger buses and (perhaps one day) trams.

NOTE; The idea that Christchurch can reduce inner city car congestion by a series of concentric ring roads (some already in effect) is explored further in a previous posting, which suggests the city has a rare chance to build a ring road across ST Martins, Beckenham and Spreydon

Hot off the press (sort of)

Christchurch rarely gets more than a smattering of snow a couple of times a year, all melted again usually within 24 hours if not much sooner. Today it looks like it is a once in every 5? 10? year type snowfall and buses and many other city facilities have closed for the day. We have no equipment or experience to deal with 10 or 15cm of snow, though these might be quite normal - minor! - in some colder countries. 

This photo is taken out of the back door of the place I am staying, at this moment

                                                                  Click on photos to enlarge

Even knowing it will probably add to city and business costs, after the violence. sludge and dust of so many earthquakes the snow feels extra peaceful, cleansing.

More life in the fast(er bus) lane

NZ in Tranzit - playing traffic engineer to foster bus support

Auckland Transport is hoping the New Zealand Transport Agency will include Bus lanes in its Road Code.  In Auckland as elsewhere, particularly before the last round of amalgamation, bus lanes have been developed in an ad hoc way, with different signage and standards, such as placement of signs. Currently they are reviewing the whole system.

Now that Auckland is tidying up its act does indeed seem a  a good time for New Zealand as a whole to create a codified set of design standards, usage criteria, expectations and may be even a systematic scale of fines for entering Bus lanes in inappropriate ways.

To the motorists of course - who can't bear to see an adjacent lane empty even for 30 seconds - it all seems very petty but any technology that can bring buses as close as possible to running on time is a primary technology of public transport....once buses can consistently and reliably maintain schedules then they can also pass through transfers points in a consistent pattern. This in turns means a huge and the chance to actually attract significant patronage including peak hours reducing congestion queues of cars.

 I like the signage put forward here - it echoes concepts I raised in this posting about widening city streets (even along part sections of a city block where this is possible) to include parking bays, a "parker crawler bus lane" as shown in the rough sketch below.

Bus, cycle and parking traffic is removed from mainstream flow
with adequate room for cylists (not well conveyed here!)

[N.O.R. = Notice of requirement. Should a building in a location of this nature ever be demolished and rebuilt it will be required to set its frontage back a few metres, on the new boundary with owners compensated]

Ideally a standardised national sign could show a sign similar to this one on the link as above but with indication of parking bays on side of road and more parking around next left at end of block, and that the lane is intended only for those seeking parking, and a left turn ahead, with buses and bikes only allowed to go straight ahead (on a "queue jumper" pulse of the traffic signals and/or at the same time as normal laned traffic.
Mainstream traffic would not be permitted to change lanes within that block (the double arrow symbol on roads in diagram)

This latter sounds a weird mix but I think it could work well in some situations, subject to checking overseas studies or doing trials, if the length of time for parking (30 minutes or one hour or whatever; the number of bays in each block, and the number of buses using the bus lane per hour were in correct balance).

In peak hours traffic signals could forbid (red light) any further parkers entering the lane, without have to police or remove parkers already in bays. In normal middle of the day traffic u to, say, 15 buses per hour (one very four minutes) could use the lane and if there were 15 one hour bays on thart lost by buses presuming most parkers would not pull out if they can already see a bus in the lane in their wing mirror. Having slightly longer than normal parking bays (that in many cases can be driven into rather than reversed into - or if reversed easy to enter - could also be a factor. Adding up the total equation including the bus and bikes at lights have (a) queue jumper time if re-entering conventional flow or (b) normal straight ahead time without queueing and/or priority phasing of traffic signals, it could reduce overall journey time, increase reliability and increase perceived status and permanency of buses.

Somewhere in here there seems potential for a win-win-win-win situation for retailers/businesses/for local authorities to still obtain parking income/for those looking for a car park (in the bays or if none available - anyway indicated by an overhead electric sign before entering the lane) around the next corner to the left. But the real winner, is buses and cyclists getting a full time bus and bike lane  - and one only shared by a marginal traffic flow - separate from the mainstream traffic flow.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Auckland Transport pleased with its successful first eight months of operation

Tranzwatching in Auckland, Te Ika a Maui, New Zealand

As part of the so-called "supercity" created by the Amalgamation of the four former cities of Auckland (and a couple of county areas) all transport was brought under the one umbrella, Auckland Transport.

The first eight months of operation for Auckland Transport have ended on a strong note with a number of significant projects delivered to a high standard, Chief Executive, Dr David Warburton according to a media release this week.

In the year to June 2011, commuter rail patronage has risen 24% and Northern Busway usage has risen 14.5%.  Note; while not knocking a significant achievement it is always worth remembering these are largely new systems in which high percentile growth is to be expected. Another success, a transit smartcard "Hop" cards has finally been introduced. Also in this eight month period  probably the most expensive bit of road ever built in New Zealand [another huge subsidy to Aucklanders from the other two thirds of New Zealand!] the Waterview Tunnel (3.5 kilometres - $2.77 billon dollars) has been given the green light.

Meanwhile - back in the wreckage of Christchurch a plea by the Christchurch City Council for the Government to be more balanced in its transport funding appears to have brought no response!!

Not only has the previously highly successful CBD bus service "The Shuttle" been dropped - despite the obvious constant link it might have provided around the red zone and tofro the Hagley Park entertainment area - now it looks like a only medium term low budget Bus Exchange is to be built.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Council hints at bus exchange downgrade

NZ in Tranzit  - opinion

Anyone who follows the news regularly knows that bad news is rarely broken abruptly - that large companies and big public authorities tend to sow elements of doubt or uncertainty in the public mind first, step by step introducing the real blow.

"Let them down (to earth) slowly" might be the marketing strategy for a planned or expected down grade or reduction in service levels, or closure or abandonment of a project.

I suspect I am not the only one reading this morning's news "Fate of Bus Exchange Unclear" as a very strong indicator that the glamorous $119 million underground bus exchange originally planned for the Lichfield Street "Katmandu" (etc) site site is now unlikely to ever go ahead.

Instead a "temporary" (cynics please read 10-15 years?) exchange on this site is planned.

Compared to the $119 million planned, the "temporary" bus exchange is expected to cost hundreds of thousands.  According to a report in The Press, based on an interview with a city transport manager,  this will need bus platforms [my emphasis] road markings, a passenger waiting room, and transport related technology.  This seems to be a possible indicator that the new "temporary" exchange may have only open platforms with a separate waiting area (albeit alerted by Real time signage) instead of present Bus Exchange style of enclosed waiting areas and electric doors opening only when the bus pulls up.

Back in 2001 this "airport lounge" type bus station was considered was a world leader and indeed it was a huge advance on the cold and windy, diesel fume polluted open platform stations of yesteryear's bus stations,  such as Auckland's former bus station at Britomart.

Reversion to bus technology of yesteryear is likely to further reduce the quality, image, status, and growth of public transport, a network already battling after the grossly inadequate service (post immediate emergency period) in the months since February's massively damaging and fatal earthquake. 

However "temporary" such an exchange is, quality standards - so woefully missing with current "exchanges" - must apply.

Central exchange needs to be but one of many "exchange" points

As is obvious from past postings on the failed "two bus exchange" strategy,  response to the earthquakes, there is a prime need need for a single central point through which ALL major and most minor city-suburban services pass, complementing Christchurch's hub and spoke pattern of arterial roads and bus routes.

This said I see any central bus exchange only as one point on network of about 9 or 10 transfers stations (6 or more routes) and about 30 other transfer "nodes" (2-4 routes) all bound into a consistent and integrated flow pattern of core services. 

For this reason downgrading the originally planned Bus Exchange from the marble temple originally planned does not overly phase me, if it means an upgrading of multiple suburban transfers points (and not an attempt to preserve limited forseeable funding for a light rail corridor!).

Quality can be modest but effective, though "hundreds of thousands" sounds suspiciously like shoddy but medium term to my ear!

The real re-building priority to me is really sophisticated bus network, including purchase of now empty site frontages to add bus advantage lanes, corners and cut-through points where these can guarantee clear bus priority.

And the city itself - in its totality - would be one big bus exchange !

Quote - First do buses well

NZ in Tranzit - "Quoted fare"

"We realized early in this discussion that a well-performing basic bus system is the essential backbone of any successful transit system around the country or around the world," he said. "To focus on the higher-capacity, more exciting things, like rail, without paying attention to a bus system, we'd be doomed for failure."
- Mike McAnelly, Jacobs Engineering - planning new regional public transport system for Tulsa 

Note; I like the thinking! But they have a long way to go!  

 Tulsa Transit, serving a city the size of Christchurch (with metropop area twice the population again),  only carries 2.5 million passengers per year - not untypical of the USA for smaller cities, especially those in South eastern states. Ironically the actual farebox recovery in the USA is very small, with taxes typically paying around 80% of the cost of each passenger boarding compared to between 40-70% in Canada, Australia or NZ (CANZ) in cities over 200,000.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Seoul plans to have its city bus fleet 50% electric by 2020

Tranzwatching new electric bus tech in Seoul

The city of Seoul claims to be operating the first city bus service operating purely electric buses (as shown in this You Tube)  - look ma, no wires - and plans to have its bus fleet 50% electric buses by 2020.

City planner critical of Jerusalem light rail

All that glitters is not gold - a Jerusalem city planner identifies how much distortion of local bus system and roading patterns is needed, and how little this expensive glamour rail project will serve the needs of most Jerusalem residents. Photo Wikimedia Commons

Tranzwatching an exposure of light rail spin in Jerusalem, Israel

Gerard Heumann,  an architect and town planner in Jerusalem, examines that city's new 14km long light rail system (corridor) that took ten years to build,  cost (in Euros) 72 million per kilometre and is due to open August 19th 2011. He describes the various ways it fails to benefit most Jerusalem residents and runs contrary to good planning.

Most of Heumann's specific observations could be equally applied to many other light rail systems elsewhere in the world, or to indeed to building such a white elephant in Christchurch.

Some of the many complications that beset this billion dollar Euro project are covered in this news item from last year

Auckland to soften approach on bus lane policing

Tranzwatching transit strategy in Auckland,  Te Ika a Maui, New Zealand

Policing of bus lanes in Auckland in the 12 months to May this year generated 14, 253 infringement of bus lane notices. With fines at $150 per offense this has reaped $2.1 million for city coffers but "fury" and resentment from motorists.  A number of  measures are being introduced to make bus lane policing a little less heavy handed.

According to a report in the NZ Herald "A bus-lane review discussed by the transport board yesterday said that because Auckland's population was forecast to reach two million by 2035 and road-widening opportunities were largely limited, bus lanes were beneficial and necessary."


While there seems some case for a more measured strategy, the real-politik of it all is that most motorists can't bear to see the bus lane sitting empty - as it should be - 95% of the time. In that other 5% of time or less this allows buses the unhindered potential to carry four or five times more commuters than the number sitting up in a clogged up car lanes.  Allowing cars unregulated use of bus lanes makes as much sense as allowing cricket to be played on airfields between flights landing and taking off. 

Having been an internet tranzwatcher for over 15 years, I can say problems with on-street bus lanes appears to be endemic the world over. This makes a strong argument for segregation of such lanes as far as possible, by traffic islands, bedstead fencing - or better still building entirely segregated bus ways and sometimes bus only streets. Or use of trenches, cut and cover tunnels or flyovers.

Christchurch, with massive demolition in central areas following the Feb 22nd earthquake has the unusual opportunity to look at certain city streets (Tuam and Manchester spring to mind) that could be substantially widened into attractive boulevards of multiple lanes, including some island separated bus lanes - which I suspect also give buses a much higher status in people's minds. There are dozens of suburban points which could also benefit from judicious implementation of  bus only lanes, often very short but advantageous none-the-less.

When bus routes are treated as "train lines" and inserted in ways that buses rarely need to stop for other traffic, in turn becoming very reliable in schedules and facilitating predictable reliable transfers, the real potential of modern buses will begin to be realised.

Better bus signage for sight impaired

Tranzwatching transit tech in Melton, Victoria, Australia

A suburban area in outer Melbourne, Melton Shire, Victoria, has upgraded all its 400 bus stop signage to include an individual code number and the MetLink call centre number for information about the city's trams, trains and buses, including of course, info about the next services from that particular stop.  An unusual feature - the chest level signage has raised numerals and is also in braille to assist sight impaired people.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saskatoon proposes reducing evening and holiday bus services

Tranzwatching -  proposed bus service cuts in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

University students, shift workers and night owls joined a growing chorus of transit riders in Saskatoon rallying against the proposed cuts to late-night bus service being considered by city hall. Proposal is to terminate all bus services at 10pm except on Thursday and Friday night


This report includes some interesting stats about off peak patronage as a percentage of total bus use in this Canadian city of 265,000 metropop.

However most adults do not want a curfew of 10pm - which if transfers are needed can mean having to leave a location or event at 8.30pm - ridiculous if attending concerts or movies or public meetings starting at 7.30pm or 8pm.  Unpleasant even if visiting friends, where good sharing and craic often takes time to get up a bit of energy.  For some people this finish time would be mpossible if working or studying late. And those who work weekends often socialise other nights.

If evening (and holiday) transit mobility becomes so restricted and truncated hundreds (if not thousands) of full time bus users will find it too hard to live without a car , and once they have purchased a car will also use that for commuting and day trips. 

Once a car is owned little is saved by leaving it at home, the capital costs still needing to be met, the instant convenience of a car too hard to ignore.  Cutting evening services in that event possibly may lose as much as  2?-5?% of regular bus users.

It would be interesting to try to establish what percentage of income/patronage would be effected by this factor and therefore how many "ghost riders" travel on off-peak buses. That is to say some patrons may only use that late evening bus 10 or 20 times a year but because they can, they decide not to buy, or post pone buying, a car and in consequence they use buses to commute tofro work or study ten plus times a week. In this case cutting evening service may cut 600 other bus journeys per year per individual involved. Multiply this by several hundred or thousand patrons per year and the financial equation for the system - for instance real amount saved -  may look different

Public transit is a network system and though poorly patronised services may indeed need to be altered, reduced or deleted, over all success or failure of a system must be determined "as a whole" The average number of passengers per trip or per km, and the cost per passenger boarding, measured across all trips is the key factor.

Fire in ultra-capacitor using electric bus

Tranzwatching bus tech in China

An electric bus using an ultra-capacitor system to store energy has caught fire in Shanghai. This Green Car Report includes photo and commentary with photos examines some of the dynamics involved in comparable electric systems

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ecan requests more time to create Regional Public Transport Plan 2011-2021

The road to hell (and low patronage)  is paved with good intentions!
If buses and trams are  to offer really competitive transport, planning of routes and corridors
and purchase of appropriate properties needs to be running years in advance ....not
the sort of obsolete thinking and ad hoc strategies implied in this 2010 bus queue!

Tranzwatching (with comment)  in Christchurch, Te Wai Pounamu, New Zealand 

Environment Canterbury (ECan)  commenced preparation of a Regional Public Transport Plan in 2010, with a view to completing a Draft in mid-2011 and finalising the Plan in late 2011 following public consultation.

Legislation requires all regional councils file such plans at regular intervals, the next January 1 2012,  but Environment Canterbury is now requesting to push this date back much later for the province, in light of the damage and disruption (to all processes) caused by the sequence of major earthquakes

The damage created by several severe earthquakes has meant that large parts of the central city, including the central Bus Exchange, are cordoned off and not accessible to the public, including ECan's own headquarters in Kilmore Street Christchurch. The Ecan building not believed to be seriously damaged but is within the "drop zone" of the damaged Durham Copthorne Hotel.  The massive earthquake damage has also resulted in a significant change in trip patterns, with many business and employment activities moved to outer areas, many of which are not well served by the pre-earthquake bus network with its focus on the central city.

As the Christchurch City Council responsible for infrastructure has still  - after five months - not established an alternative single Bus Exchange area for all services to pass through, and only provided limited roadside areas in Hagley Avenue and Bealey Avenue, it has anyway been impossible to reinstate full levels of service. Many of the main arterial route services are not yet back to 15 minute headways, not least because there is clearly no more room for extra buses in the shambolic peak hour bus queues!

This is greatly aggravating the difficulties inherent in having to travel through two exchange points or making transfers in outer areas. ECan itself has followed a policy of providing very little timetable information (including few routes with intermediate timing points or arrival times at "Bus Exchanges" listed.).

This has led to a significant drop in bus patronage from 50-60,000 passenger trips a day  preceding the first quake in September 2010. (and associated fare revenue). This is threatening the ability to fund public transport services in a sustainable manner. This is now likely to be further impacted by the Government decision to shift spending away from public transport onto major highway projects.


Another major factor is that apart from a few bus laned roads and a rather grand new centralised buses ECan does not appear to have an adequate strategy to build a really sophisticated bus service in the years ahead.

For example ECan Commissioner Rex Williams said in The Press this morning there was  " "A real need" for buses in Christchurch, and Williams said he believed that the city could be made more suitable for public transport during the rebuilding processes".

Could?? The city is already rebuilding on some sites!!

Where is the ten year strategy if routes that are part of the ten year process weren't identified long ago?

And please don't pull the earthquake excuse because these processes should be embedded and evolving over years - in fact already buying the freed up sites where property loss facilitates implementation of the plan.

This is a public authority taking tens of millions in taxes and property rates to operate and plan  public transport, a mobility system hugely dependent upon identifying and protecting linear corridors to facilitate ease of movement across congested cities, still talking such nonsense as "could".

"Head cameras" for security personnel at Bus Interchange

Tranzwatching transit tech in Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Geelong, Victoria's second city, metropop 160,000, opened up a new central city bus interchange late last year. It has spaces for six buses to dock and load simultaneously. Waiting areas appear to be open and by March were attracting unwanted elements, mostly groups of teenagers, using the interchange as a place to hang about, with local shops and passengers complaining of swearing, abusive behaviours and fighting. Although "supervisors" in high viz vests are employed, like most security guards not having full police powers there is often a limit to what they can do, especially in public spaces, except call the police in worst case scenarios.

Now they will have minature cameras,that will only be activated as needed,  attached above there ears so at least clear facial recognition and close up recording of incidents is possible. This will not only add protection for supervisors but according to local City Councillor Andy Richards will also be downloadable for police when investigating alleged offenders.

[no link found to the last news story, this appeared on p34, The Geelong Advertiser July 16 2011 ]

Hamilton, Ontario halts light rail planning

Tranzwatching in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Apparently having used up most of a $3million research grant from the Ontario Provincial Government specifically pegged to investigating light rail , the city manager of Hamilton, Ontario (c700,000 metropop) has halted all activity associated with developing light rail other than that specifically required by the the Province itself. Mayor Bob Bratina says all-day GO transit commuter rail connection to down town Toronto is a greater priority.

Monday, July 18, 2011

National Government plans big funding cuts to public transport systems

NZ in Tranzit - news/opinion

It is widely expected that heavily insured (including Earthquake Commission) Christchurch will be able to get back on its feet after an exceptionally violent (at times)  and prolonged sequence of  (to date) 7,500 earthquakes. 

So too will some countries recover quicker than most in the face of the expected oil shocks ahead.  Those countries who are prepared or who can access transit resources more easily [when the whole world cries out for them] will prosper where others lose ground. and see their living standards fall.

Clearly smaller low density countries with minimal existing alternative transport structure could suffer most.

In a queue of thousands of public transport systems crying out for skilled planners, operators and engineers and specialised rail, light rail and bus vehicles and equipment these small countries with their relatively tiny shopping lists and lower transit expert salaries to attract workers may struggle to compete.

These countries that seem most likely to do best will be those that have "insured" themselves [mitigated the impact of earth shattering oil shortages] by putting in place in advance the infrastructure that allows them to switch, particularly to far greater public transport usage, seamlessly, without overcrowding, delays, insufficient vehicles and lack of skilled engineers and planners etc.

A government that can not see that the more or less permanent upward trend in oil prices ahead need to be planned for now would have to be remarkably stupid!!

Public transport is very difficult to do well, but addresses the "triple bottom line" - work day commuter services boost and supporting concentrated economic activity and city and regional buses foster high spending (in NZ owned businesses!) by independent tourists ; public transport offers a part solution to environmental damage (including gross congestion and land wastage, reducing climate change emissions and lowering high levels of respiratory disease in those exposed to city street levels of  exhaust fumes); public transport addresses social needs - not least mobility support for independent youth and student traffic; the mentally and physically handicapped (many not obvious) and retired and aging members of society.

A government that can not see that public transport plays a major economic, environmental and social role, which will be increasingly called upon as the average age of the population gets older would have to be fairly shortsighted and indifferent to its responsibilities.

But who?? But who on earth could such a Government be?

Ok Ok no more clues!

Yes, thanks everybody that rang in, phones were ringing off the hook, you ALL got it right !!

You know it - we are talking about the current Government lead by the National Party.

Defying all indicators of steady and ultimately irreversible oil price rises that will severely impact upon all costs the National Party is opting to blow over a billion dollars a year on super highways, as well as normal highway maintenance and upgrades

This despite the levelling off of traffic on state highways during the last five years.

It was revealed by journalist Neil Reid in yesterday's Sunday Star-Times that John Keys, Bill English and Stephen Joyce etc intend to reduce Government funding of public transport by as much as $17 million in the next year. Auckland transport campaigner Cameron Pitches says this brings transit funding down from 1.8% of the government transport budget to a mere 0.7%.

Green Party spokesman on Transport Gareth Hughes, who drew attention to this strategy, estimates as much as $87 million could be shifted from the public transport funding pool in the decade ahead.

This despite there clearly being well over 500,000 people paying taxes or family of taxpayers (or those who have paid taxes all their life) who depend upon buses, taxis and trains

What a steal!!

With 8.1% New Zealand households having no access to a car (and probably as many depending on public transport to get kids to school, spouses to work in one car, and older people to social activities and medical appointments because they prefer not to drive) this is essentially taking money out of the pockets of the poor, the blind, the intellectually handicapped, the low paid, the struggling parents to build bigger roads for trucking firms.

Not least strengthening roads for milk tankers to our sly dairy farmers who contribute virtually nothing in taxes to the country's tax pool and get their own children transported to school for absolutely no fare whatsoever, the $162 million rural school bus tab entirely picked up by taxpayers (mostly urban tax-payers! -  sometimes alongside this paying for their own kid's city school bus costs!).

Ironically public transport use is rising steadily across the country, and this despite the fact that New Zealand is virtually without any real committed, up to date or substantial policy of public transport, and with only a few of the bigger centres offering comprehensive services. Ironically too, we still have the competent bus builders, railway workshops, experienced drivers, planners etc but already richer economies, for example Queensland and West Australia are pulling them away from NZ. At the same time the Government is starving our skilled engineers in railway workshops out of work, and failing to develop the fall back security of homeland production resources, by buying Chinese.

The new trends of bus lanes, curbed or segregated busways, bus rapid transit, effective regional services and light bus network, revolutionizing how people move in South America, China, and many developed cities and rapidly developing economies, are being ignored just at a time we should be building such an infrastructure.

The new economies with their excellent work force, student and recreational mobility will leave our country, busy building hugely expensive dinosaur motorway extentions in the dust.

A modern evolution that could well leave a naive (and of course smiling) John Key waving from his bright red and yellow noddy car far behind!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hamilton, Ontario - light rail project taking a long while to get up steam

Tranzwatching in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

New light rail projects traditionally start at about $30 million a kilometre but can go much higher.

Inevitably they engender a great deal of opposition. As  rail of any sort is confined to narrow corridors many local taxpayers baulk at the idea of funding a system that they will rarely use, particular if the line goes nowhere near the normal path of their commuting journey.  On the other hand proponents claim light rail can generate much new development in cities where built.

Based on a 7% increase needed in local property taxes (in NZ jargon "rates") to help fund the single light rail line, the Waterloo Municipal Region Council in Canada recently voted to go ahead with a light rail  proposal.  An elongated area of three contingent cities Waterloo-Kitchener-Cambridge, with a rapidly growing urban area population of about 450,000, this is the smallest urban area anywhere in North American to build light rail.

The 19.1  kilometre line will cost $818 (including factored in inflation during the building period etc) to running on segregated lanes along conventional streets, and includes a Bus Rapid Transit between Kitchener and small less densely populated Cambridge. Although the BRT costs are not known it would appear LRT  costs will come into over $35 million Canadian Dollars per kilometre.

Another Ontario city, Hamilton (somewhat larger at around 700,000 metropop) has also investigated creating a light rail line through city areas.

These  extended debates appear to be very typical of light rail projects in countries outside of Europe, Asia and South America - countries comparatively low city, regional and national density; high car ownership and relative wealth and even income spread  (CANZ - Australia, Canada, New Zealand).

For the cost per kilometre to be matched by adequate patronage and other cost benefit ratios that make light rail viable  cities usually need big populations, or commuter rail dropping lots of people into city centres, big tax payer bases and/or high density residential areas - a combination rarely found in cities below a million in "CANZ".

NZTA proposes funding cuts for Waikato public transport and safety programmes

Tranzwatching in Waikato region, Te Ika a Maui, New Zealand

Ten days ago the Government was shaking hands with Wellington Regional Council after pumping a further $88.4 million into Wellington's commuter rail system ; this week proposed cuts in New Zealand Transport Agency funding support of almost a $1 million are causing concern for the Waikato Regional Council, Environment Waikato.

According to a Voxy report these cuts and reductions include a $400,000 funding reduction for road safety programmes, a cut of between $100-200,000 in transport studies and strategy development [presumably good planning saves millions!! - NZ in Tranzit], cuts in funding local public transport infrastructure (such as bus shelters) and the removal of  $500,000 grant for regional transport planning that ensures an integrated transport network is provided for the region.

Western Newcastle residents "left five days without transport"

Tranzwatching in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

There is a push to introduce Sunday bus service in western areas of Newcastle, following the conjunction of Anzac Day and Easter which left some residents without public transport for as long as five days. 

Local Member of Parliament Clayton Barr  commented ""Five days, that's a long time to be without transport." According to this news report from ABC Newcastle he is worried some people are left house-bound because of the patchy bus service. "Mr Barr says many people are often forced to pay hefty cab fares or simply stay at home. "The most important thing that people can do and that we can offer people is the opportunity to get out and mix and mingle within their community".


In New Zealand the last census returns showed 8.1% of people do not have access to a car, though this number is typically higher in metropolitan areas, and amongst older persons and those on low incomes.

A secondary group of independent children and teenagers, and spouses, or aging relatives who have access to a car that is dependent, and often partial, time (or mood) limited by the car's prime owner/user work hours etc would probably double the figure for reduced or impaired motorised mobility.

"Crazy" that public transport would be hit by carbon tax when petrol for cars would be exempt

NZ in Tranzit - Climate change, your move. 

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard and her government have received much criticism for the new carbon tax which taxes public transport, seen by most as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The tax is designed to try to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and help fund alternatives, but like most such efforts is largely a tokenism, with little likelihood of changing habits or arresting global degradation.

Note too, the increase to public transport fares is rated to be "up to $150 a year" or less than $3 per week, presumably inner suburbs will pay even less, hardly a massive suffering, given any carbon tax must impact upon normal activity.

Many of the predictions made by the International Panel on Climate Control about ten years ago - such as increased forest fires in Russia, increased flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh and worldwide increase in hurricanes and tornadoes (and their ferocity) are now occurring. Extreme conditions and events are likely to escalate even more rapidly as sea temperatures change and sea life in "the lungs of the world" is extinguished.

Australia has already suffered massive effects from rapid global climate change - the death of over 540 people from a heatwave in Victoria in 2009 (374 deaths above average for that week and a further 174 in bush-fires) and a further 40 plus deaths and $30 billion dollars in damage from December-January floods in Queensland earlier this year.

Events like this that were once rated "once in hundred years" (though none previously so severe) are expected to occur increasingly often, perhaps as much as once a decade, if car and plane exhausts, and coal fired powered stations, in particular, across the world can not be restricted.

Meanwhile changing weather patterns, moving more rain south, have dropped the rainfall in the giant Murray River basin catchment area, the heartland of much Australia's agriculture and wine producing industry and pumping of water out has futher reduced its flow to a new norm less than two thirds pf previous - at one point flow dropped to only 16% of the average norm.

The irony of killing the planet so the the thoughtless and uncaring rich 15% of the global population who own cars (including most New Zealanders) can drive to the convenience store is that it also kills the felt quality of life.  If lifestyle changes were made - getting used to taking 45 minutes longer per day getting tofro work by public transport for example - in a matter of weeks it would be felt as the norm and feel entirely painless.

Too much comfort kills the soul and fresh quality and texture of life. Unexpected benefits from "going public" include experiencing and enjoying walking and the weather (all sorts) and chatting with neighbours at the bus stop; time to think about the day or evening ahead, reading a book without interruption (for those than can read on moving vehicles) and, not least,  "people watching" - immersion and sharing in a world of incredible human diversity. Deeper satisfactions can replace the race to get to to grave or race to get home and watch stultifying television for two or three hours!!!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Redbus reduced to asset stripping to match destruction of city public transport systems achieved by local authorities

      Five months after a disaster,  a continuing disgrace to Christchurch  
- transport authorities unable to rejoin even the most basic dots!

NZ in Tranzit - opinion

Redbus, (formerly Christchurch Transport Ltd, formerly Christchurch Transport Board) the largest and oldest by historical roots bus company in Christchurch took a huge nose dive in the last round of tenders for route contracts.

Although "old news" in Christchurch, today's Dominion Post  notes that Redbus is selling 24 late model Designline built MAN buses for use by NZ Bus in Wellington - essentially it seems an exercise in asset stripping to stay viable.

In the larger "spiritual sense" this blogster believes this represents yet a further step in the degradation of public transport in Canterbury and the continuation of a long trend of transferring the "transit wealth" northwards to Wellington and Auckland.

Transfer of Canterbury "public transport dollar" northwards has been single biggest achievement of transit governance and local authorities in Canterbury over the last decade!

The city and district councils of Canterbury have stood idly by for over a decade, allowing over $250 million of "public transport allocated" dollars in taxes, paid in Canterbury (13% of NZ population) to be shifted north, across Cook Strait, to fund commuter rail, regional rail and bus, and busways in Wellington and Auckland.

Barely a voice has ever been raised in protest and never has any significant research, development and strategic development of mass transit, in anyway equivalent to that  implemented in Auckland or Wellington been developed in Canterbury.

Even a rather sickly policy of low level part time, part route on street bus lanes has been stymied, sent back to the future,  after only a third were built! Opportunities to shorten and strengthen routes, widen roads to include "queue jumper" lanes, acquire property to build bus rapid transit corridors, building suburban bus stations, bus priority at traffic lights - all projects needing modest funding (tens of millions rather than hundreds)  have been passed over and over. Even putting a simple, low cost bus tunnel under the new motorway to serve a major industrial area passed by the collective wisdom of public transport leadership ion Christchurch. As did regional commuter buses, even though Canterbury pay about $4 million towards Wellington's regional services!

Please, please, don't blame the earthquake!

The gross failure and inadequacy of public transport following the earthquakes revealed not so much the severity of the earthquake as the lack of commitment to public transport, unprofessional management standards and failure to quickly find solutions to challenges presented.

I mean - just how many days does it take to find an adequate stretch of roading away from private houses or danger zones and restructure road management to allow buses traveling in both directions to operate an (two way) exchange system??  And it doesn't need to be central city - that's a separate issue.

The point of an exchange is that it mediates the free flow of bus journeys across the whole city.  Access to a walk in catchment is useful but hardly a key issue. Certainly not an issue for those five months later still being cheated of a 15 minute service at dozens of locations across the city, increasing missed buses and adding hours of potential waiting to their working week,  and others spending two hours to travel 10 kilometres because of the bizarre multiple transfers needed.

Given the status of the central city with virtually no larger office complexes and few retailers operating, adequate shuttle services around safe areas is the issue here.  Businesses outside the red zone need city support to get back on their feet, inner city residents need some way of getting out of their areas to work, or shop or grocery shop. And why dump The Shuttle, just when thousands of inner city residents need it (albeit re-routed) and when linking re-activated parts of the inner city to current bus routes and transfer points is the key priority.

That Redbus is having to strip assets and sell very late model buses to Wellington is just par for the course!

At last the company is figuring out how public transport is managed in Christchurch!

But fear not the Christchurch Tramway system will be saved, eventually pointlessly routed to a sports stadium used less than once a week (if it survives)  and lo, light rail shall descend from heaven!

And magically bus patronage shall rise to 30 million passengers per year,  just because ECAn says it will.

** Christchurch City Holdings Annual Review 2009 (page 33) available here

Friday, July 15, 2011

Greyhound USA in the running to see mandatory bus safety measures introduced.

Tranzwatching bus tech in the USA

Compulsory seatbelts in buses; higher standards in minimum requirements for anchoring seats to floor and bodywork of buses; great roof strengthening to act as roll bars; fire extinguishing systems; tyre pressure monitor systems. These are just a few of the safety measures operative in some buses and coaches in the US, but not by all.

The US senate is looking at whether to make these safety features mandatory following several fatal bus crashes this year, mainly involving cut price operators riding the rapid growth in city to city regional bus use (in particular amongst the educated young) in the heavily populated North-Eastern corridor between New York, Washington DC, and Boston etc.

America's biggest long distance coachline Greyhound says it supports mandatory safety measures. 

Bus driver refuses to load unruly high school students, drives off.

Tranzwatching in Marlborough, Te Wai Pounamu, New Zealand

A Blenheim bus driver refused to load a group of unruly high school students traveling from Renwick to Marlborough Boys College, after their pushing and jostling almost put a boy under the wheels of the bus. The Principal of the College has backed the driver.

Comment. Fair enough - there are times when it is ludicrous to expect a bus driver focusing on the road to be responsible for controlling 20-50 hyped up teenagers! In situations like this an assembly line painted on the footpath well back from the bus stopping area is needed -  it is very freaky when kids (or crowds after big events) push towards a bus before it has stopped moving.

Adelaide new buses and timetables

Tranzwatching in Adelaide, South Australia.

ADELAIDE bus commuters will have more night and weekend services on major routes following the biggest shake-up of bus services in six years.  Buses are the most popular form of public transport in Adelaide, with 51 million passenger trips a year accounting for 80 per cent of journeys. This briief news item from Adelaide Now also includes a quick video look at one the city's beautiful new buses.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cambridge Guided Busway "a fantastically smooth ride" - bus driver

       Guided busway near Over, Combridgeshire Photo Wikimedia Commons

Tranzwatching in Cambridge, United Kingdom

Few public transport projects - rail, tram or bus - have had quite such a topsy turvy up and down ride in the making as the saga of the world's longest guided busway built between UK university city Cambridge and surrounding small towns, utilising the corridor of land of a former railway line. Even now legal action between replaced construction firm BAM Nuttall and the Cambridge Council continues.

But the busway itself ....due to open for use in about three weeks ...the effect of combining latest buses with a preset concrete guide track ....according to veteran Stagecoach bus driver Mike Capper, “It’s a fantastically smooth ride now compared to when I started driving all those years ago. It’s amazing. The A14 or this? There is no comparison.”

A moving track laying machine for guided busway concrete guide rails created by BAM Nuttall. . I would imagine the potential of such busways to be used by trucking companies, including oversize road trains at night after bus services cease, can not be ignored. In  effect this finds middle ground between rail and road in freight as well as passenger traffic. With hundreds of kilometres of disused rail corridors in the UK this busway is also seen as a significant experiment, watched with keen interest by British transport operators and authhorities, incuding the Transport Ministry. (Photos Thanks  to Wikimedia Commons)

Porirua - Free rides offered in effort to save trial service

Tranzwatching in Porirua City, Te Ika a Maui, New Zealand

Wellington Regional Council's Metlink is offering residents of Porirua East the chance to ride a trial bus service free in order to attract enough patrons to assure survival of the service. The three trips mid-day service, started in February but will end on August 15th unless patronage increases. The service has a dial up facility allowing passengers to arrange for it to stop adjacent to their homes but this has not appeared to have boosted usage to required benchmarks.

Comment - These sorts of  social bus services - "middle of the day access the local shopping centre services" are often called for by resident groups, care giver organisations or local politicians but it is rare to see any of them do well. I remember years ago in Christchurch - when buses just ran as spokes without connecting to common peripheral points or outer shopping complexes - the politicians of the Paparoa County Council (which before amalgamation administered the western most areas of Christchurch) requested a shoppers bus between working class Hei Hei and local shopping hub Hornby. The service was abandoned after extremely low patronage (one afternoon trip recorded an average load of a third of a passenger per trip - bizarre image this one!). Yet later this same link was added to the tail end of the full time Hei Hei service and gets plenty of patronage, not least because Hornby Mall and adjacent shopping complexes have never stopped growing, with further expansion planned.

I suspect in low density populations like NZ bus routes really need to be structured around a whole range of functions and passenger traffic generator points to even get to basic level viability. The "social" role, so commonly played up by well paid politicians who never catch buses (intermittent use by shoppers, for visits to doctors, service hubs etc) is probably the least reliable patronage base.

Regional commuter bus service proves popular in British Columbia

Tranzwatching in Cowichan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Bus ridership between Duncan and the capital of British Columbia,Victoria (60km apart) has more than doubled on the Cowichan Valley Commuter service since it began nearly three years ago, according to transit officials reported in Victoria's newspaper, The Time-Colonist. 

Between October 2008, when the service began, and March 2011, the average number of monthly riders has gone from 2,727 to 5,890, an increase of 116 per cent. The commuter service offers four buses each way from Duncan and two from another area in the region.

The Cowichan Valley region is home to over 76,000 people, with Duncan the district centre having a population of around 5000 residents. Victoria is a similar size to Christchurch NZ

France's second biggest city; Los Angeles; Moving towards Light Bus Network

Tranzwatching in Los Angeles and Lyon

A recent article by US transit writer Yonah Freemark in his highly respected blog "The Transport Politic" reveals both the City of Lyon in France and Los Angeles, USA appear to be moving towards Light Bus Network, the conceptual framework put forward in several recent "NZ in Tranzit" postings.

Obviously this is not because they read this obscure bottom-of-the-world publication, or indeed have even heard of this curious new expression "Light Bus Network" (a handy way of packaging and marketing a raft of interacting strategies and technologies and to alert the world to the fact that buses have moved on).

Rather the "Light Bus" concept itself brings together and builds upon growing trends in bus service delivery world wide, a  pattern of moving away from the concept of single linear journeys like a tram or train, towards a mosaic pattern where passengers can move faster and in every different direction, in particular using transfers to hop around a city.

A part of this is a simple and easy to read bus network, in the case of Lyon (capital of a region of almost 3 million people) with a hierarchy of routes, according to frequency and degree of pastronage. New peripheral routes, similar to The Orbiter in Christchurch are being introduced in Lyon as elsewhere too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Christchurch City Council dumps Shuttle bus service

..........."By any measure "The Shuttle" appears to be one of the most successful bus systems anywhere in the equivalent world "

A scene gone forever?  Inside The Shuttle, northbound, passing The Shuttle, southbound, on Colombo St

Faced with extra costs and reduced rates [local property taxes] income as a result of massive earthquake damage the Christchurch City Council appears to have permanently dropped "The Shuttle", an iconic central business district serving free bus service that used distinctive Designline gas-electric hybrid buses.

The move, listed in a CCC agenda of 29th and 30th June,[p14] was unequivocal "Removal of Central City Shuttle. Removal of the Central City Shuttle service is proposed, which would result in savings of $1,050,000." There is nothing in the subsequent minutes to suggest there was any move to stop this, or take the more obvious step of suspending the service or applying a small charge.

[ Note added August 30th - the recently released Annual Plan 2011-12 has the comment besde Shuttle Bus - "Re-evaluate when central city up and running again" . No reference is made to providing public transport for the large number of people still living, studying and working around the inner city areas that are not cordoned off during those months or years ahead]
By any measure "The Shuttle" appears to be one of the most successful bus systems anywhere in the equivalent world of lower density high car ownership smaller cities. Despite a capital outlay, believed to be less than $2 million - basically four state-of-the-art for their era (1998) buses at $400,000,  - The Shuttle has built up a patronage of over a million passenger trips per year ferrying locals, foreign ESOL* students, Casino visitors, and tourists in general. around the central areas of Christchurch.

User friendlty, tourist friendly -  The Shuttle

One has only to look at other small cities that made the mistake of investing in light rail - Tacoma in Washington State,  for example (the smallest metropolitan area in North America with light rail) who paid over $US80.4 million for it "Tacoma Link" light CBD route, shorter than "The Shuttle" in Christchurch and carrying slightly less passengers at 20 times the capital cost - to realise how much luck and insight Christchurch had in its choices.

A feature of this choice was that Christchurch received early designs of  an innovative bus builder, John Turton, based in Ashburton only 80km south - their playful style and high profile appearance, coupled with a simple well identified route, has undoubtedly been a factor in their success - easily identified by tourists and locals alike.

"The Shuttle" has been a huge factor in simulating central city living - as is obvious by the steady patronage of shoppers from Moorhouse Avenue supermarkets carrying groceries back up to north city central flats, as well as a user friendly, easily identified way for tourists to get to the Casino and other central city retailing and heritage areas.

Twilight of an icon??

The goal of Christchurch City Council who funded the project (without any apparent Government subsidy) was to keep the costs below a $1 per passenger (to be precise $0.97 cents per passenger operating costs) and to carry 850,000 passengers a year.

Before the relentless and devastating  season of earthquakes these thresholds appear to have been well exceeded with annual ridership exceeding a million trips in 2009.

Although the service was free, the actual subsidy rate was well below that paid out to fund other Chruistchurch suburban buses services where typically city rates and national tax subsidies appear to fund somewhere around $2.00 per passenger boarding.

Even allowing for a couple of new buses or the rebuild and upgrade of bus technologies after 15 years (as is commonly done with commercial buses) the total capital cost spread across 25 years would have been well below $5 million, or adding costs of about 20 cents a passenger in that standard infrastructure cost measuring period! In contrast it would take almost  $20 million to introduce four equivalent small modern trams and many millions of dollars in infrastructure cost recovery to bring real tram costs down.

However it is the cost-benefit ratio to the city - in perceived CBD accessibility; in being a user friendly city for tourists; in stimulating uses of buses in general, in  helping attract foreign students, in creating a lively modern eco-image (The Shuttle is believed to have been the first timetabled service hybrid bus system anywhere in the world); in making inner city living possible without a car; that has been The Shuttle's real gift to the city.

The cost of a trip on The Shuttle stands in stark contrast to the the Heritage tram, which asked $17 per adult fare for a 30 minute commentated tourist trip - albeit reflecting real costs and  a profit margin to private operaters -  expensive if entertaining for tourists it has proved hopelessly slow for locals, even when offered an annual pass at very low rates!  The large sectors of heritage tram tracks built upon pedestrian malls disallows faster trips and minimise value for an alternative form of shuttle (quite apart from trams going nowhere near Town Hall, Convention Centre, Casino, supermarkets or  or CPIT!) and would only increase the risk of horrendous accidents, such as occurred a few weeks ago in Melbourne.

By contrast "The Shuttle" running on a ten minute free service, lived up to its slightly  retro sci fi "Jetsons" cartoon image by sliding in and out of traffic seamlessly and quietly carrying large numbers of patrons, not least from the local tertiary education centre CPIT and other ESOL and from Nanny colleges tofro the city centre proper and the Bus Exchange.

One can only presume Gerry Brownlees and the National Party led Government may have refused Council requests for funding for The Shuttle, which having the flexibility to be re-routed to suit post-earthquake conditions (avoiding cordoned off danger zones or endangered building "drop zones") could play such a huge role in maintaining inner city residential, educational and retail survival and recovery and morale.

Another alternative might have been to create a nominal fare (cash or Metrocard) of $1 which, even with reduced patronage and a 50% farebox subsidy (as promised by the Government!) would have probably met most costs, reducing the immediate costs to Christchurch ratepayers, whilst still stimulating the tourist, ESOL, tertiary studies, retail and inner city living revival.

Instead the city is left with grim prospect of waiting for over a year to a very expensive and not very effective for local purposes heritage tram system to crank up. Or a mix of buses passing through various areas, which and where not at all clear to most locals, let alone tourists, and with a boarding threshold for adults paying with a Metrocard of $2.30 (albeit recovered if used again or on other buses within two hours).

Dropping "The Shuttle"  is a huge loss to Christchurch, directly and in undermining wider use of buses to access the city centre; a short sighted decision,  and let's be honest - probably a good reflection of how ill equipped the current city administration itself would ever be to take over operating a  public transport system, as our Mayor has suggested.

Dropping "The Shuttle" is a huge
and unnecessary loss to an already devastated city !

* ESOL =  English as a Second Language, the NZ term for language immersion schools. Students typically stay in the city between 3 months and a year whilst learning fluent English. The heavy bus patronage by foreign students, has been a significant factor in boosting bus patronage and making regular evening and weekend services better patronised and more viable than they might otherwise be.

All photos by David Welch; the Cathedral Spire (visible in top photo) and Provincial Government building central stone tower, built 1860s, (bottom photo) both suffered catastrophic collapse in the Feb 22nd aftershock.