Saturday, August 20, 2011

Staycations helping create huge rise in UK regional passenger rail

NZ in Tranzit  on regional public transport patterns  - from UK to Ashburton

The Canterbury wide public transport network, with a regional commuter orientated service between Timaru, Ashburton and Christchurch, linking up intermediate settlements, and Geraldine and Methven could be described as  "outstanding in its field". 

This is an old rural term. It means if your looking to catch a bus to work, study or appointments, in Ashburton or Christchurch or catch a morning flight from CIAL you may as well stand in a paddock whistling till the cows come home, because there is no coach quality coach service that leaves Timaru northbound before 10 am.

Nor is there any comprehensive mid day pattern of services, allowing older residents in particular, to stay living in smaller settlements and keep their independence and access to resources even without using a car.  A regular coach service both directions would void the need of aging residents to drive on the unpleasantly busy state highway when travelling to Timaru, Ashburton or Christchurch.

It is a pity that the South Canterbury councils lack the nous to try to expand commuter links and create an across the day coverage in both directions (and between all settlements) because there seems to be a major upswing in regional and inter-city travel by public transport occurring in the UK and USA and Canada and (these patterns usually cross borders) I suspect around New Zealand. Even Tasmania appears to be running rings around Canterbury with regional commuter growth

InterCity Coachlines for example boast 23 services a day between Auckland and the Waikato, and Waikato itself has a region wide network supported by Environment Waikato (regional council) that makes Canterbury's lack of regional links look particularly pathetic. (When I suggested that the ECan/Metro website have timetable and contact links to all bus services in the region in a submission to the Regional Land Transport strategy in 2006 I was told the complications of maintaining an upto date website was beyond their capacity!! ).

Not long ago NZ in Tranzit reported the rapid growth of discount bus lines in North eastern USA -also booming is the US inter-city rail service which has had  record-breaking patronage in its last financial year. The BBC now reports phenomenal growth in the United Kingdom of regional rail services, with ridership [US term but a goodie!] doubling or almost doubling to some seaside resort towns.

A major factor is seen as the "staycation" - the increasing oil costs leading more people to vacation closer to home. Although the real effect of higher oil price rises has been disguised in New Zealand by the high New Zealand dollar, the long term prognosis for oil costs suggests a more localised tourism is likely to grow in NZ too. Indeed greater local tourism may be needed to compensate for declines in overseas tourism that higher oil prices could bring (more through falling wealth in tourist home countries than actual airline fares).

Adding value and activities and marketing to regional tourism, including enhanced public transport access, is a good way economies such as Timaru might bring growth to their city even in a time of rising oil costs.

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