Although the spotlight is usually on rail buses carry 80% of passenger carried by public transport, world-wide, according to the UITP (The International Association of Public Transport = L'Union internationale des transports publics) the world's major federation of public transport operators.
In the United Kingdom, as elsewhere, the role the bus plays in sustaining the economy and social infrastructure is being re-evaluated, seen through fresh eyes. In many ways the bus is so successful, even without supportive funding and priority status on roads, that it gets overlooked.
The United Kingdom daily paper/website The Telegraph recently carried a story about this process of re-evaluation, with accompanying You Tubes of a panel discussion, under the headline "Buses to provide good return for investment" The story noted -
The bus is too often the unsung mode of transport when it comes to thecontribution it can make towards financial recovery. As we struggle to
come out of the economic doldrums, buses have a vital role to play in
getting people to work and delivering shoppers to the high street.
This September a new report, 'Buses and Economic Growth', will be
published ahead of the party conference season.
Commissioned by Greener Journeys, an organisation dedicated to
encouraging people to switch from the car to the bus, and conducted by
the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, the
report will aim to show policymakers the benefits of adopting a
positive approach to the bus as a key form of transport.
An interesting statistics is that even with Britain's extensive regional commuter rail systems and London's underground, buses still carry two thirds of all public transport passengers.
Proposals in the Christchurch Central City draft Plan that $400 million be spent on a single 7.5 km light rail line between the city centre centre and the university and only $40 million on the remaining 250 km plus bus system would seem to suggest Christchurch too, overlooks the real potential of a competent bus system adequately funded.
To be truly successful buses need the same status of rail - unimpeded access at all times - even on the busiest roads or their own segregated busway corridors and to interact in predictable patterns at multiple transfer stations and transfer nodes, so transfers (travel in any direction from any location) are easy to make and easy to remember and involve less than 10 minutes wait at any time.
Added features for buses themselves, most of them coming in already at various places in the world - include upgrading buses to more leg room between seats, wider seats (three across) in a more bucket style, plug in wi-fi sockets, top class transmission (no jerk in gear changes), driver smooth flow monitor systems (no jerk behind the wheel), computerised stabilisers, automatic braking, engines that switch off when idling, articulated super buses offering 90 seats, space for 2-6 bicycles per bus. All road surfaces would be regularly checked by computerised sweeps and buses given maximum quality heavy grade road smooth surfaces including as far as possible along curbside bus lanes.
In key points, to give residents cross town access or access to outer areas directly (by-passing mall area congestion) bus, cycle and pedestrian underpasses of busy roads would be built - such as under the motorway at Annex Road (Western Busway); under QEII Drive at Grimseys Road (Northern Busway corridor) and under Worcester Street at Linwood Avenue (Eastern areas bus rapid access).
At all major stops, attracting constantly large numbers, bus shelters would be upgraded to have legible integrated timetable information (not the current shameful hotch potch!) and real time signage, with shelters big enough to keep off weather, with both inside and outside seating. Transfer stations would be air conditioned/heated and include a host/security person, toilets, baby change, telephone, snack bar, real time signage, kiss and ride 2 minute drop off parking, an adjacent taxi rank. A number of routes would be greatly improved by subtle route changes entering on to or across busy roads by virtue of bus only traffic signals or a system of high profile signs and activated amber flashing lights, "GIVE WAY To Exiting Buses". Likewise where bus lanes finished a small island between lanes with a similar high profile signage might offer the same advantage, GIVE WAY To Merging Buses. Major bus lanes could include some that are permanent (full time) bus lanes. Some likely candidates - from the rear of the Casino right down Durham Street, Cambridge Terrace to the Central Bus Station; along Tuam Street from the Public Hospital to the Central Bus Exchange; between Milton Street and Brougham on Colombo; leading into the Northlands bus stop; from the Barrington Street overbridge to Blenheim Road on Whiteleigh Avenue (southside). These ensure even at times of big events or on Weekends where traffic can just as busy as weekdays, buses continue to by-pass queues and maintain schedules or bank in queues if that is needed. Note; We accept miles and miles of footpath which is only lightly used, empty most of the time, yet it is of course very necessary when needed; despite the bleating of motorists we need to accept the same "empty most the time but available every-time when needed" concept with bus lanes at bottle neck points. A tiny fraction of the total road-space in the city, but a key to fostering more patronage 9and status) of buses and the flow on benefit, more frequent services.
A centralised computer control and a system of cutting in or out of standby buses to maintain schedules on key routes.
And so on...and on...we spend millions and millions on cars..next to nothing on buses and wonder why they can't compete, don't attract any significant portion of journeys! In Christchurch, though our bus systems are better than most cities (yes, despite my constant criticism), we have barely begun - barely begun - to build a modern bus system suitable to address climate change, peak oil, community enhancement, maximum work access, minimum travel times, and a vibrant lively city that puts people on the streets.
This sort of system, rapid transit corridors with intersecting hub points, and attractive effective technology is not built for $40 million!!