Thursday, July 5, 2012

Major flaws seen in Christchurch Metro route change proposal

After twelve years of talking about proposed transfer stations this is still the best the Council can do at Westfield, probably the busiest bus stop and transfer point in the system

NZ in Tranzit sees major flaws in the proposal for north-south axis  bus routes changes now being circulated for consultation and public feedback by Environment Canterbury/Metro.

The proposal put forward by Metro is seen as most unlikely to achieve a goal of  increasing patronage, given ... that very many journeys will take significantly longer (including equated waiting time)

Only in a tiny percentage of situations/locations are a small sector of patrons offered a shorter or more frequent service than at present, despite all the "high frequency" hype.

An effective transfer system (including the necessary added infrastructure) woven into the city's radial route network is long overdue - but this is not it. 

More links to outer area work places and a reduced number of buses travelling into the city is a logical strategy, both long term and in response to the reduction in central city activity as a result of earthquake destruction and demolition.  

However these routes need to be fairly and consistently dispersed. In particular service levels must be linked to residential concentration, reflecting the ratepayer base Metro is paid to serve.

Destroying one model before the other has been developed tested and proven to work in actual practice, is unsound planning.

NZ in Tranzit believes this is very poor planning - radical change involving destruction of one system (140 years old) and, in many areas, replacement with another never properly tested, runs contrary to best practice methods of change management. This is "throwing out the bathwater..." and the complexity of doing public transport well suggest phased, monitored and fine tuned evolution into new patterns of moving people is an absolute necessity.

Good planning should increase options, this proposal reduces options for many residents, forcing them to transfer or walk considerable distances if they wish to travel to the city area and beyond.

Lacks logical pattern and fair distribution of services to ratepayers on the basis of residential dispersement

Good public transport is about logical and symmetrical patterns, easy for the mind to grasp and "read", that offer public transport options at various levels of service frequency and priority - the ideas put forward and the frequencies listed in the Metro proposal are just a hodge-podge of "pin in the map" planning and knee-jerk over reaction" . 

For example a higher frequency service such as The Comet (15 minutes peak hour, 30 minutes at other times) is sent to Redwood/Grimseys Road, even though most the route overlaps other high frequency services and about a third of the catchment can walk to Main North Road, whilst many ratepayers in many other northern and north-western areas only get an hourly service, and that only a link to a transfer point. 

Another example residents of one section of Harewood road get 10 buses an hour (The Orbiter, The Comet) to Northlands, whilst those from central St Albans/southern areas of Papanui or Casebrook in the daytime  get only an hourly link.

Another example the more concentrated block of residents around Casebrook and Regents Park  (including workplace in Claridges Road) get a half hourly service at peak hours and only hourly the rest of the time, but the paddocks and sparse housing of Hussey Road get a 30 minute service all day long.

While it is not possible to get perfectly balanced distribution of services - people living near hub points will typically get more services- routes have to fit roading patterns etc, the distribution of routes and service frequencies put forward by Metro lack creditibility and system structure strength.

Transfers unlikely to work well when only hourly services are involved

There is a sort of impression generated in Metro media that services on Papanui Road will be more frequent (actually about a 25% reduction over all, but better organised) and that promoting this service and access to it by half hourly and hourly services from other areas makes a faster more frequent service. 

This is neither logical or true. If you have to catch an hourly bus to transfer point for a ten minute service, your local frequency is hourly (in many cases reduced from a previous half hourly service to the city) and your overall journey is disrupted and longer. On the outbound trip the potential to miss the hourly connection is huge. 

Transfers unlikely to be effective or attractive without major investment in improved infrastructure and hugely increased commitment  from both Councils.

The whole change being promoted is clearly about cutting costs which does not bode well for the provision of adequate transfer locations, let alone sophisticated suburban interchange stations being built , similar to elsewhere NZ and the world. Historically both Environment Canterbury and the City Council have failed to win Government funding and/or develop even relatively simple proper bus priority measures as planned. Their combined record is abysmal, and was so way years before any earthquakes. Arguably that failure to get their act together lost the city millions of dollars in the same period Auckland received $246 million from the Government for three different bus priority projects. Over a decade Wellington and Auckland received over $2 billion for other commuter (rail) projects, Christchurch - virtually nothing asked for (other than the new underground bus exchange) and nothing gained. We continue to stand in the rain (as above taken two days ago at the Westfield "transfer station", 1950s style.

Metro or its operators, such as Redbus, have made little attempt to make sure limited services serving common points were fairly dispersed (for some years running the hourly Saturday evening and all day Sunday buses on Routes 10 and 12  through Thorrington and Beckenham almost simultaneously, with 10 departing for the Bishopdale area virtually simultaneously with the Bishopdale bus! This also had the effect of the 29 Airport bus (which alternated with 10 in offering Airport access) of ensuring both hourly services to the Burnside area ran almost simultaneously. These completely ignoring other simple options (or letters sent questioning such dubious practices).  If they don't care about customers to this level, or are incapable of maximising integrated patterns on a Saturday evening or Sunday service, don't expect miracles with less budget and busier roads now!  

Nor has Metro made many attempt to align routes to facilitate transfers - The Palms for example has six separate in and out stops separated by major roads and about 200 metres walk. 

Throughout town buses pass close to each other instead of interacting to facilitate transfers. Riccarton stops are intersected by a hugely busy and dangerous road without even a secure crossing,friendly to bus users. The busiest route through Barrington, The Orbiter,  does not even connect at the same stopping zone as all the other bus services.  This is a base level of planning and passenger support  Metro and Council have been unable to do well;  again, don't expect any miracles. 

No room for transfer buses to park or wait on Main North Road! The Kaiapoi Schools bus stopped at front, forced buses behind to load passengers out on the roading (see photo below). Where is the room to grow an effective transfer system? What confidence can patrons have in a system allowed by Ecan and Council to operate at these shoddy standards?  Photos NZ in Tranzit  on 25 June 2012

There is absolutely no room for buses to stop or wait on Main North Road at Northlands, nor can Main Road services like Rangiora divert down side-streets on an effective straight forward journey pattern The only effective transfer station in this location will involve sophisticated and expensive land purchase and building construction either side (and probably a large pedestrian subway under) Main North Road for which clearly there is no Council commitment and no budget.

Other infrastructure to ensure buses run on time - crucial to an effective transfer - at multiple areas around the city (such as Blighs Road in morning and evening peaks) is also unlikely on a reduced budget. Even the entrance to Northland stops was never protected or laned.

All in all the proposal is heading in a direction Metro and city need to take,  but as suggested in this Metro proposal and on the track record of Metro/city council commitment, caring and ability  NZ in Tranzit sees this as a recipe for disaster and a major loss of patronage!!

Blighs Road heading to Papanui Road early evening peak with a tail back almost to railway crossing  - Spot the new bus service (proposed) managing to run on consistent time for those travelling from Sheffield Crescent work zones and needing to connect with service to Rangiora when stuck in this queue? And the day the queue isn't so busy, where does the too early bus stop then - in the bus lanes on Papanui Road?

Some Transfer Station sites as seen  by NZ in Tranzit last year

and more recently - Hot-spot exposes a city falling far short of quality public transport


  1. Thanks for this well thought out and informative post. As you have pointed out in other posts, alternative transport options in Christchurch have received extremely low priority from the City Council over the years. I am waiting to see what further public reaction there will be to these proposals as the draft leaflet has only just been released. We need an effective transport lobby like CBT in Christchurch, an idea that has been growing on me for the past few months. When you refer to the lack of getting it together by Ecan and CCC - I feel most of that is CCC's fault - due to their huge conflict of interest in subsidising their rates with public transport funds from being a bus operator - and also their inevitable antagonism towards Ecan. Up until the earthquakes Ecan had done more than any predecessor to improve the quality and popularity of public transport in Christchurch. This is all going to be undone by the unelected unaccountable commissioners - reflecting the Government's overall intention of downgrading local government funding and provision of core public services.

    I'm writing a bit over at my own blog -

  2. I work at the Cavendish Business Park in Cavendish Rd, previously well served by the no.8 bus. Many people using this bus from Barrington Mall and points south would now have to take three buses to get to work--my guess is they will give up the bus as their preferred option, as travel could take up to an hour longer.

  3. Hi Anonymous (No.820121229) - I find it very hard myself to understand why the route (17 on the Metro proposed changes brochure) running via Husseys Road and Willowbank is being given favour with (a) a through service to the city (b) 30 minute services at all times, yet is very peripheral to the main body of Northcote housing and completely misses industrial/office park areas in Cavendish Road, and also has lots of costly running through open country. Surely the democratic bias and cost effective option should be to offer maximum city direct/frequency to the greatest number of people. Adding an extra loop section into the (current)8 route -about 2-3 mins extra travelling time - through the Northcote area and then travelling back to Cavendish Rd, Regents Park and then back onto Main North Road and doing a loop through Northwood would probably only need one extra bus in the pattern. I don't mean to be mean to Willowbank etc (lovely place) but if there is not enough Metro money to go around then regular (minimum every 30 minutes!) access tofo schools,shopping, work etc from densely populated areas must take precedence over semi-rural areas. Why not just a flashing orange light signal on Styx Mill - "Slow buses exiting" - to allow greater ease of Northbound buses exiting Regents Park. The public transport system shouldn't have to jump through hoops or drive through huge expensive loops just cause the council doesn't do very much create effective bus corridors [watch the blog, for more on Northwood buses soon!!]

  4. Service cuts are service cuts how ever you dress them up. The question is if they hadn't turned some low use routes into feeders would those routes be cut all together to achieve the same cost saving?

    A contact at Ecan told me that the proposed 108 and 109 routes are actually meant to be shown as half hourly during the day, not hourly and it is a printing/proofing error.

  5. It would be interesting if Ecan would publish details of how much extra and emergency funding has been sought from the Government, CERA etc to maintain adequate public transport levels,and how much has been given. Measured against $30 billion in recovery (much of it of course funded from insurance, EQC, Council insurance we have paid for in premiums)or $2.5 billion in rail and busway infrastructure investment in Wellington and Auckland since 2000, the sums needed for a properly funded emergency plan for Christchurch public transport are only modest, just and an essential part of recovery. Without something adequate my guess is the city will not recover a proper metropolitan bus service for a decade, particularly given the huge damage to status and patronage likely from the currently proposed system. One only has to travel around the city to know every body's still here, every body is out there moving but Metro and the Council haven't committed the resources to find out where, and respond with the services people need. To me the proposals barely touch reorientation of the services to new work places, 90% is the same old stuff - but done twice as badly. The suggested extension The Comet service (as recently suggested) is a classic example, a very specific project that the Government should be asked to seed fund for five years as part of the rebuilt.

  6. Re. additional funding for Metro I have suggested to Ecan sell the front of Metrocards as ad space.

    The MTA in New York City has announced they will do this and expect it will earn them siginificant revenue.

    Re. the Riccarton transfer area - yes, it is a disgrace and a safety hazard. What would government safety agencies make of it? People of all ages darting amongst busy traffic, not to mention the lack of adequate shelter.

    Ecan have kicked the date on creating a safe, decent transfer hub further away. This is not good enough and we should lobby them, the CCC and government safety agencies demaninding better NOW.

  7. Damn, I find the metro less and less user friendly. It's very frustrating to look for bus options and realize in most cases its (far) quicker to walk. If the metro doesn't fix the mess it continues to develop I don't see how it can expect to grow. Many people I talk to don't bus because they see it below them, they don't bus because the metro's routes and transfers mean they could be turning a relatively short trip into an hour+ ordeal (and that's if the busses actually show up even close to on time).

    I bike everywhere nowdays which is it's own fun due to the one way streets designed only for cars and drivers who think cyclists are vermin taking up precious space. Probably going to go back to cars in the near future after a few years of doing my best to be more eco-concious.