Saturday, August 3, 2013

Electric Bus Way corridors in Christchurch - and Government must contribute

Chinese built BYD all electric bus (runs on four hub motors) in service in Holland (per Wikimedia Commons)

Todays news; ....... a prototype built by Swiss engineering conglomerate ABB – is an articulated, or bendy bus that can carry 135 people and has just one battery pack on the roof that gets “flash-charged” in as little as 15 seconds as passengers get on or off, by a recharging station the size of an overgrown lamppost.

It is a mistake to see the billions of dollars being poured into Christchurch earthquake recovery as some sort of generous gift. It is appreciated but it is not in anyway charity, not a hand out.

The Government is picking up about two thirds the tab for rebuilds of infrastructure such as roads and sewerage. These are normally costs entirely covered from local taxes (rates) and tasks entirely funded by local government. But the sequence of 13,000 earthquakes Christchurch endured, with huge damage and significant loss of life,  is recognised as a national disaster and the Government has the implicit role of sharing the burden across all taxpayers. That's their job, the right of any town or city faced with a major disaster to expect.

The Government to their credit recognises some elements of rebuild may go beyond just replacing "what was", a superior system in the infrastructure involved  could be implemented and it is logical to do so whilst rebuilding the original elements. The Government says it will also support these where seen as sensible.

But all this said and done, to return Christchurch to where it was before the earthquake will in many aspects see Christchurch set further back in any attempt to remain competitive with Auckland and Wellington. Nowhere more so than in matters of public transport. 

Again and again we get assured by cliches  that Christchurch does not intend to make the same mistakes Auckland did. What a bloody shambles it is already, even though we are still well below future expected traffic levels.

After massive motorway investment (from all taxpayers!) over the last 40 years, Auckland has belatedly discovered that building to meet increased car usage may look like one is building a super modern motorway -  but is really building something far more old fashion, a dead end street. 

Only transit -  buses, light rail, commuter rail,  - can carry very large numbers of people down a single land corridor simultaneously, and if given absolute Right of Way, often much faster than the equivalent number of people in cars.

So if Christchurch  wants not just catch up but get ahead in the prosperity stakes, the matter is simple and clear. Spiritually we must dump the outdated style of bus system we are running and place public transport on the same level of importance as private cars. This does not downgrade cars. Apart from one or two intersections narrowed it does not even disadvantage cars. 

But it does implicitly recognise buses can not compete on the same level as cars if buses have to stop and start in traffic queues as well stop and start to pick up passengers. 

They therefore must have an advantage that cars do not have, freedom of movement, primary right of way in many situations and bus (or bus and active modes) specific technology including segregated bus way corridors, permanent bus lanes at any congested point, part-time bus lanes where viable and  no (or very minimal) queuing at traffic lights.  

It should be possible to get from point A to B pretty much in the same time, regardless of the time of day, or day of the week. This in turn, also lifts buses out of their 20th century limitation of being limited to offering travel only in two directions per route. It offers a sophisticated grid of relatively fast travel in any direction.

Because with all the modern electronic and computerised support systems now available, a predictable travel time means a predictable pattern of integrated travel, bus A travelling roughly north-south always goes through location XYZ, 8 minutes before bus B, travelling roughly east-west, and 15 minutes before bus C to the University and Airport etc. 

You don't need a timetable or an APP if a regular user, it is a pattern as predictable as night follows day. Across the whole city. Any regular trip will become a known pattern, possibly with supplementary patterns for other alternatives.

Unless Christchurch does this mental jump now and creates a complete pattern of integrated bus corridors, and linked transfer stations and associated facilities it can forget following this bullshit about not repeating Auckland's mistakes. 

It is not rocket science - what blocks it is the mentality of the politicians, the voting ratepayers and even the bus users themselves. I had to laugh when a survey showed that 87% of people are satisfied with public transport infrastructure. Quite apart from most of these questioned per se not being regular bus users or dependent upon buses in general we are so deprived in Christchurch  even bus users do  have a relevant vision of what modern public transport can and should be doing in this era! 

We have some nice clean new buses and most driven reasonably well by courteous drivers and we have a range of reasonably high frequency routes and everybody - comparing this to 20 or 30 years ago thinks "Wow, what a great bus system Christchurch has". 

No we don't and this is very easy to prove because such a small percentage of people use buses on a regular basis, even for commuting. They vote with their feet. They intrinsically say using the car is far better and more effective for me than catching a bus. And this is true, and probably always will be for 75% of peak commuters (including also those who can walk or bike easily to work from home). But what a massive improvement on city congestion, and quality of life and air pollution, and liveability etc and in savings would occur if the public transport system was just so damn good, in speed, reliability, comfort and value for money, 25% of commuters and a significant portion of off peak users found buses as good or better than taking the car. 

Or in the case of marginal car users, the bus system was so good it allowed them to  postpone the buying a car, or deciding not  to buy a car, or buying second car, at all. These might include the younger driving age citizens, the aging and retired, those studying, the couples saving for a house or overseas holidays,  visitors to the city, those living close to work and those immediately on fast transit corridors to malls or city etc who find that their "effective speed" (journey time plus the time takes to earn the money to make the journey") is better by transit.

A public transport system based on transit with free flow right of way as the norm, and with integrated operating patterns, I believe would effectively triple bus usage, halve waiting time and higher patronage levels would in turn virtually double the route options -  three or four Orbiters for a starter and more specialised services, such as to industry. It could also usher in a region wide XPT level of service so badly wanting in the current crude Canterbury set up. 

In Ottawa with its extensive network exclusive busways over 30% catch buses from the outer suburbs to work - way above even systems with underground rail systems, its patronage levels for public transport some of the highest in CANZUS**, the comparable world to Christchurch. In Auckland use of the Northern Busway, only opened in 2008, now sees 17% of people who travel  to work or study across the Harbour Bridge, now making the journey by bus (and lead the recent trialling of double decker buses). The greater capacity of modern buses -  articulated or double decker - and the worldwide shift to electric buses means light rail is even more irrelevant in NZ conditions, but exclusive road/corridor space for public transport is even more relevant. Imagine trying to pull articulated buses into current bus stops on Papanui Road!

The creme de la creme of effective busways is specialised buses on these major routes - we have seen ten years of seeing both Labour and National governments pump hundreds of millions into rail infrastructure and rolling stock for suburban rail in in Auckland and Wellington.
I believe it is possible to have buses (such as bendy buses or electric buses needing routes with recharge pads) specific to a route being owned by Metro, with their day to day operation tendered out.

The earthquake recovery costs must not blind us as a city to the huge payout of Canterbury "transport dollars" (at very least $260 million from Canterbury taxpayers, pro rata) shipped north in this last decade. 

Not despite earthquake rebuild but rather intrinsic to the earthquake rebuild the new council and Mayor must go beyond the piss public transport weak (or light rail light weight fantasy) approach of the present council and plant a real stake in the ground - just as Len Brown did in Auckland. 

Wellington only marginally bigger than Christchurch has received the best part of $700 million for public transport. Isn't it time in Christchurch we had a real (i.e. 21st century) public transport master plan? 

Isn't it time we had a council that could say to the government here are the 68 (or whatever) corridor improvements, busway corridors, permanent lanes, underpasses or cut-throughs, transfers stations, sophisticated traffic signal systems and state of the art electric buses  etc we need to run a fully integrated, city wide, free flow bus system. 

Time to give us our share of the dosh. Sure it might cost $300 million for the Government share over ten years - but haven't they just promised Auckland several billion dollars for underground and under harbour public transport?

**CANZUS = Canada, Australia, New Zealand, USA, countries with very similar demographic factors. there are approximately 120 cities with over 200,000 residents in these four countries, the most relevant listed here (a listing that is bit out of date)

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