Friday, October 25, 2013

InterCity couldn't go the distance...nor can city and ECan certainly can't. The long history of sub-standard tourist services in Christchurch


Naked Bus - a lower budget InterCity competitor is able to offer tourist superior facilities. Departing from outside the Museum they offer a wide waiting zone, catching the sun, with seating and a whole adjacent Botanical Gardens to pee in.  Photo NZ in Tranzit

Recently the media have been slagging off InterCity Coachlines, normally considered the market leader in quality coach services around both the main islands. 

Passengers waiting for long distance Inter City services in Christchurch, in temporary stop located on Bealey Avenue have taken to surreptitiously (or not) pissing in the bushes on a adjacent empty section. The portaloo that once was there has been removed. Here is half the story from The Press and another half of the story  in  an You Tube excerpt from a Campbell Live (for God's sake!) .

Due to the earthquakes of 2010-12 and loss of buildings, or closing of roads and sectors of the city, the departure and arrival zones of various long distance shuttle bus and coach services had to be relocated. 
The original building occupied  by InterCity Coachlines had toilets, and a waiting area but no outdoor platforms. This (or was it the building next door?) caught fire in spectacular fashion, in front of the Mayor and Prime Minister, only a few hours after the first large earthquake on September 4 2010.

However most other long distance services departed from Cathedral Square and the Worcester Street west entry road into the Square. The only toilets were in the centre of the Square, not at all user friendly in distance (bus passengers  probably always feel nervous of moving away from the stop unless they have a very large amount of time) and not at all friendly to suitcases and backpacks - try using a cubicle (sometimes with a soiled floor) with nowhere to put a backpack or large case, let alone hang a jacket or coat. 


Pre-Quake - Atomic Shuttles loading at Cathedral Square west  - a useful wide loading zone with shelter from the rain, a handy convenience store for drinks, snacks, phone cards etc - but no immediate toilet user friendly to luggage laden travellers - Photo NZ in Tranzit 2010


In general - providing a bit of road space for bus stops aside -  the city administrations and ECan have not made any significant move to support long distance services for decades now. So it made me laugh that a Council employee, responding to the story in the Press [see above] said, "From the tourism point of view, people wandering around looking for the depot doesn't look good for the city." Yep I agree. So what is new though?

Christchurch still treats its lower end tourists with a neglect bordering on disdain. Based on casual observation from my many bus trips in and out of  Christchurch bus passengers come in all shapes, ages and colours,. However the largest sectors, I'd guess, tend to be  overseas backpackers, tertiary students, ESOL and Asian students, the active disabled, the active middle-aged  and elderly, high school students (boarders from country areas I presume) and travellers to rural en route towns, if outside airline access. 

I made a submission to a Regional Transport Plan about five years ago that the Metro website have a page listing ALL public transport operators running services in or tofro regional and Te Wai Pounamu areas. (for those not in the know ECan claims to be trying to get people out of cars, address pollution, improve quality of life ....and other such spin). 

This is the very bottom line of tourist bus and coach support, it involves the companies sending a website/timetable link, and of course, updating it as necessary, which is in their interests to do so. Regional Councils in Waikato, Manawatu, Taranaki,  Bay of Plenty and Otago etc all do this minimum service. Not Ecan. Too hard - outside our field - too messy - was the the essence of the Ecan response (despite a fictitious department and website called Smart Travel). 


Waikato's Regional Council has done more than most to create synergies and integrate services and information including all services in a basket - booking, urban, regional, island wide from the clearly identified Transport Centre      photo NZ in Tranzit

ECan's Metro site still doesn't even have any mention any of these services let alone offer a simple link to local one-site listings (and this list linked here is certainly nothing special in user friendly access for total strangers). 

This lack of inter- regional-city Metro link up from an organisation calling itself Environment Canterbury is bizarre! I'd imagine  even conservatively there would be about 15-20 scheduled bus and coach services a day for other places in Canterbury - Akaroa, Mount Hutt, Hamner Springs, Kaikoura - and rural locations on the way to Picton, Nelson via Lewis Pass, Greymouth and Arthurs Pass, Westport the Haast Pass, South Canterbury, Dunedin and Invercargill. And tourism of course hugely benefits the whole region.

Even conservatively (allowing for some van sized operations and winter service reductions or reduced patronage off-season on non-snow trips) these services at a very rough guess would average 20 passengers a trip or between 3-500 patrons a day, the same amount also arriving  in the city later in the day, often as complete strangers. Averaged out 600-1000 bus and coach passengers a day - much more in season -  likely to appreciate and benefit from infrastructure support. 

That is also to say, measured across the year, 365 days a year, probably between  220,00 and 365,000 shuttle and coach passengers a year are virtually ignored in their infrastructure needs by public authorities claiming to promote and support the tourist industry. Both major bodies also fatuously claim to be aiming for a clean green city and/or a province that encourages people to leave their cars at home. But the only thing being served up is a dog's breakfast !

I called the stories that took a swipe at InterCity facilities "half the story". It failed to look at the sparsity of easily accessible toilets for ALL local long distance operations; it failed to look at the effect of  having dispersed departure zones unlinked to local services. 

The fact is that most people catching long distance bus services don't have a car, or access to car, at that time (I know-  it's a strange co-incidence isn't it!!). Perhaps 30% of them will get dropped off or picked up at the bus "station" by a friend or relative or their host - but this still leaves a goodly number (hundreds of thousands per year) having to find their way tofro the departure point. 

Logic would suggest a city seeking to foster car-less journeys and support car-less tourists, and seeking to make moving around without a car more attractive,  would work very hard to link up urban bus and taxi services with long distant bus (and rail) departure and arrival zones. 

It therefore suggests  information linking all services, bus stop zones for traveling beyond Christchurch, would be readily and easily available through Metro infrastructure  itself. I am referring to long distant  bus stops with adequate shelter; timetables; luggage stacking facilities; ideally snack, drink and ATM facilities and easy access to toilets, that are coat and luggage friendly.  As the majority arrive or depart these stops by walking, urban buses and taxis,  logic suggests these stops would be integrated in -  or immediately beside -  major urban bus stations [that per se include an adjacent taxi rank. Yeah right].  

No says city council. That is not our policy. 

THIS STATEMENT IS NO LONGER CORRECT - see below*.

This was implicitly said  loud and clear when the city built the Bus Exchange in 2003 and was again implicitly said, loud and clear again,  when it built the Temporary Central Bus Station in 2011. 

After the CBD the two most viable (and used de facto)  long distance en route, outer suburb, stops would appear to be Northlands and Westfield, both served by multiple local and cross town services. (Hornby and Ilam also work to some degree but too many en route stops get tedious and difficult to stack luggage for drivers)

The city restated their policy of feeding the dog breakfast recently when they built the recent Northlands bus transfer "super-stop". Hardly room for urban passengers let alone suitcases and packs and long distance buses loading prepaid passengers. It appears to be planning to do so again, by choosing to try to cram in a low quality budget transfer station into the shopping centre of Riccarton Road. Such a location, clearly, can have no room or facilities for South and West bound regional and long distant bus and coach services, let alone be adequately sized and offer growth proofed wider platforms for expanding urban services. 

Which is a huge pity - in many ways Riccarton seems  a more important transfer location for such a link up than the CBD, because passengers can transfer tofro The Orbiter and MetroStar and Lincoln bus services here and access far more areas of the city, north, west and south particularly, more frequently, faster and easier.  A big portion of the long distance bus and coach service market is that of Canterbury and Lincoln University students and the west is very much their side of town too, hundreds of flats within easy walking or bus access of Westfield.

I call the current mish-mash  level of urban bus and long distance service services the "rusty tap" syndrome - urban, regional and national bus and coach services should flow like a good plumbing system, they fit together, are easily understood, are always reliable and trustworthy. Apart from a few nutters like myself people should not have to even think about buses or rarely need to feel irritated by their shortcomings etc. You turn on the tap and the water is there, you want to catch a bus and all the connections are there. Instead we  make it difficult to find the tap, and half the time there is none or you turn the tap and its rusted shut and nothing comes out, or all services rush out in the same moment and then you sit waiting for hours for the next drip. 

This is a D Grade service and it Degrades passengers and handicaps buses (the most effective of  all forms of mass transit) from moving up into the status, popularity, funding and earnings to attain the real high quality services they could be delivering.  

I have long campaigned for the province to look at a regional travel system - indeed suggested an integrated system that could offer eight passenger services a day between Timaru and Christchurch including morning and evening quality commuter services. I have even suggested to the Bus and Coach Association of New Zealand that they seek (with Government assistance) to create a unified brand "National Bus Network, with distinctive signage NZ wide, dedicated stops and shelters, area wide timetables listing all services and quality criteria and status of service identified.  Bus companies would pay a small standing fee and then an annual capitation fee to be part of a system with many benefits and great potential to lift bus use across the whole country.[no response - what is new].

We see millions spent on airport infrastructure and next to nothing on regional connectivity or supporting independent lower budget tourists "on the ground" travel 

Most of all, when will we stop treating bus services and passengers as second class citizens?  

I say we have a fantastic chance to create relatively low budget synergies  that would make Canterbury (and ultimately all New Zealand) hugely bus friendly and accessible to independent car less residents and travellers, understood in any language

Or am I just pissing in the wind? Where's those bushes InterCity?

Pssssssst - also where is the toilet gonna be at the new (not integrated with ANY local bus services!) InterCity Christchurch Stop in Armagh Street

* POSTSCRIPT After all that huffing and puffing above I have since learnt that the new Christchurch central bus station planned will incorporate long distance buses, taxis, and airport transfers. As this has long been NZ in Tranzit policy I welcome this particular step, but leave the original text for its reasons of integrity, other point raised, and generic relevance to all city bus systems etc.

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