Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Former Mayor Questions Huge Costs, and Focus of Auckland Public Transport - from The New Zealand Herald, 28 Sep 2009. Page 11

The New Zealand Herald
28 Sep 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Perhaps we are in Canzus Dorothy

No, its not that dwatted wabit coming out of the closet clutching Judy Garland photographs hopelessly expecting to win a spelling bee. CANZUS is my easy use-name for Canada, Australia, NZ and USA, the "four colonies" as identified by USA neo-con think tank consultant Wendell Cox in a speech to public transport industry folks in Wellington in, I think, 2001.

Cox identified these four countries as sharing a common style of city - low density urban sprawl (even the big ones like New York despite the Manhatten skyline image), high levels of private car ownership and a relatively even spread of wealth, at least compared to other former British colonies such as Malawi or South Africa etc. Hard territory to foster public transport use within. Picking up on this similarity across countries, out of curiosity [this is ultimate busspotter territory!!] over the last 18 months I have been trying to build up a picture of public transport in all four countries to see what we might learn. Unlike Bob Parker, who shoots rather high, I have been visiting all the cities of roughly comparable population size to Christchurch, firstly 300,000-500,000 metropolitan area population, more recently 500,000-1 million. By internet and the odd magazine or book.

There is approximately 117 cities in CANZUS within the three hundred thousand one  million box (approx because one or two are a little murky in their admin boundaries). Lots to learn - notably the abysmal state of most small city public transport in USA generally. The highest annual patronage (ridership) figures barely rise above half the annual patronage of Metro in Christchurch (17.1 million) even in cities twice our size. This said there also are some very progressive city transit authorities here and there - mostly in the western and northwest states - and  still lots we can learn (one lesson our Metro took on - bike racks, very widespread in North America, an idea brought back  to Christchurch I believe by local city Councillor Chrissie Williams).  Canada, seems far more relevant to NZ, in most transit matters patronage and funding comparable to, or more advanced than NZ. (CANZ makes more sense than CANZUS in most cross country evaluations). Canada has about ten standalone small cities under a million, and about half dozen contingent cities - separately administered cities, with their own transit systems adjoining, or across the river from (etc) the larger Metropolitan centres Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa.
Australia is short on smaller cities as well as water - only Newcastle, Canberra and Gold Coast in the 300,000 plus/under million bracket. As they're our neighbours, I tend to keep smaller cities Hobart and Wollongong in the busspotter surveillance loop too.

I hope to follow this intro to CANZUS up in weeks ahead, sharing a bit of insight I picked up along the way the sort of wider vision, pitfalls and interesting conceptual patterns etc not easily spotted in a 2 week whistle stop tour of cities, none of them less than 2 million in metro population!. Although it was a challenging exercise, still ongoing, a sort of form of relaxation and virtual travel, it certainly puts what is happening - or not happening - in Christchurch in perspective. It is clear, for example many of these cities, have gone down roads we are following,  before us. (Aspirations to be "world class" pop up with nauseating regularity). While each case is unique but we would be foolish to not learn from others. Because I have set myself the goal of keeping pithy I will share my knowledge of CANZUS in smaller bytes to come.  In the meantime I have added by far the best website/blog I have found on North American public transport to my profile" The Transport Politic". Mainly big city busway and rail type projects in North America, this is obscure territory indeed but it is sensible, intelligent and not, it seems, unduly biased to any one mode.

This site also has listings of all major transit projects and it may be well worth keeping this on tap; it may help evaluate, complement or counterbalance what ever findings Captain Bob and the gallant endeavour crew bring back from their visit to the other side of the world to admire the venus of transit.

Wabit that is a shocking pun (if you can call it that!). See ya soon in CANZUS

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tranzit -what's in a name

Like most kiwis I orientate more towards English or European culture. However the USA has given the world something beyond the incredible richness of music born in the south, birthplace of jazz, blues, country, cajun, bluegrass and rock. It is the simple term "transit" to refer to public transport. The term is standard throughout  North America (i.e in Canada too) and has been adopted to some extent in Australia eg NSW State Transit Authority. I find "Public transport" is a clumsy term to use, and reeks of stale old leather seats and lumbering old buses of eras gone by. A very dowdy image. The word "Transit" may have that image overseas, but it's still fresh here. Like modern buses it's quick and easy to use.

"Tranzit" spelt with a Z is actually also the name of a lower North Island bus company, one of those great family bus firms, spanning several generations, that are still found in the bus industry in a way rarely found in many other walks of life. That dweadful wabit with the debonair pose [see profile photo] was photographed only about 50 metres from Tranzit's original home base, when they were operating as Blue Bus Services out of a depot in Queen Street, Masterton. I well remember Mr (David?) Snelgrove - the ultimate role model of a bus driver, from brylcremed hair combed back to white shirt and blue tie. Also his opposition the incredible Martin Smith, with his tieless suit jacket and trilby hat, and leaned pinched face, a real character straight out of the depression. Us kids would bike past his small backstreet depot on a summer evening and see Martin Smith scrupulously washing and polishing his buses. These were mostly pre-world war II buses with huge leather seats, engines boxed forward of driver (lights on the separate mudguards) and the ultimate "modern" 1930s streamlined shape, sloping backs. One or some even had had a divided, oval shaped back window. A childhood legend was that British Leyland actually gave Martin Smith a brand new Leyland Royal Tiger, in exchange for taking one of his immaculate, still working, vintage buses back to their museum in the UK...not sure how true! When I say opposition to Blue Bus it might be misconstrued, because I believe the Snelgroves used to help out Martin Smith, even inviting him around for tea after a hard day.

Ps After writing this I thought, I wonder if any photographs exist of those Martin Smith buses...google image turned up not just historic photos but the very buses themselves, sitting in magnificent dusty dignity in some secret private bus museum.
NOTE since I first added this as a link, GEOCITIES has been dissolved, so I no longer can offer direct access to the source of this photo. I hope the photographer will not mind that I have printed as is - the more so because this is not a museuam the public can visit

Friday, September 25, 2009

QEII and the North Eastern Bus Review (debacle)

Unquestionably the most glaring gap in current eastern and north-eastern suburb bus services is lack of community access to QEII. This is the premier recreation and sporting facility on the eastern side of town, deliberately built in the east (amidst great controversy) in the early 1970s to give residents in this area facilities on par with other parts of Christchurch. Averaged across all attendance at facilities and all events during the year about 19,000 people a week use QEII. This includes an unusually high portion of bus dependent people among regular users (I was told in March 2006, in response to a phone enquiry that 8000 independent children had visited the pool complex the previous month). The complex is also used casually, or for training and courses, by many older people and young mothers with children. Presumably most these QEII users drive there or are dropped off by parents or friends.

This facility and events there are currently only directly served by two routes (83 New Brighton via Burwood and Metrostar), both well patronised at the QEII stop, which bizarrely follow identical route corridors for about 5 or 6km through a small sliver of the North-Eastern areas. Additional inadequate and inferior service (bus stops 800 metres and 1 kilometre away respectively) are offered by Route 70 Queenspark (15 minute day service) and (hourly) 49 North Shore.

The latter, 49 North Shore route,  is the ONLY direct connection between the east side south of the Avon, and Eastgate, and QEII. In the current (2nd round) of the North Eastern Bus Services review Metro is proposing to chop this connection completely!

I have campaigned for over six years, and in submissions to several reviews, to have 84 route (through Avonside and Avondale to New Brighton) hooked around past QEII which connect these areas to QEII with a 30 minute service. Also for 49 North Shore to be hooked around past QEII front entrance, and to continue down Wainoni Road - in my latest submission suggesting (apart from a few more direct peak hour services via Wanoni Rd only) that this route travel from Waninoni Road down Breezes Road to the Rowses Road enclave, south of Pages Rd, with no current bus service,  before travelling back up Shortland St and onto Pages Rd, to Eastgate and the city. In this current review I have also suggested 83 New Brighton Burwood, turn north at the Travis/Bower intersection and travel up past Parklands shopping centre, then back onto Mairehau Road and across to Burwood Hospital via Tumara Park (again with a peak hour variation running directly from Tumara Park via Mairehau Road and Frosts Road to rejoin the normal Burwood route at Anzac Avenue roundabout). Access to Burwood Hospital is currently very limited - 60 routes skirts the east - and this added connection through the central east, and the transfer point offered at QEII, opens up access for workers and visitors alike. Currently 83 duplicates much of both the route and functions of the Metrostar without significant added benefits. In this suggestion duplication enriches Parklands (extra services, plus access to the hospital westwards, QEII and Dallington, when heading townwards. Additional services/travel direction options for Parklands and a new service to Tumara Park seems a fairer service spread and distribution than having six routes terminate at NewBrighton and  only one in the substantial residential area around Parklands. [I also suggested 51 Aranui route run along Eureka Street to Soberton St and then back via Carisbrooke to the present exit onto Pages Road via Portsmouth St, to give a more comitted coverage and straighter running route to the Aranui enclave eastern area]

Over-all these are not big changes, will require only few more buses fed into the pattern of existing routes to cover slightly longer distances on what are already lengthy through routes. Nor will they effect few downstream patrons, closer to the city, in city access and travel time. On the other hand they will link thse routes in reverse direction, and almost the whole eastside,  to QEII. This pattern, minor changes to two routes (49,84), major change to the last section of one other (83), represents a modest level of growth (perhaps less than 4% in added mileage and vehicle requirements, measured across all eastern services) but delivers startlingly better services. As well as access to QEII itself, these patterns connect almost the whole eastside to a transfer point at QEII from which the whole "far east" side can be accessed - arrive from one direction and depart in any one of seven other different directions. New Brighton undoubtably needs an attractive multi-service terminus, but in the end QEII is a far more pivotal location for many transfers. In routes radiating out from QEII - if the pattern I put forward was adopted - it is literally the "star" of the east. CCC plans are to put traffic lights on the QEII exit on Travis Road and a through road past the main QEII building. If his is done it would offer an excellent opportunity to create a quality, high profile, enclosed waiting room and safe transfer point, with extend platforms to also load large numbers after major events.

Inherent in these ideas (which took several years of tossing around thousands of variables ) is a multitude of improved community connections in general - Tumara Park connection to shops, library and community facilities at Parklands, and Tumara Park and Parklands doorstop access to QEII; most of North New Brighton and Wainoni connected directly to Cowles Stadium, Nga Hau e Wha and the Supershed, as well as Aranui High, Pak'N'Save and Eastgate. Rowses Road enclave given direct 30 minute frequency access to Eastgate and the City, or north to QEII and the north beach areas in summer. Avonside Girls High, Linwood College, Aranui High and Chisnalwood all given direct (no transfer needed) access to QEII for smaller groups or after-school training and recreation.  Doorstop access from the sizeable Kate Shepherd retirement complex not just to The Palms, as now, but also to QEII, North Beach, New Brighton and Eastgate areas.

Not least the 49 in this variation offers a central eastern suburbs north -south axis route - from Rowses Road up Breezes Road, Wainoni Road and to QEII which allows people to visit friends, attend events on both sides of the Avon without the (absurdly clumsy) necessity of travelling out to New Brighton or back to the Bus Exchange to transfer, and travel back to where they want to go. It is a community connection uniting the central areas of the east, some compensation for the same cross radial route played by The Orbiter in other parts of the city.

I don't think it is egotism to say these are vastly more effective use of resources than the current (round 2) proposals of Metro to run 49 North Shore across to The Palms, etc - virtually duplicating routes that are accessible within almost every area of the North East at less than five minutes walk (routes with more attractive 15 minute frequencies). The whole pattern lacks sense, offering neither effective community connections nor good direct peak hour commuter routes.  Routes 49 and 46 offer inferior city access services that follow absurdly elongated or circuitous routes to get to the city via (bloody hell!) St Albans. Metro's current proposals will further concentrate services along New Brighton Road, Travis Road and Shirley Road, pointlessly over bussing well serviced areas. Cutting services by 50% on Burwood Road and Lake Terrace Road is hardly improving services! Minimal gains achieved at the expense of depriving other eastern areas of better service depth and options.

Metro response to the ideas I have put forward (above) across six years have usually been nil, no response at all (as well as lacking any carefully thought through or coherent strategy for enhancing bus services in the east,  Metro also lacks any standardised criteria for evaluating, or decent protocols for responding to, suggestions and submissions) I believe the main reason for keeping 84 and 83 both terminating at New Brighton, even though it means thousands of trips a year merely duplicate services between Windsor Shops (New Brighton Road ) and New Brighton, is for the administrative convenience and economy of tendering bus routes as sets (allowing drivers or buses to swap from one route to another at the terminus). My attitude is services must be planned around consumer needs, built to best possible options for community and commuter mobility, and then the way contracts are tendered is configured around that. The irony of Metros refusal to ever consider ideas raised here (some two or three times) is that a proper transfer station a QEII might vastly increase options for switching drivers outside peak hours (or even having staff lunchrooms there) allowing much more flexibility for bus companies in scheduling, vehicle and staff use.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Christchurch out of the loop

Work has begun on the $90m Manukau Rail Link in New Zealand, the first extension of the Auckland city's 100km rail network since the 1930s. The 2km line will link Manukau and the North Island trunk line at Puhinui, which runs parallel to the motorway that is under construction between State Highways 1 and 20.
The project is being funded by rail operator Kiwirail ($50m) and Manukau City Council ($33m) with the remaining costs coming from the Auckland Regional Transport Authority. The over-all Ameti project - of which this rail link is part - is expected to cost $1.6 billion, and involves the purchase and removal or demolition of about 329 houses, shops and other buildings, to create new roading, bus, cycle and rail lanes and corridors. The new rail line is part of Project DART – a $600m extension, electrification and upgrade of Auckland's rail network which is scheduled for completion by 2013. Sources various

Comment - it is really great to see Canterbury folk have got in behind this and will send some of their taxes north to help out Auckland! 

Commuter rail would appear to be decades away for Christchurch (attempts to match development in Rangiora-Pegasus-Kaiapoi and Rolleston with the 210,00 people living up Wellington's two narrow corridors don't even get close enough to make a satisfying crunchy noise). This said, many oil watchers are now saying world oil production has already peaked in 2008. Steadily rising fuel and flow-on increased food and other living costs could tilt the balance towards the proportion of commuters looking to public transport as an alternative. In my opinion (but what does a rabbit know?) the city could do much to protect its prosperity by investigating now the potential value of creating a rail corridor from just south of the Styx Mill, across to Johns Road and the airport, and airport industrial area, down to Islington. This would create a loop, allowing trains in multiple directions, and voiding the need to double track (or use at night) the current main line from Papanui down to the rail station in Addington. Trains from Rolleston (or Timaru/Ashburton)could sweep into the city around past the airport and come down through Papanui, already facing south for the outbound  journey; or trains from Rangiora sweep round past the airport and through Hornby and then into the city to a terminus at Ensors Road (and a special platform at AMI Stadium for big matches). The versatility and options of this link are manifold, particularly if this link (or possibly an added marshalling yard near Islington) and reduced need for shunting generally, had economic benefit to freight movements.

If some of those millions we give to Auckland were spent here, we could buy the rail corridor land now, design new subdivisions at Styx Mill around it and build removable pensioner housing etc on the land in the meantime.  Alas this city can not even protect the most obvious rapid transit bus corridor , down from Northlands utilising busway linked sections of Grassmere Street and Rutland Street and Caledonia Road - selling off the pivotally useful Edgeware Pool site, and sitting by while farmland beside Grassmere Street is subdivided. There is little hope that the naieve and unsophisticated approach of Christchurch, with no mass transit strategy inbedded and no projects other than the Bus Exchange to fund, will offer much protection from the future storms that are everywhere  gathering despite the sun that shines today