Thursday, November 26, 2009

Not such a NICERide after all!

In my long experience, members of the public making submissions to reviews (let alone random unsolicited suggestions) to large bureaucracies is about as effective as a mosquito trying to bite the bum of a hippopotamus!

About a year ago I received a rather off-hand response from Metro to to a concept I developed called NICERide (running all evening and weekend services to the same integrated pattern, with the pattern itself designed to achieve optimum spread and even flow of services through each area and to and from the city). To prove it was possible, I spent several months, entangled in a huge sudoko, ratcheting current running times back and forward to arrive at the optimum, symmetrical and logical pattern. This took months, because each route interacts with about five others, and also I was trying to get arrival and departure times from weekend employment zones to work well. Although there were logistical problems in this concept, none of them seemed insurmountable. The benefits of such a memorable -same minutes past the hour every hour off peak -  and consistent pattern (including same transfer pattern every hour) seemed huge enough to warrant more substantial investigation. Alas not. I was told (3 months later, after I solicited a reply) the public would not understand it.  

Despite this response, I sense the mosquito might have rumpled the rump a bit. In the last round of changes it is noticeable Metro in its recent route changes seems to be finally moving towards making off peak services better integrated. As commented previously, the Papanui Road corridor buses (5 routes) on a week night run in what is virtually a quarter hourly pattern. There are are quite few other successes here and there, two services along the same corridor running in a half hour alternating pattern etc. But it is also clear that planners ran up against many of the difficulties I did - and not having the immense amount of pressureless time I do (or having to fit timetables around driver hours or jointly tendered routes) - could not resolve many difficulties, leaving some dreadful anomalies as well. Looking just at Saturday evening and Sunday services - so poorly integrated on the major Papanui Road corridor - I find poor integration patterns all over the city. One of the worst of these is the service to Beckenham/lower Colombo Street and the Cashmere Hills.

I sometimes I pick up extra work Saturdays in this neck of the woods, and travel that way a few times a year, for other purposes too. It always used to be a piss off getting up from Beckenham to find three buses each hour, all ran in a 20 minute window - leaving 40 minute waits or a 25 minute walk to Sydenham in hope an alternate route might arrive. Well now that has been changed!! Great?  Only two buses now service this corridor, routes 10 and 12 . They depart the Bus Exchange only 6 minutes apart ("improved service" = now a 54 minute gap) on Saturday night; and depart simultaneously part of Sunday (4 minutes apart at other times) to Colombo Street south. In other words a de facto doubling up of services along a 3km shared corridor served by no other buses. This is coupled with the route 10 running to the Cashmere Hills only 4 minutes apart from the only other route to the Cashmere hills route 14 via the Somerfield St area (the routes intersect twice on the hill) on both Saturday night and all day Sunday. (And in case you're thinking, what about heading back into the city, both services depart the common terminus at the Sign of the Takahe also only a few minutes apart Saturday night and all through Sunday!). This is the terminus visited by many tourists and Sunday walkers wanting to hike up Victoria Park and the hill tracks!

I can't believe bus services can be planned so carelessly and with so little commitment to effective resource use and the patrons welfare. I will campaign for timing changes, as I do, in letters to community boards and other local organisations, and in the local newspapers. Ironically there seems more potential to change this absurd situation than most.

Changing the departure times of 12 and 14 is difficult (they offer reasonably integrated patterns with 15 and 18 routes to Bowenvale, St Martins and Huntsbury. and 14 a half hourly pattern with 16 up Cranford Street) ) The 10 route, coming from the airport, reduces down on Saturday evening and Sunday from half hourly to hourly, but runs in pattern with 3 and 29 routes from the Airport. Usually the big routes are untouchable but the irony seems to be that in continuing only one of the half hourly patterned services, the "wrong" one has been maintained (40 minute past the hour rather than the 10 minute past the hour has been continued). That is to say, the hourly 10 route would be more effective if run half an hour difference, and hourly 29 likewise. Switching the Saturday evening and all day Sunday 10 services with the hourly 29 Airport services would produce a significantly better (de facto half hourly!) service to Beckenham shops and Colombo Street south, the Cashmere Hills, the Sign of the Takahe and Victoria Park; also marginally better pattern down Papanui Road (longest service gap reduced to 22 minutes) and a more user friendly spread of services to those living between or close to both the 20 and 29 routes, around Clyde Road and north of Memorial Avenue (current 20 and 29 inbound services run virtually simultaneously and outbound only 12 minutes apart).

Probably more than anyone in the city, perhaps more than even the Metro planners,  I know just how complex it is trying to integrate 33 routes that all interact with five different routes minimum - mind boggling at times. Adjust one time and about three others have to be addressed, then three more etc  Back to the drawing board dozens of times over! NICERides do not come easy. I think perhaps it also gives me some platform to being righteously scathing of sloppy integration!! 

How much the absurd overlapping of minimal level services  is fall-out from the curious mixing of subsidized services and commercial services at the airport end, which I believe Metro don't fully control I don't know.  But does it matter to the consumer what the causes?  We pay taxes, rates, fares - we get stuck waiting for these buses, however carefully we try to plan around the flaws. These running times - to coin an old expression - are just plain crap. .

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