Sunday, December 27, 2009

Light Rail - Light on Ground? Heavy on tax-payer pocket?

It is good to see Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker making a case for a more sophisticated public transport system (The Press 26 Dec 2009) . He is a keen advocate of light rail. Anyone who has read previous postings on my webblog NZ in Tranzit will realise I am extremely dubious about Christchurch have the metropolitan population density and sympathetic footprint necessary to carry light rail. However, I am very aware of the huge infrastructure costs being met for rail and busway corridors in Auckland, and to a lesser extent Wellington, and believe Christchurch is long overdue to receive funding at least remotely comparable. This will not happen without an identified long term strategy and without specific projects to fund. I think any possibility to get the city moving towards a better "mass rapid transit" strategy should be open to debate.

A good starting point is to gain some perspective is looking at comparable cities. We have a small and low density population, nationally and locally, a very small taxpayer/ratepayer base "per rail kilometre" (so to speak) as compared to Switzerland, Austria or Germany for instance. This greatly inhibits the amount we can comfortably draw upon. It also means congestion, roading, is not really very congested by world standards and parking very cheap or free, allowing for one of the highest car ownership rates in the world.

Looking at countries and cities that I believe best match Christchurch, across the last two years, I have identified 118 cities in Canada, Australia, NZ and USA, with between 300,000 and 1 million metropolitan [US census definition - easy commuting distance] populations. It should be noted that, outside a handfull of the very largest cities, investment, service quality (spread of hours, routes, frequency)  patronage in public transport in the USA is among the lowest in the world per capita, and suffering further setbacks in the current recession. Bob Parker's article refers to transit authorities in USA  referring to buses as "social transport" (for the poor, disabled) a view far less pronounced in European, Asian or indeed Commonwealth countries., such as Australia, Canada or New Zealand. A recent cross border survey revealed even tertiary student use/attitude/frequency of use differs between Canada and the USA.

Precedent for light rail in cities so small as Christchurch is not great - indeed, a couple of heritage trams aside, not one city of the 65 cities below 500,000 in metropolitan population in these four countries operates a light rail system. We would definitely being going out on a limb, the more so as quite a few cities, in Canada at least, appear to studied and rejected this option as too expensive. I am also completely unable to find any light rail line of any length (let alone a network) built or planned for "tens of millions" - the phrase bandied about in the Press article.

Of 118 cities in Canada, Australia, NZ or USA (CANZUS) between 300,000 and a million only one city, Tacoma USA,  operates a very short city section section of light rail, and three others - Kitchener, CA; Gold Coast Aus, and Honolulu USA - have committed to building a (single) light rail corridor.

The smallest CANZUS city committed to building a light rail system is Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. This is actually three adjoining cities (much to that city's chagrin the planners could not afford to extent the light rail to the third city, Cambridge) roughly in line, with a total area population of 451.225 (2006) and whose bus system currently carries 14.4 million passengers a year (compare Christchurch 17.1 million passengers (2008). I am unable to find the length of the proposed length of their single corridor line but it appears less than 20 km and the budget is $790 million. The Waterloo Region is one of the fastest growing in Canada and population is expected to rise to 750,000 with 25 years (the Greater Christchurch population is set to grow from 414,000 to 501,000 by 2026).

Tacoma, Washington, a small city within and forty five minutes south of Seattle. Typical of many north American metropolitan areas, city population (the area administered by the City Council) can be misleading - it would be easy to think of Tacoma is much smaller than Christchurch, a city according to the US census department (2009) of only 203,000 residents. However Tacoma is the county seat of Pierce County, only a tenth the land area of Canterbury but, according to the County's Annual Report of 2008, home to 805,000 people. Pierce Transit which is the public authority operating the buses and light rail system - and also contracts to Seattle based Sounds Transit to supply commuter services to Seattle 51km away - describes its system as serving over 600,000 residents.  It is a very impressive up-front system, but refelecting lower US patronage, last year still only carried 16.3 million passengers (2008). Tacoma is the only city of the entire 118 that is currently actually operating a light rail system (Sounds Transit operates the light rail). It cost $80.4 million to build the 2.25km central city line (a cost factor; though it is current essentially a lightweight streetcar system intention is to have heavier light rail trains using the same lines in the future).

The next of the cities planning a light rail system is already bigger than we will be in 15 years, Gold Coast in Queensland with a rapidly rising population, currently 554,000 population. The city is building a single 13km light rail line, now costing [it keeps rising] $1.8 billion. This includes purchase of 131 properties and some part (eg frontage) of another 111 properties. Currently their bus system carries 17 million passengers a year 2008).

The third city, committed to building light rail (after a huge political battle for and against, spanning several years) is Honolulu in Hawaii, with a metropolitan population of 909,683 (2006). The budget here is $5.6 billion dollars to build a 32 km line between outer residential areas, around the bays and inlets to downtown Honolulu. Part of the huge cost is sections of this will be elevated above the city streets, itself highly controversial. Hawaii receives 6.5 million visitors a year, less than Christchurch with 9 million but with-out of course a big portion of those arriving in cars from other parts of the country and this has no doubt spurred bus use. Honolulu punches way above its weight on public transport patronage,  "The Bus", patronage is the fourth highest per capita in the USA, at 72 million passengers a year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rabbit Investigates - Murder at Grimseys Road?

"If it bleeds it leads" is the newspaper publishing ethic (ahem) and the dwatted wabit realises he is currently only scoring a "D" for yellow-shade journalism. Sure, his webblog is fill of lots of local bodies, even a few local body politicians with knives in their back, but not really the gore one would expect to keep readers titillated and coming back for more.That is until I got on the old investigative trail again, cleverly disguised in best film noir fashion with a trilby hat, and my garbedine trench coat collar pulled up. I take an early Saturday misty-morning bus ride up to the top Grimseys Road - not visited since my bus driving days back in the eighties. Here is the rabbit remembering the time a Christchurch Transport Board Bristol bus - painted like Cadbury's Chocolate box - had a bite taken out of it by a major collision at Prestons Road intersection. Typically he is no longer able remember who was driving. It seems every lamp post will tell you a story if you drive around a city long enough.

But what's the plot today? Putting two and two together I see on the crumpled map the blonde dame gave me, that this large area of housing around Grimseys Road was severed at the waist (shades of the Black Dahlia case), cut off from the new Styx Mill area, and not by a river of blood but rather by the sweetly charming, meandering, Styx River and reserve. Styx? What is this, anotherTom Waits song? Eat your heart out rest of the world, our suburbs offer gothic horror and Greek tragedy all in one, thanks to the classical background of some of our early Oxford graduate pioneer sons. Now according to this scrap of paper this dame shoved in my paw, there is one one very large block of housing adjoining Grimseys Road, an elongated triangle of river bed and reserve, paddocks and then Radcliffe Road feeding into the very large shopping centre planned for the junction of Radcliff Road and Main North Road. The gossip around town and in the sleeziest bars is that there a major new library is also intended for the new block. And the Supa Centre is no small corner shop either. Willie the squeaker has even told his old friend the rabbit that there are moves by Ecan to get adequate bus exchange/transfer point facility included in the design. Well as Mandy said, "They would, wouldn't they". But how to get across the Styx? There seems to be an achilles' heel somewhere in this plot! The rabbits in a stew, part carrot and part mangled metaphors and he knows it.

So I asks this kid on a tricycle, "Hey what gives kid?" "Mister don cha know they is gonna built the norten motorway clean down the eastern side of our area". Aha. There's motive here anyway. A motorway - we'll my old drinking buddy Mr "Booze" Alan had them tagged a few years ago - no transport infrastructure in New Zealand pays it's real costs, good old Johnny Taxpayer gets held up every year to meet the billion dollar shortfall in real costs, including yours truly that rarely hops in a car but pays $3-400 a year for others to do so (as does my granddaughter and yours). And Etcetera's kids too.

"Kid," I said "You're talking highway robbery". The little brat squinted at me. "Hey mister, you aint trying cut out my boy racer career, just as soon as I graduate to long pants. That investment is my future."

The poor little bugger breastfed on the bullshit of our society -"investment" for roads for cars, "subsidies" for public transport, guess whose calling the shots, the car addicts twisting words to suit their case. Now I look at the map this dame has given me and see there aint no way cars can get down to this area except through junctions with Prestons Road, off the motorway (or beside it) or off Main North Road, all a bit of extra mileage and traffic light queues, fairly clumsy, all in all. An opportunity to give buses an advantage? Truth is I have been thinking for a long time this case could be closed by building a bus only corridor straight across from the top of Grimseys Road, curving across to meet Radcliffe Road before the railway crossing, with an (attractive) stone embankment and bridge across the gully and stream. But now I am here, now Google Earth has actually come to earth I find another of those damn quasi gated upmarket subdivisions plonk in the way. This one is called Redwood Park (you guessed it, it is one of those types of subdivision where they chop down the trees and then give the streets their names). There is a road straight through to the reserve, a boulevard (ok ok, with new trees) and de fenceless USA style lawns - but so narrow and intimate in style that in short their aint no way anyone is politically gonna drive a bus through here, though presumably the street came out of public funds. I put two and two together and it comes out about ten - that's probably about the mumber of new ostentatious, "keep out Mr Burglar and your son Idle Tagger", gate posted communities built around the edge of Christchurch in the last decade. In other words when it comes to public transport we are dealing with a serial killer stalking the outskirts of Christchurch - yep, just as I feared (cue creepy music; dum de dum) - another case of strangulation by commuter belt!!  I recognise the modus operandi. But this much bigger than an Italian motor scooter.  A couple of years ago vigilante gangs armed with nothing but arrogance tried to take over publicly built streets in Northwood, claiming territorial right to their neighbourhood, and scared off a straggle of politicians and bus planners. But this rabbit wasn't born yesterday! Everytime an investigation takes him into a cul de sac, there sure is a lot of them, everytime he runs up against a brick wall (usually with big brass numbers) the question pops up, "Whose pulling the strings, making this happen or turning a blind eye - allowing subdivisions without clear bus corridors, indeed enhanced direct alley way access to stops from streets behind streets? Who are the real hoods behind these hoods?"

City hall? The rabbit keeps his ears to the ground (not easy with his perky breed). And what he hears tell is the overly large influence of the Green-Darling family, who themselves are related to those famous medical fraudsters, the Doctors Spinn. Big on talk, fancy words, but slow and small on their feet. The spin is bigger than the footprint on the ground. Opportunity after opportunity slips by - this rabbits been staking out city growth for a decade now - opportunity for a council fully committed to public transport to lay down a few ground rules [every road classified as a feeder road is also automatically classified as bus service suitable - that is what you buy into, no retro arguments please]. Opportunity, too, to buy bits of judicious land between cauliflower ear crescent patterns to let buses straight through, and to say to developers "Man make as many fancy stone gates as you want but somewhere in that mosaic there must be is a central or peripheral bus corridor, easily accessible from all points. Modern buses barely make a noise much greater than a small pick-up, and at the outer terminals who gets on but the immediate neighbours (God forbid you might even get to know them at the stop). Hey wake up,  the tagged fences in those neighbourhoods won't be by immigrants from poor areas, how naive - they will be your bored and rebellious sons and daughters!

Thinks the rabbit - congestion aint just proportional, 50% slower; it's absolute - add 50% to a 10 min journey - what's five minutes? Nut'n. Now add 50% to 30 minute journey, you lose 30 minutes a day. And so on. His fluffy paw clenches unconsciously. Ya have to hit congestion where it hurts most - and will cost most - out in the outer burbs, chomp into those longer journeys. That's the rabbit's martial art training coming in. Watch that big foot tapping. Plan now to jump [rabbit think] across the inner suburbs rather than drag through them, bus lanes or not. There's a lot of misty green talk about how wonderful we are in city hall but methinks this dame doth prattle on too much . This Green-Darling family seem to be taking more than a few for a ride - it just aint going to be by fast direct bus corridors.

Actually the dime store detective thought the Redwood Park area overlooking the Styx reserve and river area was particularly beautiful, what a lovely outlook and such a neat wild zone for older children to play in, willow trees, long grass and stream bed, the places kids need to make the own world. It would anyway have been a crime to build an embankment/ bridge at the middle point!! I think the busway link should cut down beside the motorway and enter the Grimseys Road block near the top from the eastern side, two or three properties would secure it, several options, then run straight down Grimseys Road, under QEII Drive (beside the cycle subway) and passed the end of Winters Road, ramping up and over Cranford Street and on a slight embankment across the flood plain paddocks, joining up with City-Edgeware-Northlands bus corridor along the eastern edge of the very attractive new park created by extending Rutland Reserve up to Grassmere Street, with a fenced, shrub covered busway running around the eastern edge.

Strangulation doesn't always kill instantly [not like the old rabbit chop! Hey,wash your mouth out!] and we still have a few minutes left for revival. Tick tock tick tock - the clock is going fast to built a world class city before rigor mortis locks up the outlets that will stop rthe big red blood supply pumping between centre and outer suburb. Distance from Bealey Avenue to Belfast via Northlands Caledonia Road-Rutland Street busway, veering northwards immediately past Paparoa Street, onto the embankment over Cranford, down past the Winters Road enclave, under Grimseys, onto Grimseys Road, around the edge of the motorway onto Radcliff Road - about 6 or 7 km. Non-stop travelling time by express buses - from West Belfast (to be built), Belfast, East Belfast (to be built) , Rangiora, Woodend, Pegasus, Kaiapoi (all growing rapidly) - about 8-10 minutes max, from Radcliffe Road and Main North Road corner to city, steady speed nothing fast. But no stops! Current journey from Belfast (with bus lanes) to Bealey Avenue all stops 20 minutes hopefully [the timetable] in reality as long as 24 minutes just from Northlands to city with bus lanes (hot from The Press this morning). The busway option not only shaves 10 minutes plus off the journey twice a day (multiplied by a several million journeys measured across 25 year), it also creates wonderous comfort and superior pleasure to run straight into the heart of the city without stopping. The loop from Radcliffe Road to Grimseys Road, also provides an all day, all stops access as well (non-express buses,still quicker than other routes and every hour, everyday) from city to Grimseys Road and from Grimseys Road to Styx. Or city and St Albans to new Belfast industrial areas. Give buses the gutsy advantage!! As the blonde dame whispered in this rabbit's ear (hey, that's a lot ear!) "Think Rail, Build Bus, Buddy".  Its cheaper, faster, more frequent, more flexible, it creates the corridor for light rail of the future, if that is ever necessary; it can be built to handle100-passenger plus passenger articulated buses in the interim, if that is necessary. The rabbit takes nothing for the case solved but tells the dame, it will only cost you high tens of millions to solve this case - daunting yeah, but only a tiny fraction of the cost to build the multi-billion dollar [no joke] transport infrastructure of Auckland partly paved with Canterbury dollars. Putting two and two together the rabbit can't see why a city three and half times our size is being bankrolled by Government for about twenty times more infrastructure funding!

The Green-Darling family may talk the talk, perhaps one day they will walk the walk. This rabbit guesses they may have to walk! If fuel becomes too dear to waste on work commutes from outer areas and no second strata of express bus corridors has been put in place to keep the city intimately connected, hub to outer circumference and beyond. Overcrowded buses jamming up through Papanui -Northlands, Victoria Street on outbound journeys instead of fast direct journeys OR an amazing city to zip around. Rabbit sees a city that has always done bus well doing bus superbly, bus laned arterials past the malls interspersed by direct outer area-city free flow corridors completely by-passing congestion. This weren't no dumb blonde, no wild goose chase. 

ps. Basham up? Not more lurid crime? Not at all. Top marks to see that bus routes have already been factored in for the new Basham subdivision out Hei Hei way (pity about the area name though!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Transit Way

Yesterday I had a letter published in the local newspaper, The Press. No big deal, I write three or four a year, usually on public transport topics. This one was in response to a photo in the paper on Wednesday of the derelict Edgeware Swiming Pool, and a text saying the Council was advertising it for sale, including on "Trade Me". My letter began with a reference to this and ended with a comment about the Council trading away its bests assets. The pool is surrounded by mostly older housing stock, some appearing to be rental, and is close to two council housing complexes and a tennis club . All of this sits right on the alignment of the simplest and most obvious rapid transit corridor between Northlands Mall and Edgeware Village.

Unlike Auckland where the AMETI scheme is expected to take 329 properties, or even Wellington where the widening of Adelaide Road for bus lanes requires the acquisition of all or part of some 47 properties, or local Mall expansion which gobbled up scores of private residences, my guess is that this corridor, landscaped like a park with cycleway and pedestrian paths as well, would require less than a dozen properties, three of the larger blocks anyway council owned. If it decided to purchase more properties it would be because because the council had belatedly realised the significance of such a large block in promoting UDS goals of intensification, and overseas practises of creating such intensity around key public transport corridors. The Edgeware enclave could include attractive apartment complexes, to several storeys, without intruding on lower housing nearby,  linked to the adjacent Edgeware shopping centre, intersected by the transitway and a north-south/east-west transfer station, and offering access to city centre or Northlands in less than 6 minutes.

Transitway? That's a new word for the dwatted wabbit is it not? Indeed, it is word that had never previously passed my lips. It seems to be term only widely used in Canada,  for what are usually fully segregated bus corridors . Previously I have thought the word "transitway" a little clumsy. In letters on this subject (dating back to 2002) I have used the term busway.  But I didn't want to preclude the light rail option for this corridor - I don't see the numbers stacking up for light rail and it doesn't have the advantage of feeding on and off the trunk corridor in multiple directions as do bus systems - but it seems premature to exclude it, particular if the city is trying to encourage high density housing in this area. So searching for a more open ended term I used " transitway " .

Well the The Press editorial crew in their wisdom wacked off my tilt at the Council advertising on "Trade me" and the trading off of Council assets and printed the letter without these bookends.  Just porinyted  the core advocacy of the corridor, given the letter the simple title Need Transitway. Checking to see whether the letter got in the paper that word "transitway" leapt of the page at me. It is possibly the first time this term has been used in reference to local transport in New Zealand! Most powerfully it by-passed the whole light rail versus busway argument as neatly as the suggested corridor from Northlands would by-pass all the congestion and traffic light intersections on both Papanui Road and Cranford Street. It put emphasis on the corridor not the mode, and it was obscure enough (yet clear enough after 30 seconds reading of the letter) to not immediately create neat jerk reactions, such as the "buses are loser cruisers" fantasy held by people who never catch buses and seem to imagine they are all filled with the great unwashed, taggers and marauding patched gangs.

In the spirit of a previous posting (Looking for the Corridors of Power) the word transitway defines that the real battleground for future public transport is creating the fast corridors that link outer suburbs to the central city (and key employment zones) in much faster time than currently  offered, including those with part time bus lanes.  Transitway says to me, we need to know where we are going now, and therefore protect the corridors, even if other medium term uses are made of them. There is also a nice ambiguity - I like the resonance of things like this that carry many different references within them  - the transitway is also the transit way - the way to go if we want to keep a sane, happy and prosperous society after oil prices squeeze out indiscriminate car use.

PHOTO (above- source; wikipedia commons ) - Westboro Station on the Ottawa Transitway system, a system first begun 1983, with 35km of completely segregated bus lanes, such as those shown here.
At 123 trips per head of capita per annum Ottawa's public transport system is probably the most successful in CANZUS, in any city under 1.5 million. Ottawa and the adjacent city of Gatineau (which is building a 15km bus only corridor) have a metropolitan population smaller than that of Auckland but their transit systems carry over 120 million passengers a year, well over double Auckland patronage. Only 2 million of these carried on a short light rail line, with plans to introduce light rail on a further section of high density.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rubber tyred trains?

An interesting trend is guided busways, where the bus driver does not even need to steer (small guide wheels which face outward towards an enclosing curb do the steering for the driver). The advantage of these is that very high speeds can be obtained with very smooth passage, and precise docking at entry level platforms. In this way they can deliver much the quality of a rail journey without the jolts or lurches, without the greater safety problems and constant track checking required of rail. They also avoid the messy business of needing big car parks at stations or (as recently reported in both Melbourne and Auckland) the irritation of residents close to suburban stations having car doors slamming from 6am onwards, and otherwise quiet cul de sacs becoming all day carparks. The same buses that have guidewheels, can in most systems run off the guided busway onto normal streets, the de facto equivalent of a trains carriages all heading off in different directions to drop people in their own immediate neighbourhoods. The potential in the right situation is enormous. In Cambridgeshire in the United Kingdom the longest guided busway at in the world is nearing completion. This will link a range of rapidly expanding towns and settlements with Cambridge itself - 25km in 16 minutes at 100km per hour.  The success or not of this is something that apparently many English transport planners and the Department for Transportat are watching with great interest, the corridors of many other closed or minor railway lines offering potential conversion to guided busway. The photo at top of this article is from Wikipedia Commons, is unamed, and may be a different system, but it does show how much more attractive and less intrusive a high speed bus corridor can be in the rural setting. Below is not quite so sylvan in its charms, the half built busway on a gloomy English day, one of the buses (which also have leather seats and wi fi access) running a trial past a busway/road intersection - note what appear to be car traps!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Looking for the Corridors of Power - brrrmm, bbrrmm

The successful development and growth of public transport, as it is evolving around the world, seems very tied to corridors and land use. All over the world, regardless of whether the mode is light rail or quality bus systems, the big push seems to be towards getting public transport as much exclusive corridor space as possible. This means taking buses, trams or larger light vehicles out of the mixed traffic situation as far as possible, and giving them much of the "clear run" advantages that previously only commuter railway enjoyed.(check out for a good discussion going on this and related topics) 

In this respect the advocacy of light rail by Mayor Bob Parker is fairly typical of public thinking, which always lags behind technological changes. The core investment is not the mode but the corridor and Christchurch does not do corridors well. It fact it barely does corridors at all! It has taken an inordinately long time to develop part-time, part of road length only, bus lanes, so far on a single alignment - Main North Road & Papanui Road, with bus laning of two more routes in development. Everything else after that up in the air, due to the National Party Government cutting funding. The slow progress of buses leaving the city, up Victoria Street (not laned) and again through the sticking point of the Papanui/Harewood junction and Northlands, takes much of the sting out this solution. Sitting on a recent peak hour bus, loving the sections that were bus laned, I couldn't help thinking with a segregated busway straight up through St Albans, passengers for outer suburbs would have been at Northlands before the bus I was on even got to Merivale. Papanui Road will always be a key arterial corridor and bus lanes are great advantage, even in limited form (bus drivers I have spoken to certainly enjoy them) but I would hate to think this the sum total of Christchurch's strategy to address peak hour congestion, and/or carrying of large numbers of passengers in the event of oil prices going through the roof.
I started advocating a bus corridor, directly from Northlands to Edgeware back in 2002, a fairly modest affair linking feeder streets by attractive green boulevards [with a bus, cycle & pedestrian access only].One that would require minimum purchase of property but wack a huge ten minutes (x 300,000 trips plus a year) or more off commuter journeys from northern areas, as well as providing quality expansion capacity way beyond the potential of bus laned roads. During the early years of this century I watched the Labour Government pump hundreds of millions into public transport infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington. This included all or part of Auckland's new station Britomart, the Northern Busway (about $200 million tax payer dollars each) the Central Connector Busway and, of course double tracking and upgrading Auckland Commuter rail ($600 million - $128 million alone spent just on the New Lynn Bus-Rail exchange). All this was funding towards the rapid transit strategies evolved by Auckland in 1999 - four rail corridors, two busways. Wellington with its existing rapid transit corridors - four commuter rail lines - identified extending and upgrading commuter rail lines and only got a $500 million contribution towards a general upgrade of rail, and $70 million to expand the Kapiti Line to Waikanae and $45 million for a new station at Raumati. Oops, almost forgot, and most of the $31 million to upgrade the carriages and stations on the Wairarapa Line. Everybody over 40 know that capitalism goes in boom and bust, and political cycles shift left lane, right lane, with regularity. I kept thinking (a) surely this can't last (b) where is Christchurch? Almost the same population as Wellington but not getting a brass razoo for infrastructure. How does even a sympathetic government or its transit agency fund projects that don't exist?

I can tell you now (with loony gaze) there is no profit in being a prophet! Unless you like crying in the wilderness. Just a lot of hard work with little response to nourish the soul. Nothing ever penetrated the hide of the body politic, the city lacking any analyse or competent research into what was realistic and appropriate, appeared to undertake no professional studies what other cities overseas of comparable demographics and public transport investment were doing. Anything that was done was rail orientated - a study of the potential of commuter rail twice, not an early starter - obviously looking at the size and dispersement pattern of the population (my consultancy fee - a couple of dollars will do!) - and the building and expansion of a Heritage Tram system, totally clumsy and unusuable for any local purpose; the advocacy by various elected politicians of light rail.
Public opinion looks to Melbourne trams or attractive German light rail systems - oblivious to the times ten population base that fills or finances these expensive systems. Indeed, according to the rough rabbit calculator, if the total land area of the South Island had the equivalent density to that in Germany Te Wai Pounamu would have 60 million population!!  A perverse nature that is attracted to hard slog, long term projects of little obvious reward led me to check out for myself, rail and light rail systems and plans in small cities under 500,000 (later extended to under 1 million) in countries that shared similar demographics - Canada, Australia, NZ and USA. Only one city under 500,000 metropolitan population, of 58 "stand-alone" cities identified - the Kitchener-Waterloo region in Canada has decided to build a light rail system (current transit patronage well below Christchurch at 13 million trips a year). The metropolitan population here 450,000 but expected to grow to 750,000 in the time Christchurch will still not have achieved 500,000.  And only one city out of 118 under 1 million metropolitan population across all four countries (CANZUS) operates its own unique full commuter rail system - Wellington, NZ. (A few such as Wollongong, Newcastle, Tacoma, Bridgeport etc get back flow benefit from being on regional commuter lines to Seattle, Sydney, New York etc). But what is happening is in some of these small cities is the building of segregated corridors - mainly in the larger cities beyond the scope of my 'scope, most notably and successfully Ottawa and Brisbane - but also in some of the medium size Canadian cities, arguably the best match to New Zealand. More of these anon!

Photo Building the Central Connector Busway in Auckland - $46 million to give buses quick access in and out of the city. Government transport agencies gave $20 million and Canterbury residents presumably chipped in about $2.4 million of that amount.  Source Wikipedia Commons