Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taupo and Blenheim - one horse towns.

Taupo and Blenheim - one horse towns.  What the hell! What hornet's nest of small town pride whipped to a lynch mob fury is that crazy wabbit stirring up now? Taupo and Blenheim, two towns in the hinterland of New Zealand, both now over the 20,000 population mark. In former times (before government agencies moved the goal posts) that magic figure allowed a NZ town that size to call itself a "city".

Blenheim in the south, in the driest summer-browned patch of Te Wai Pounamu is getting chubby round the middle, like this blogger, on the hugely successful local wine industry; Taupo in the centre of Te Ika a Maui bases itself on the greatest disaster movie of human history, the world's largest recorded at the time volcanic eruption. (Yeah right, movies always overstate!). Lake Taupo, the biggest lake (note to Aussie readers, with water at all times) in Australasia lies in a caldera created by a supervolcanic eruption which occurred approximately 26,500 years ago. According to geological records and Wikipedia the volcano has erupted 28 times in the last 27,000 years. The mega ash cloud from the last eruption about 2000 years ago caused the sky to be reported as turning red over Rome and China. In between eruptions it is a very beautiful place to live, with hot thermal pools [of course] and famous for its trout fishing and other lake land activities.

Blenheim has reached a population of 28,000 and Taupo has a smaller population of 22,000 but is boosted by a summer season tourist influx of up to 50,000 visitors. Indeed a local bus driver I chatted with said many of the houses, apparently normal suburban dwellings, were in fact holiday homes, owned by wealthy city folk and rented out by the week.

The reference to one horse towns is not a slap across the face and an insult to parochial pride, but reference to the fact that both towns run a very minimal local bus service, the barest token service, using only one horse  in operation at any time. Taupo's has been attractively marketed and branded as "The Taupo Connector" and runs seven days a week; Blenheim's service is a bit more prosaic, "The Blenheim Bus" and runs only Monday-Friday (business days) during the middle of the day. Having read about the Taupo Connector on the Environment Waikato website a year or two back, I was interested to see a small town doing public transport well. Well splutter me latte and froth at the mouth, what a load of nonsense. In forty years of following and using public transport I have never seen such a ridiculous obscure and fragmented and needlessly complex service! The service seemed to run a different inner centre route each trip; to travel to the same general area (near the top of Rifle Range Road) twice in every trip yet miss whole parts of town and had a timetable that even sitting down and staring at for some time, I could not intepret. Unlike virtually every other timetable in the world it did not list the arrival/departure times for the central business district, but rather only the times the bus left outer terminii, in three diferent patterns, with a confusing system of two headed arrows allowing  passengers to add up how long it should take to get to town, according to which route by which it was travelling, if they could first intepret whether that route could apply to them. Even more confusing was that maps for the route variations were presented showing the same area tilted at different angles, making it very difficult to transpose which way it was coming through town.
A service with an attractive modern bus [see photo above], an old fashion friendly driver,  and very stylistic advertising but defying all good principles of public transport - keep it simple, keep it consistent (standard route through town centre), keep it memorable (easy to remember times, if possible same minutes past hour or consistently splayed if longer than hour) and for goodness sake provide a timetable that can read as fast and easily as possible, does not involve mathmatical calculations. The classic mistake is to try to make a bus service do too many different things, and end up doing none well. Taupo has thrown away a good service - one that if clearly routed and marketed could reasonably hope to generate a higher portion of its income from retired locals and a seasonal influx of carless back-packers than most other small towns. 

I was extra huffed after mis-reading the map-timetable  [not for want of trying] and waiting at a bus stop on one street, seeing the bus sail past on another. In general, indeed I was so annoyed at bus services being sold short in this way I raced off a letter to the local newspaper
- I suspect I wasn't the first patron to feel such irritation as the paper gave the letter it a page wide banner headline "Bus timetable too complicated". The dwatted wabbit strikes again!! Dum de diddy dum diddy dum dum, dum bonaza!!  I swear as the long distance coach headed south out of Taupo the following day an elderly couple standing at the side of the road saw me, at the bus window, the old man doffed his hat in mute respect and I saw the woman turn to her husband and say (yes, I lip read!) "Who was that masked wabbit?"

When I returned home I went looking on the internet for other, similar size, towns around New Zealand. I have not tried catching the local bus service in Blenheim, at the top of the island, Te Wai Pounamu but  it also appears to be operated by a single bus - indeed with some sponsorship of Mitre 10, though perhaps that is just the payment for bright orange paint job and advertising. Blenheims' bus service lacks the very stylish marketing presentation of the of Taupo but appears to use one bus with such down to earth intelligence it can only be considered, by comparison, quietly awesome! The town is divided into two routes both more or less rectangle circuits, and both pivot around a key common departure point in the centre of town "Seymour Square". First the bus leaves at 9am and does one circuit getting back by 9.30 am to do the other circuit, getting back by 10am to do the other circuit....not only is the timetable unforgettable (leaves on the hour to area A, on the half hour to area B) but presumably if you want to go from the outer area of A to part of B you just stay on the bus as it passes through town. Another factor is that this service if successful (it has already been upgraded from two days a week to five) can extend the hours of operation or insert a second bus, so all services run twice as often but still a consistent pattern on both routes. Splicing extra services in would only further confuse the higgedly piggedly Taupo timetable. My only critique of Blenheim as a regular bus passenger would be choosing to arrive in the CBD on the hour and half hour rather than 15 and 45 minutes past hour - makes for an unnecessarily long wait for people who have appointments or start or finish part-time work, these  being more typically "on the hour". As for the timetable it goes to the opposite extreme - perhaps too many timing points for the driver's comfort - but absolutely clear all the same, as to what time it leaves each location.

Compared to services in Canterbury's smaller towns and cities these are indeed one horse operations, very much token services, making no attempt to provide a realistic alternative to car use or ownership for the elderly and others, let alone services to workplaces. Rangiora with only half the population size of either of the above towns has day and evening and weekend services, weekdays every 30 minutes on one internal route circuit, and more or less hourly on another. These are both adjuncts of  Environment Canterbury Metro services entering the town on the journey from Kaiapoi and Christchurch, though funded in part by a local transport rate. Timaru about the size of Blenheim (and I imagine with considerably smaller tourist influx than Taupo) hosts four main circuit bus routes, running from 7 am to 6pm and on Saturdays. These services operate hourly and more often around morning and evening peak hours weekdays, complememnted by one or two smaller connections to nearby towns, such as Temuka. Again local rates play a funding role. Given the huge subsidies, or taxpayer contributions towards various social services, from police to surgical units, and towards covering up the real cost of private cars, how effective public transport is has more to do with political attitude than any objective assessment!

Recently there has much talk of disbanding Environment Canterbury, including dispersing the Metro operated bus service operations in Christchurch and Timaru back to local city councils. The Mayor of Timaru, Janie Annear, said in The Press [Feb 23rd 2010] her council could "easily" take over public transport in the city. "It's not rocket science. If you're providing the infrastructure, it seems sensible you run the services as well."  With all due respect to the Mayor, it may not be rocket science but nor is it easy to deliver truly effective public transport. The illusion maybe that in small towns, with only limited services, or one bus even that this will be simpler. As the contrasting examples above show doing public transport well with limited resources can be just as challenging as any other format of transit.

Below; One respect in which Taupo does seem to be leading the country in transport governance - the recent installation of "parking eyes" timed to trigger a GPS signal to parking wardens if a vehicle parked over top of the eye exceeds the allowed time!! Not only a huge saving on chalk and - do I care? - far more efficient policing of limited time parking zones.

You saw it first (maybe, yeah right) on NZ in Tranzit blog...coming to your neghbourhood soon?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Commitment to Integrated Public Transport in Waikato Impressive!

Last month I travelled through the Waikato and Bay of Plenty visiting friends or just checking out some places not visited for many years. Needless to say, being single, "car less" by preference and with such a long fondness for buses and the public transport industry, it was also something of a "busman's holiday".  I don't think that expression is in common use any more - for readers under forty years old  it means doing on your holiday what you do for a living.Well, not quite true, but it roughly fits in terms of my active time and consuming interests, my real passions. I have been reading for five or six years about the very concerted effort by Environment Waikato and local councils, Hamilton in particular, to push their public transport ahead and was keen to see it in action. I must say overall I was very impressed by what I saw of the set up in Hamilton, and also its links to surrounding towns. They have obviously taken a leaf (and a name, "The Orbiter", and possibly some help from Metro in Christchurch) with a central city circulator and middle suburban area Orbital route, as well as a comprehensive route pattern. One gets the feeling here is a provincial town rapidly maturing into a reasonably large city by NZ standards, determined to offer a metropolitan level of public transport. In doing so they are in fact racing ahead of much larger cities.

The integration of Waikato suburban services and support systems (a unitary transport centre with good cafe, bus exchange with both enclosed and out-door waiting areas, real time bus arrival signage, booking and information office, left luggage facilities, taxi stands close to all buses, etc) with all regional buses and long distance services was especially impressive. It leaves the higgledy piggledy muddle of where buses depart from in Christchurch for dead. One can only hope that sometime before the new Bus Exchange is built in Christchurch common sense (and a degree of non car-user awareness in planners)  will incorporate the same beneficial links in Christchurch!

Here's is a wee photograph gallery..

Hamilton's inner city shuttle service - On Board

Drive in back out bays - a world trend
 Hamilton Transport Centre - impressive!

  Integration of taxis & buses maximising travel options

  Regional services - Raglan bus on Saturday morning

Regional services run to Cambridge, Morrinsville etc 

                                                                        Long distance bus at HTC - Auckland -Wellington Naked Bus northbound. Hamilton Transport Centre is also station for Intercity services to diverse locatons.

Timetable info for services to other centres, not yet achieved after almost 20 years by Environment Canterbury! (despite past submissions by an irritating rabbit a couple of years back)

Timetables plasticated on single poles

Experimental (?) solar powered  Real Time sign

The only thing I found less than impressive was the bus service schedule and published timetable operating under Environment Waikato auspices in the outermost reach of this council, - the lakeside town of Taupo. They were to say the least bizarre!

More about that soon (being too bloody late to go any further now!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sending in a few lines to the Memorial Avenue Over bridge (or not) Consultation

A lovely evocative photo of a Trans Metro EMU riding through the early morning autumn mist,
courtesy of the photographer Joseph Christianson and Wikipedia Commons. 
The author of this posting suggests it may be many moons before the sun rises on a similar service in the greater Christchurch!!

If a commuter rail system ran from Rangiora to Rolleston via the current rail system it would (if achieving the unlikely success of Wellington which has very high public transport usage by comparable world standards) carry one fifth the Wellington total. That is around 2 million passengers a year.

I have made a throw away submission the the NZ Transport agency consultation about the overbridge/underpass or whatever is decided for the junction of SH1 (Russley Road) and Memorial Avenue. When I say throw away I mean just filled out the online comment form, from the top of my head, rather than spending several weeks preparing careful arguments and documented source info etc. as has often been the case with specific bus service submissions. Rather ironically my comment suggests that before any fly-over structures are build investigation should establish where any future rail alignment past the airport would need to run. I say ironically because I am probably the only local voice publicly and consistently casting doubt upon the unlikely value of rail (or light rail) in the context of Christchurch's small population, radial shape with low peripheral settlement and over-all low density.  Here in NZ we are misled by Wellington commuter rail's existence. Forget Wellington with its unusual combination of circumstances favourable to commuter rail - it's a freak situation. No other small city ( 300,000 and under 1 million population) of the 120 that I have found in Canada, Australia, NZ or USA [CANZUS] the countries comparable,  operates a commuter rail system specifically for that city. About a dozen gain backflow benefit from commuter rail systems primarily operated to get the small city locals to a much larger city (Wollongong to Sydney, Bridgeport to New York etc). These systems would clearly not operate for the small city alone and anyway rarely operate more than peak hours and a couple of middle of the day services.

It is my understanding commuter rail - all day services at not less than 30 minute intervals - needs about 15,000 passengers a day to get to some minimal viability. Not sure how this "viability" is measured,  but probably based on overseas patterns, meaning farebox recovery is at least 30% of total operating costs. According to a  page on America Public Transport Association web site I read a couple of years back [alas, a page I haven't been able to find again] the average farebox recovery for public transport in the 100 largest cities of the USA is 18% -  82% of operating costs met from various taxes and other income.  Heavy rail systems are bloody expensive to build and operate even with denser populations. 

Wellington's commuter rail system serves Porirua and the Kapiti Coast, and the Hutt Valley and the Wairarapa - a total catchment of 210,000 residents in the greater Wellington areas, and 32,000 in the Wairarapa (though a relatively small portion would commute to work in Wellington). Shall we say Wellington's Tranz Metro system serves a possible rail commuter market of 215,000, which generates about 11 million passenger trips a year. Let us compare; adding together all of Christchurch's "external" population, notably Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Woodend, Pegasus to the north, and Templeton and Rolleston to the south - ie the population adjoining the rail corridor - my figures come in around 40,000 current population. If a commuter rail system ran from Rangiora to Rolleston via the current rail system it would (if achieving the unlikely success of Wellington which has very high public transport usage by comparable world standards) carry one fifth the Wellington total. That is around 2 million passengers a year. Given the total travel distances, and congestion, in Christchurch are much lower than driving from Upper Hutt, Porirua, Paraparaumu etc, to Wellington's CBD and also need the clumsy need to then switch into buses for most commuters, discouraging wider use of rail, and given also we haven't had fifty years of building residential areas and factories orientated to a commuter line, realistically it would seem 1 million rail passengers a year would be a more realistic - and still challenging - target!  It will no doubt be pointed out that passengers will board at Belfast, Papanui and Hornby, but I suspect not very many unless they were travelling longer distances, Hornby to Belfast for instance. Sensibly the ratio of time waste in journey time and transfers needed using rail to access the city from the ring of outer suburbs would compare very poorly with private car, bike or bus use. Every stop that is added in also slows the journey for the travellers from further out - it ceases to be a rapid transit option which is really one of the main arguments favouring rail. Reference will no doubt also be made to rapid growth in these areas - sure but a long way, several decades,  from a 100,000 total catchment and - has any body in the public noticed - the increasing industrial areas at Rolleston or in the north of the city aimed in part to attract employees from these new areas and voiding need for systems that are really only competitive over long distances.

The cost of creating this rail system, on past studies commisioned by Ecan, would not be less than $100 million, a basic system with double tracking needed from Addington through to Papanui - incidentally also destroying the most marvellous "motorway" for pedestrians and cyclists. Building new stations would absorb millions (it is costing over a million dollars each just to lengthen the platforms and upgrade existing stations, such as Pukerua Bay on Wellington's commuter rail system). On an hour long through-journey, Rolleston-City-Rangiora, at half hourly headways, at least six double unit diesel railcars would be needed, they start at around $14 million each - unless we get second or third hand cast offs from Auckland or overseas, perhaps at a third the cost.

All this to transport about 5% of the public transport passengers in Christchurch
[I am presuming that current bus patronage (17 million passengers a year) will have surpassed the 20 million per year mark by the time the rail system was operating]. Would it not be cheaper to spend this $150 million plus on building several attractive platformed enclosed waiting area bus stations at Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Rolleston etc and buying say 30  luxury (but with back-door) style coaches, with full head rest, well padded seats, wi-fi access (total cost around $20 million) and running a service every 15 minutes from each end. This could be one that runs directly into and out of the central city no transfers needed. Possibly with enough spare buses to also interweave between this 15 minute pattern, at peak hours,  buses from  and to Timaru and Ashburton, Oxford and Swannanoa, Darfield and West Melton, and Waipara and Amberly, creating a service every 8 minutes through Rolleston and Kaiapoi. Some services would enter and leave the city via the airport. Frequent, fast, comfortable, multi-directional buses rather than half hourly mono-route trains.

You may see why I think rail is a poorly thought through fantasy! So why make the submission on a rail corridor? Because nobody knows how hard or how fast the decline in consumer orientated lifestyles will be, once oil really starts to move upwards in cost. They say it takes 10 kilojoules of fossil fuel to create one kilojoule of food in our industrialised farming and long food miles system. How many thousand cars drive from Timaru to Christchurch or vice versa each day, how many are going to keep to these patterns when fuel reaches $3 or $4 a litre? Can we afford to build the huge new power stations needed to run any sizeable proportion of cars on electricity? I consider conventional rail largely a 19th century technology except for its one redeeming value in being able to transport very large tonnages of freight or human cargo. Therefore the potential corridor for rail into the city should be identified and protected now, though it may be ten, twenty or thirty years away before it is constructed. Sensibly it seems to me, given the current rail corridor doesn't serve most areas very effectively, consideration should be made now (while land remains bare) to creating a link from Islington up past the airport and then under Johns Road across to Styx Mill to rejoin the SIMT line, just south of the road overbridge. This creates a loop, and if the new track was double track, three lines into the city from the north, two via airport, one via existing line, voiding the need to double track through Bryndwyr. It also gives far more flexibility in both passenger and freight movements, a sort of rail roundabout which can run in either direction, passengers from Timaru getting off directly at airport on way into city via Papanui etc.  

Despite my submission to the Memorial Avenue/Russley Road overbridge consultation I don't really believe the rail line needs to run close to Russley Road - it would make more sense to create an underground trench around the eastern end of the east-west runway and under Orchard Road closer to the airport, perhaps with a separated (walled off) second track section for freight trains.  I raise the issue in this consultation, to wave the flag of better public transport in Christchurch!! And to promote forward thinking as an antidote to having heard twenty years of generalisation ("we need rail") unsupported by any analysis.  Perhaps too, if we can scare the current Government and NZ Transport Agency that we might come wanting our share of the hundreds of millions invested in rail in Auckland and Wellington  they might suddenly get keen to maintain funding and support for bus lanes - better still segregated busways that completely bypass congestion, a technology and strategy replacing rail investment in many situations worldwide, curiously ignored by Christchurch local body politicians and planners.

From Beijing (building 20 busways) to Johannesburg (building 270km of bus lanes and busways) and Leeds opting for busways over light rail (with 7 million population in area) to Ottawa-Gatineau (highest patronage per capita of any North America city below 2 million and almost entirely achieved by bus and rapid bus systems), to Auckland's northern busway, and Brisbanes mushrooming busway patronage; segregated busways combining the advantages of both rail and bus,  a system - unlike rail or light rail -  immensely adaptable to smaller cities like Christchurch.  

Monday, March 22, 2010

Under achievement key factor in quality transport!

Christchurch Bus Exchange denied top quality facilities despite huge funding for Auckland public transport

Following on the success of the stylish underground station at Britomart, to which Government agencies contributed $200 million, and the $48 million rebuild of Newmarket Station as an impressive multi-level, multi-track complex [see previous posting for other photos]  Auckland is a step closer to another classy underground station. Earlier this month the first train ran along the New Lynn trench, soon to be home the $160 million New Lynn underground rail and overhead bus centre. To overcome the long standing problem of the railway line dividing the centre of New Lynn,  in the head of KiwiRail, Jim Bolger's words, "like the Berlin wall", and the prospect of ever increasing traffic delays and congestion at complex rail crossings as Aucklands suburban trains become more regular, it was decided to put the newly double-tracked rail corridor in a concrete walled trench. If Christchurch is a swamp New Lynn is a clay pit (one that once that provided half the pottery and plates in New Zealand via Crown Lynn Potteries) unfortunately a very soggy clay pit where the rail was cut down requiring an additional $20 million (to the original $120 million) from the Transport Agency NZ  to cover the cost of the specialised concrete "diaphragm walls" constructed.

To cap off a wonderful fortnight in the growth of New Zealand's infrastructure NZ Transport Agency made it clear they would not finance the $21 million added cost of building Christchurch's new Bus Exchange underground to ensure free flow of buses entering and exiting the exchange without having to fight traffic or inter-mingle with pedestrians. Given the shape, population size and density of Christchurch the new Bus Exchange will be "Christchurch's Britomart" - the premier public transport interchange that will in many ways define the city and provide its most metropolitan core. The Christchurch City Council instead has decided to borrow the money and pay it back over 30 years, which seems sensible given the benefits such an exchange will deliver over decades.  Despite some criticism from other quarters,  The Press Editorial this morning lead with emphatic support for the Council - the editorial headline said it perfectly - "Do it Right". 

Auckland has now received, or in process of receiving $1.8 billion in commuter rail and busway funding from Governments since 2001, and Wellington something like half a billion of taxpayers money towards general rail upgrades (with commuter trains a high rail user in that area).  This includes spending more money ($92 million) to extend, double track and electrify commuter rail services from Paraparaumu to Waikanae, serving a population of  38,000 than the $45 million the Transport Agency NZ proposes to allocate to the Christchurch Bus Exchange serving a population catchment of over 400,000.

Widening of the rail corridor in readiness for new tracks and overhead catenary structures north of Paraparaumu, Te Ika a Maui

Christchurch I believe paid for its own first bus exchange, and has not to my knowledge ever received any significant infrastructure funding for public transport other than money towards bus lanes - funding now significantly cut back by the National Government! What are we paying taxes for ? In a very loose arithmetic  (I know it is not quite so simple) Canterbury has contributed 13% of the $2.3 billion spent up north on public transport ...I make that about $300 million and what have we got to show for it?  National is basically saying to Canterbury "on yer bike" .,.oops wrong again wabbit - National Government  funding for Canterbury bike lanes has been cut by a staggering 80%. So hop it!!

What is so bizarre is that world oil producers, energy agencies, make it quite clear that rising oil prices are inevitable and on the way with major impact likely on the world. The National Government seems to be still travelling in the mid 20th century, like some bizarre retro family in one of those idealised 1950s USA car ads, on the a motorway to nowhere. Perhaps the most ludicrous statement of late comes from the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce. According to Joyce (quoted in The Press March 11 2010) said the Government invested considerable sums in public transport, as well as roading, " but we do believe strongly that people are not likely to sacrifice their personal mobility to the extent some would have us believe". Joyce is talking about choice, he obviously does not understand without a strong public transport sector there will be no choice. Once fuel starts getting above $3 a litre, food costs and most other costs will rise dramatically and wasting many dollars worth of expensive fuel to travel to work, or to needlessly ferry kids and teenagers, as is common now will essentially cut funds for recreational use of motor vehicles.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

National Government; country kids continue to get free rides while city parents pay

Primary school children coming off rural school bus in Taihape,Te Ika a Maui         NZ in Tranzit 2010)

Few people will begrudge the Government of New Zealand subsidising of school bus fares fares for children living in rural areas who have to travel 5,10 or 20km to school each day. Realistically only some country parents at greater distance from rural schools could comfortably afford the fares on an ACT style "user pays" basis, if actual cost per kilometre was included. I'm sure most kiwis want children to have equal access to education and do not mind taxes being used to level the playing field.  This does not come cheap for New Zealand taxpayers.  Pupils qualify if there is no suitable public transport available and they live more than 3.2 kilometres from the nearest school and are under 10 years old, or they live more than 4.8km from schools and are over 10 years old. More than $142m will be spent on school transport this year for about 81,000 pupils. This is to rise to almost $159m by 2012.

A very different matter is whether children should be paying some basic fare, a standard cost. Parents of children in cities and many other areas typically pay between $2-4 a day in bus fares per child. This applies regardless of whether the children/teenagers are catching conventional city timetable buses or contracted school only buses, such as the comprehensive school bus systems run by Redbus in Christchurch. A study by Ministry of Education officials suggested charging thousands of rural parents for school transport, saying free rides for country children was hard to justify on equity grounds. There are doubtless parents in rural areas on low incomes who would struggle to find the kids bus fares many weeks, just as thousands do in the cities. However the Ministry study cited a 2003 Income Survey which found that overall rural families enjoyed higher incomes than the national average.

National's Minister of Education Anne Tolley rejected the report, according to an article in the The Dominion-Post Sept 16 2009 " "To have altered the provision of this service would have caused considerable distress to many families around the country," she said.

The rough wabbit calculator figures that the parents of every country child catching a bus during the approximate 40 weeks a year of schooling (less holidays) are getting about $42 week, no strings attached from taxpayers...if a nominal fare of $1.50 per child each way ($3 a day) was applied to bring country fares in line with city commuter rail and bus fares for school children, irrespective of distance travelled, this would reduce the subsidy to $27 per week or a saving of about $38 million per year.  Probably enough to reduce fares to a standardised or maximum school bus fare for ALL school, children. Or put into worthwhile transit infrastructure project -  say like putting Christchurch's new Bus Exchange underground to the potential  benefit about 450,000 New Zealand people,rather than just the 120,000 or so rural parents. Hmmm this wabbit smells a lot of National voters out in dem old hills!!

Added Info; About 40% of the bus industry in New Zealand is built around school bus services; recent capture of about one fifth of all tenders by bus operators Ritchies and GO BUS (Hamilton and central North Island based bus company sent many small local operators to the wall - this said, as has become standard in the bus industry nowadays,  many of the same local drivers probably just changed companies and went on doing the same run!

New Governors Bay bus service proposal - Over the hill but not far enough?

Metro is currently hoping to establish a bus service to Governors Bay, a pocket of housing at the top of the Lyttelton Harbour, currently only serviced by a school bus, up and down the steep hill road to the nearest city high school. This will involve all residents paying a separate transport rate on the regional council rates, as do most urban areas in Christchurch and adjoining districts already. It is by no means certain it will go ahead, relying upon local agreement. I have driven over that spectacular steep, hairpin road about 900 times in my life, as a "two half day tours a day" city sightseeing bus driver and commentator so it does feel very familiar territory to me. Needless to say I couldn't resist sticking my twitchy rabbity nose into the issue!

The spectacular alpine style Dyers Pass Road  linking Governors Bay and the top of Lyttelton Harbour with the city

Below I share my submission with the world at large - unlikely to make any dent, but I'll circulate an invitation to read this posting to local worthies and elected officials, as I do, so they can decide for themselves, at least are aware of this option if it has not already been raised and rejected. Usually such submissions disappear without trace or comment and for all I know are given a 10 second glance by a junior planner with absolutely no knowledge of Christchurch, and then biffed aside. However Ecan has no systematic protocols or process for handling submissions in a diplomatic and thoughtful way to those who have bothered to contribute. Even a little pro forma letter with a tick box for reasions for rejection "Fell outside present budget" "Not technically possible" "Was not supported by majority of other submissions" etc might go along way in public relations. I should know. I have put forward about eighty submissions and suggestions on public transport issues since 1981 to about six different organisations. I have only seen one directly taken up [clumsily] and about three ideas I've put forward not in the original proposal adopted in some vaguely similar manner, which may have been a result of my submission, or may not. You certainly don't do busspotting for money, glory or sense of satisfaction in playing a role in improving public transport!! The good side of this equation is once you realise nothing moves the heart or head of city hall you can get incredibly case hardened and poke your nose in everywhere, even dress up as a rabbit !!
In the end like some old worlde prophet the only place left to stand is to "Bear witness" say what you believe is true because that's what you do. (Bloody hell so now I have to dress as a bear!!)
At least the public may have a wider view, perhaps get a more sophisticated view of transit, and demand more. Building a better saner, world bus stop by bus stop! Yay!

Enough of such nonsense, if you live in Governors Bay or on the Cashmere Hills (with the appalling,shameful Saturday night and Sunday bus services!) you might find this idea of interest. Or maybe it was put forward and rejected by locals or can't be done without huge added costs, or a myriad of other factors. There can be a lot of reasons suggestions might be rejected, one of them of course is that bureaucrats may have thin egos, or there just was not the local pressure from passengers and residents to make the extra effort of adjusting plans worthwhile!

[ Note; Original submission slightly altered to aid clarification for readers outside Christchurch]

Re Proposed Governors Bay Service

I think it is a great pity that the proposed service does not run to and from Barrington Mall which is a far more significant terminus and transfer point than the corner of Barrington Street and Cashmere Road [a roundabout and nothing else - Barrington Mall is in a straight line about 2km away from the proposed terminus]. Transfers as suggested [route bus 14 en route waits for the arrival of the service from Governors Bay etc] are terribly clumsy and in my experience as a former bus driver prone to delays, annoying for passengers on either service or both. Running to the Mall represents a more open and fluid transfer point, with more options for passengers to vary plans or places to wait (cafes, bars, library) wait if a longer gap occurs, or for friends to pick them up or drop them off. 

Running services to Barrington Mall would also allow a larger more frequent range of services that patrons travelling from the city could use to arrive at the transfer point (8,11, fairly direct services via Colombo St and Milton St, and 20 via Antigua St and Selwyn Shops, 22 via ChCh Public Hospital and Addington) and from more diverse locations e.g. also includes Christchurch Public Hospital via 22; Moorhouse Avenue area 20 etc. The best match arrival time for these services could be included in the Governors Bay Timetable (in the same way as 5 Hornby arrivals are listed and matched on the timetable for services departing Hornby to Rolleston [a shuttle service that does not run right into the city]. Running the Governors Bay service to Barrington Mall  would also offer more straight forward direct access to Addington, Riccarton and the University via The Orbiter route, voiding the extended dog leg of travelling via Princess Margaret Hospital and Hoon Hay before getting back to Barrington Mall.

A further factor is that running to Barrington Mall would allow residents from Governors Bay - and from the Cashmere Hill area as well -  direct access to a major suburban hub point with supermarket, doctors, dentists, library etc, many services in one place.  without having to go into the city centre. Or the same facilities at the very point where the journey is broken, and the transfer from one service to another carried out.  In contrast, as currently proposed,  those Governors Bay residents working in the city wishing to use a Supermarket on Colombo Street (Countdown for instance) on their way home from work will have to travel on bus A to that point; do their shopping making sure they are finished in time to catch bus B; travel on bus B to the to Barrington St/Cashmere Rd roundabout and transfer themselves and shopping bags onto bus C to Governors Bay…a very clumsy and unattractive alternative.

A third factor is running this service to Barrington Mall also opens up direct access options for city residents, to access Victoria Park, Sign of the Takahe, and/or bus to the Sign of the Kiwi and walk back down via walking tracks etc, as well as travel to Governors Bay itself for picnics, fishing and swimming. The departure point for this service proposed in this submission, Barrington Mall is directly accessible by routes coming from 7 different directions. 

This extension in my eyes would make the service hugely more useful (including picking up extra passengers to Barrington Mall off the hill suburbs) and feel more professional looking if it runs to and from a major transfer point. I realise this extra leg might require an extra 6-8 minutes (that is, to travel from proposed terminus on Cashmere Road to Barrington Mall and back) and might not be possible in a regular hourly pattern return circuit with only one vehicle. One option I suggest that could be considered might be to splay the departure times in a consistent and reasonably memorable way – not ideal but all things weighed together a fairly attractive marketable service.

E.g. 9.10 10.20 11.30 12.40 1.50 3.00 4.10 5.20 etc

[Note to blog readers; This system of splaying (a service every 70 minutes) is the next best thing after same minutes past hour for memorability. If you know the bus leaves at 9.10 and every one hour ten minutes there after, you know the timetable for the whole day, and indeed most times are directly remembered after only half a dozen uses just because there is an inherent logic - an example of the symetry referred to in a previous posting

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cartoon Controversy!! Bugs Bunny slags off at Mickey Mouse's planning ability.

Let's leave behind the ghosts of yesterdays public transport and move forward!!

"It follows that routes need to be designed, or paired (including multiple routes that tendered to operating bus companies as a set) in the first instance to benefit consumers"

Last night I caught one of the last Sunday night bus services of the day home along Papanui Road, a major traffic and tourist corridor in Christchurch. If I miss this bus service from the city, around 10pm Sunday night there is an unholy wait of 58 minutes to the next, and absolutely last, service, at 10.58pm.

Jesus, Joseph, mother of Mary I get down on my knees and thank the Gods that be that we have a Sunday night service at all. I have scanned enough timetables in the other 120 cities of CANZUS to know many cities, including some much bigger than Christchurch, don't have a Sunday evening service - some indeed have no Sunday services at all (these mainly in the USA). Appreciating what we have, does not in anyway diminish the realisation of how far short we are of a really top quality bus service

And please, can I ask the big G why he in his infinite wisdom allows the services in periods of limited frequency to be  planned by Mickey Mouse?

I am waiting at the stop north of Victoria Square around 10pm and what should appear simultaneously but TWO buses - route12 Northwood and route 10 Airport via Papanui and Harewood, both travelling bumper to bumper. Both of these services run for half of their routes (approximately 5km) up a common shared corridor - viz Victoria Street and Papanui Road. In the daytime, weekdays, services (from five different routes) run approximately every ten minutes up Papanui Road - in other words a service of such frequency that some doubling up is almost inevitable. Given passengers boarding along  Papanui Road are not at disadvantage, left with a long wait, by such doubling of services it may not be best resource use but it doesn't cause the resentment of misuse of wasting buses and passenger's time during  periods of more limited service. 

In some other parts of Christchurch Sunday evening services don't operate, or run only hourly. Well we are not a huge city, miracles are not always possible, but on Papanui Road resources ARE AVAILABLE AND ALREADY BEING USED to run five services an hour. And here come two buses travelling nose to tail - running along so close together that they may as well be dogs trying to mate! On a Sunday evening pattern of five bus services an hour but with a gap of 20 minutes, then 21 minutes in service and then three services all in a 11 minute span! Definitely not a quality service if measured against the resources used to deliver it!! Bloody hell this is a route that could be serviced on a consistent 15 minute  pattern with an added service somewhere in the pattern all day Sunday and Saturday evenings (another erratic time) as well.

If we try to establish the IDEAL model of a committed professional quality service we may also see where current services rupture, crash and burn.

Starting with an ideal pattern the following principles would apply;
(a) Services along shared corridors of significance, or to the same general area should be pulsed to create 
consistent patterns of service and consistent frequencies [a service runs every 10 or  every 15, or every 30 or 60 minutes etc NOT an 8 minute gap, followed by a 21 minute gap, followed by 3 minute gap etc]

(b) Services running to the same outer areas should be pulsed to maximise the frequency of services to that area [eg if two hourly services run to the same general area they should be pulsed to offer access , by one route or other, every 30 minutes rather than both at a similar time]

(c) Usuale arrival and exit times for the corridor from the city and where possible other major employent/functional areas should be applied as far as possible [services should not arrive or depart the CBD between A.55 minutes past the hour and B.05 after the hour, because this voids access by public transport to most part-time evening workers and to various other functions starting or finishing on the hour]

(d) Services on a busy corridor (which also carries many tourists) should wind down in a logical pattern - not suddenly drop from five per hour to a 58 minute gap then the last bus, rather move from five per hour to half hourly then finish eg Papanui corridor would be rejigged to wind down smoothly 10.01, 10.30, 10.58pm

An application of these principles on the Victoria Street/Papanui Road corridor might see the five different routes operating a pulsed pattern of northbound departures of 05  +10  20  35 and 50 minutes past the hour. 

This is a major route, and a complex one in the number of different services entwined, as well as serving many tourist accommodation points, so priority is allocated to simple and memorable times [eg rather than 07, 13, 22 past hour etc]. Rather than convert it to a service every 12 minutes, to keep symmetry, easy recall of departure times and  to allow an even 30 minute pulsing of several of these routes that work as pairs, beyond the Victoria/Papanui Rd shared corridor, the service every 15 minutes, plus one extra, concept is used. I believe symmetry - logical patterns - are of huge significance in public transport planning; the human brain is a logic and balance seeking seeking mechanism (if it was not maths would hardly exist) and closer to a logical pattern a bus route or network pattern is, the more quickly and intuitively it will be grasped, feel familiar and harmonious, correspond to the inner person, be adopted, remembered and readily used. This includes the feel of a bus system network wide - a 15 minute pattern at the core on this corridor is systematic with 15,30 and 60 minute service patterns  elsewhere in off peak.  

The five routes serving this north bound corridor are 8, 10,11,12, 22 and they each interrelate with each other and some also intereact significantly with other routes at outer points (10 with 14 via Cranford St serving the Harewood area, and with  29 and 3 to the Airport) 8,11,12 with routes 16 to Northwood, and with 60 and 90 serving the north Belfast area). On the south leg of these north-south axis through routes 8 and 11 offer paired access to the Milton St/Barrington Mall/Hoon Hay corridor; 10 and 22 access to the Cashmere Hills; 10 and 12 access to Beckenham and Thorrington areas, and 12 with 18 and 15 to Bowenvale and St Martins areas. It follows that routes need to be designed, or paired (including multiple routes that tendered to operating bus companies as a set) in the first instance to benefit consumers rather than administrative easy fixes. What is the point of running both services to one of these outer shared areas - such as the Cashmere Hills - at virtually the same time, cheating patrons of what should be de facto 30 minute access? With so many variables, there are thousands of options, and many possibilities have to be tested and worked through to produce a best possible network pattern of maximum use and minimum anomally. Clearly it will take more than a couple of days analysis to design quality integrated patterns for a network!! This is what we are not getting in Christchurch. Indeed it is not even clear that an attempt is being made to achieve such patterns, but if it is it is being severely distorted by budgetary factors, trying to create attractive tender parcels; by mismatching the through routes so that running times of the route patterns make a balanced pairing both ends impossible or very expensive in added buses needed; by commercial services (without any subsidy eg Airport service) being designed to generate money with out reference to network needs overall.

Under the current Sunday regime services to the Harewood area (10 and 14) run at virtually the same time 57 and 58 past the hour; services to the Northcote area (11 and 8) at a passable 25/35 minute pulsing; to the Northwood/ Belfast area (8, 11,12,16) at a passable but hardly brillant pulsing of 07, 27, 29 and 54 past the hour) ; to Milton St-Barrington (11 and 8) at an attractive, regular 30 minute pulsing (13 and 43 past the hour); services to the airport (3,29 and 10) offer consistent 15 minute access to the city Sunday night but as noted in previous postings, as currently patterned by Metro or Redbus at great expense to patrons in south Christchurch areas. The result is,  to Beckenham-Thorrington area (10 and 12) at an absurd pattern of 01 and 05 past the hour; equally absurd is the service to the Cashmere Hills and Sign of the Takahe (10 and 14) at the  01 and 09 minutes past the hour. A corollary of these patterns is that the 90 Rangiora service and 16 service (both serving outer Belfast) leave the Bus Exchange only 6 minutes apart.

When I climbed on the first of the two buses running simultaneously up Papanui Road I looked to see if any transport planners were aboard (the distinctive round over-size ears a great giveaway). Not unexpecedly there were none - I can't imagine anyone in Metros planning organisation actually using the mish mash services on Saturday night or Sundays for their social life - who would condemn their own mobility to such needlessly long gaps on poorly coordinated services if they had the power to plan better? 

Currently on the City Papanui corridor Sunday nights there three services run within a 11 minute period (at 50, 58 minutes and then 01 minutes past hour) and that there are two gaps as long as 20/21 minutes in a service whose baseline should be every 15 minutes!  This is barely a baseline quality service when measured against the 05,20,35,50 pattern described above (with an added exit time at 10 past) and seems even more shoddy when measured against the host of anomalies undermining services to the various outer suburbs also listed above. In fact it is tantamount to throwing away public money, running so many services in sch a duplication of roles.

I know a lot of people (including those in planning here and there around NZ and the world) might read this and think "Not so much a rabbit as a grumpy old man" or "what's he wanking on about, Sunday night services for Godsake!" Everything I have seen here [or more recently in Taupo -see next week's posting]suggests people designing timetables are not the people relying on buses 24/7 (or really 18/7). Most them do not even grasp the nature of the product they are marketing - maximum ease of mobility for those not using cars, per se consistent reliable integrated and multi-optional public transport scheduled and marketed in such a way it is instantly grasped and understood, easily retained in memory.
It is the trip, each priceless departure time, set like a jewel in a necklace of predictable patterns, that is being sold; all the fancy new buses, marketing campaigns and pompous bullshit - "greenwash" - about getting people out of cars doesn't mean a thing if a public transport system hasn't got the nous to get out the 20th century "she'll be right" public service [for the peasants] attitudes. With big oil rises a major prediction for the coming years, can we as a city not get into offering a decent sophisticated highly planned timed and integrated service, instead of something that resembles a clothes line fill of Mickey Mouse's washing strung any old fashion.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Stats, rats and future wars and worldwide impoverishment - or make public transport a real alternative to the private car - the huge challenge

QUOTE "Worldwide, sprawl stands as a serious threat to a sustainable future. This is in good part due to the fact that sprawl creates near total dependence on the private car. Between 1980 and 1995, the global fleet of cars, trucks and buses grew 70%, with a third of the increase ocurring in developing countries. The ability of planet earth to absorb astronomical increases in the population of cars and distances they travel, in terms of both fossil fuel supplies they consume and green house gas emissions is worrisome. Only 8% of the world's population presently owns a car. The 700-million motor vehicles worldwide represent just 10% of potential market saturation. The spread of U.S. auto ownership rates (750 vehicles per 1000 residents) to the citizens of Russia, India, and China (where fewer than one in ten own a car) would wreak havoc on the globes finite resources".

Robert Cervero (Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California (Berkeley) in  "Transport and Land Use; Key Issues in Metropolitan Planning and Sustainable Growth"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Will Christchurch Get the Message?

Real Time signage in Auckland had the superior (to Christchurch) capacity to include continuous running messages along the bottom line - here informing passengers of the shuttle service between national and international terminals at Auckland airport; other messages spotted on other screens referred to delays (beside the route number), to fare rises and an event. Such a hugely useful added feature! Often passengers are left in the dark about breakdown, sudden industrial action, etc because it is impossible to contact them at short notice. This real time capacity would seem to offer a unique way to contact many, by simultaneous broadcast to all stops with real time signage of this nature. Possibly even to those only on a specific route. An astute marketing department could also use it to lever up increased patronage for big events the following day or that evening, announcing departure times from key points for special services.  Of course the Auckland signage would look better if they included the bottom half of their words (or the photographer was not a midget)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rust in Peace

There is something especially poignant for me about old buses, adapted for house buses or rusting quietly in some paddock or yard. Although they do not have the glamourous veneer of a steam locomotive, for example, in their lifetime most buses will have carried several million passengers. They are the unsung work-horses that make thousands of other activities possible. From time to time I will pay tribute to this by including photographs of some retired or semi-retired bus I come across. The bus above (I could not detect the make), a former Auckland Regional Authority bus, subsequently a travelling home, is virtually entrenched under a protective iron roof, secreted in the shadows amongst the bushes on a  hillside in the Waitakere forest area west of Auckland. After a lifetime of noise and life I imagine this will be its last rusting place, its only inhabitants now spiders and other insects.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rail - a journey into the past?

I don't see rail as a very attractive option to car use and unlike Auckland and Wellington I don't see Christchurch forced to make that choice.

I have just had eight days in the North Island, a rather crazy and unusual eight days, not so much a holiday as a few nights catching up with a few old friends and family while during the days sussing out the state of public transport around New Zealand. I spent two days in Auckland (first time there since 1976!) and then time in Raglan, Hamilton, Rotorua, Taupo, Taihape, Fielding, Otaki and Wellington. To call it a fact finding tour would be as nonsensical as call a two week flying visit to a handful of very large North American cities a fact finding tour! It was more an impressions tour, some visual images to complement projects I have been reading about for years.

Unlike the South Island quite a few chunks of my journey could be conveniently done by rail. For instance I stayed at Bethells Beach (ironically given its proximity to Auckland the least despoiled, commercialised or obliterated by loudly painted buildings area in all my travels - a real old kiwiana beach of  baches or bach styled houses and toi toi and river estuary). To get to and from the point in Henderson where my friends/hosts worked meant catching the commuter rail service on the Western line to and from Swanson which  I did several times. Swanson is the second to last station, 17km from the city and an hour long journey, so it gave a good chance to see a significant chunk of the  Auckland commuter rail network in operation or construction. This route passes hundreds of millions of dollars of new infrastructure, notably the very attractive Brittomart Station; the giant multi-level station complex at Newmarket; the $120 million dollar trencing of rail beneath ground level at the New Lynn rail/bus centre under construction; and various new suburban stations such as that at Swanson, illustrated below, with their H shaped towers - lift wells complementing the stairs and footbridges. 

Part of the Newmarket rail station complex

New Lynn bus and (underground) rail centre under construction beside temporary surface level rail line

Swanson - new footbridge/lift towers and waiting areas from older station and cafe area

In general I was very impressed with what money can buy in terms of infrastructure and also with the service efficiency. For example each carriage unit holding about 70 people had its own dedicated guard, host person or whatever it is called these days. When the trains stop they each step out on to the platform and monitor and assist if needed those who hop on to their particular segment of the train. This seems likely to virtually eliminate fare dodging which loses  many millions of dollars in overseas rail systems such as Sydney - it also feels very supportive in terms of safety, comfort or access to information. However it rules out the argument of rail advocates that less staff is needed to operate trains than buses, always somewhat dubious given the high number of track inspection and rail maintenance crews and other support personnel involved in rail. Nor are trains particularly fast. To serve a wide swathe of west Auckland, and also no doubt to generate sufficient patronage, the commuter line (original track alignment built years ago) curves down through New Lynn and then back up to Henderson, making for a 6km longer journey from Henderson to Auckland's CBD than might be the case if the line was direct.  I guess such a long commute is the price of living in a large city and certainly trains were capable of carrying large numbers, such as when students from the the various high schools along the track poured in to carriages along the way.   

Spending two days idly railing and bussing across large areas of Auckland I was reminded how huge it is in its geographical footprint. Because of its rolling hills, again and again as the bus or rail reaches a higher point one sees vistas of housing, shops, apartment blocks, industry spreading as far as the eye can see. - Auckland is said to be the 19th biggest urban area in the world - which seems an extra-ordinary [unlikely?] claim given there are hundreds of cities with a bigger population (what is even more boggling to a naieve country boy like me is than Los Angeles is about eight times larger still in area!). From the start of the more or less continuous built up residential areas to the south, Papakura, to the point where more or less continuous housing ends in the north, Albany, is about 45 kilometres. Papakura itself (44,000) is about the same distance as Rangiora (12,000) is from Christchurch central, and connected by both direct rail services and by trains travelling via the eastern loop route. A not irrelevant factor in terms of rail patronage -  a further 370,000 people live between Papakura and the Manakau Harbour - a population the size of Christchurch before one even gets to the boundary of Auckland City (410,000) proper. I note that this is this slightly more people than between Rangiora and Christchurch's boundary at Belfast - indeed more Kaiapoi and Spencerville/Brooklands combined !

I also caught several buses and apart from the Northern Busway services, notwithstanding sections of bus lane (where buses hurtle along seemingly only inches from the overhang of shop verandhas or within feet of crowds waiting at stops for other services) found these relatively slow and clumsy. Auckland is just so vast and complex that whatever time is saved in bus lanes a large amount then seems to be lost at complex multiple-phase long wait traffic lights which occur every couple of minutes along the way.

 Later in my travels I was to journey by electric commuter train in from Paraparaumu to Wellington station, a distance of 50 km. Although this trip includes many segments of rural land, it also includes residential areas with a population of over 80,000, and more further north in rapidly growing Waikanae (my journey took me past construction works for extending double tracking and electrification and commuter rail services to Waikanae). A similar equation in Canterbury would see multiple housing settlements, large and small between Amberly and Christchurch, Kaiapoi a city bigger than Timaru and a population of around 30,000 plus in Waipara. Yes, well, not quite! A third rail trip I took was on "The Overlander" fromTaihape to Feilding, described at the end of this article.

I thought I might become a fan of rail, which I had barely travelled on in 20 years, and it does have a certain charisma. The enormous power implicit in the huge body and length of the train being pulled by the huge engines, diesel or electric, certainly has presence. But it is also - at least in New Zealand with its very narrow guauge - it is a fairly rough, lurching and jolting, clunking and banging across points, graunching and squealing, and tugging violently, jerl, jerk, jerk around tight bends.  It seems in many ways a hangover from the Victorian period, to use such heavy machinery to carry such relatively small numbers and weights as a few hundred people, unnecesarily complex to have to cradle something as simple as mobility in a huge heavy engineering infrastructure of cuttings, tunnels,  platforms, maintenance crews, guards and security personnel etc, Despite all this huge expense and infrastructure it is still only possible to travel in a few limited directions,  contrasting poorly with the flexibility of car travel. UK studies (in a country where rail is widely used) suggest the amount of dead time - empty or half empty carriages at the beginning or end of journeys renders rail ineffective in environmental terms. Scanning my files I see that "The Auckland Regional Transport Authority has estimated that by 2016 around 440,000 people will be within 800m walk of a railway station and over one million within 5kms, which creates an opportunity to use electrified rail as the backbone of a mass transit system with greater urban densities around the rail corridors". Well that doesn't impress me - I wouldn't want to be someone who had to walk almost a kilometre each morning and evening on my work commutes, or if I go out for the night, and then perhaps have to wait ten or fifteen minutes on (in Christchurch/Wellington anyway!) a windswept platform for a journey that maybe stately in its controlled acceleration and deceleration but otherwise relatively slow and clunky in its nature, and in most cases will require a transfer to a bus at the end. A rail service within 5kms can only be impressive when the total journey itself is over 15 or 20km and involves a lot of traffic congestion - in Christchurch a 15km radius virtually covers most of the population!

Rail is an effective work commute system in Wellington and Auckland because the distances are huge; the alternative roading is tedious and stressful to drive (madhouse motorways or endless intersections and traffic light queues);  sheer intensity and extensity of population gives them rail value greater as mass transit, capable of carrying very large numbers. None of these factors really fit Christchurch, now or in the immediate - 20 year - future. I don't see rail as a very attractive option to car use and unlike Auckland and Wellington I don't see Christchurch forced to make that choice. Whatever romance there maybe with rail, it hardly warrants spending sitting on trains two hours a day, when an effective high speed rapid bus network could get me too and from work, irrespective of which direction that may be, and in the evenings and weekends to multiple destinations, in less than 25 minutes. This would require buses within five minutes maximum walk of every resident (as 95% of Christchurch residents already are, thanks to Mero strategy); running via bus lanes, traffic light priority signals, cut throughs, under-passes, over-passes and tunnel sections so they rarely stop at traffic lights and one can get anywhere across the city in a time comparable to car use (without need to find a car-park). Segregated sections of route would be in many cases on guided busways offering 100% smooth journeys, at computer controlled frequencies. The pattern of services - which might vary across the week - would be so consistently integrated that passengers could tell when buses are due to within five minutes just by looking at the colour and thickness of routes marked on a map.

There are a number of factors to be addressed - removing the lurch factor, yes buses lurch too,  by monitoring and upgrading road surfaces of on-street bus routes and creating bowling green smooth flow surfaces on segregated corridors ; removing the cowboy factor -  the one in twenty-five(?)  bus driver who drives carelessly and roughly, or is surly and aggressive, creating unpleasant journeys and doing enormous damage to the over-all credibility of bus use  - with modification systems such as DriveRight; improving the quality of buses (including surcharged luxury premium express services); more mini-stations with door level platform and glassed in waiting areas. If this city is going to spend hundreds of millions on rail or light rail (and theses systems are not typically implemented for anything less) I suggest it spend ten or twenty million first on creating a showcase rapid bus corridor and do some sophisticated comparative analysis with rail costs, to the city,  or the costs to individual in terms of time use and comparative driving expenditure. We have the unique opportunity of creating a holistic city wide system of super comfortable, suitable accessible, multi-directional rapid transit, facing the 21st century rather than re-invoking the 19th century!

As a footnote to my (non) romance with rail I apparently did something very bizarre in this nation of car addicts. From Taihape to Feilding I switched from long distance coach services to "The Overlander" the Auckland-Wellington passenger rail service. I enjoyed the crazy fun of the late running train roaring and clattering down the spectacular Rangitikei gorge area, slowing slightly only  to cross several hugely high viaducts. At times the height of these bridges or the escarpment along which the track wound was so high that the views from the open-air observation platform  felt closer to flying than land travel,  such as this view below. 
The guards on the train were greatly bemused with the idea that anyone not an overseas tourist or travelling a great distance would want to catch a train merely as the simplest way of travelling between points G and K (for instance). When I came to alight at Feilding the guard used the PA system to ask other passengers to stay on board and then, with an amused twinkle in her voice,  thanked "the gentleman who is leaving us at Fielding for his unusually short journey with us from Taihape".  Isn't it bizarre that the rail system, the primary public transport around the country of yesteryear has become so debased that the announcers had to struggle not to chortle at my weird behaviour!