Friday, April 16, 2010

Princes into Frogs

"It astounds me, the genius of Metro planners that again and again, they can take a multiplicity of services and by the most deviously clever planning render them down to a skeleton service"

I have just been down Linwood Avenue way. I finish out there when I do late shifts (not very late really, they finsh at 8pm). I could have walked up to Eastgate, the shopping mall in this area, I sometimes do. There are six routes channelling past the Eastgate entrance on Buckleys Road. The most regular is The Orbiter (as the name suggests a cross-town - or rather around the suburbs - frequent service bus) but it is no use for what I want. Of the five routes from Eastgate's front door stop that are central city bound two No 49 Parkside (from Northshore) and No 51 Tower Junction (from New Brighton via Aranui ) do not operate an evening service, so that leaves just three routes heading for the city centre  past Eastgate entrance after 8pm and each hour.

The sequence of evening services, the pattern of minutes past the hour that each service departs Eastgate, is as follows.

Route   5 (Hornby)        12 and 42

Route 40(Parkside)     17 and 47
Route 23 (Hyde Park)  15

Note that three services run past Eastgate within a five minute band, at 12,15,17 minutes past hour; 25 minutes later another two flow past, again within a five minute band; 42,47 minutes past the hour, followed by a gap of another 25 minutes. I am not the world's best mathmetician, that is for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion five buses are delivering all services within a ten minute time span so there are fifty minutes and two pointlessly long gaps in every hour with no bus service. 

It astounds me the genius of Metro planners that again and again, they can take a multiplicity of services and by the most deviously clever planning render them down to a skeleton service - the witches caldron here turning five services an hour into, de facto, only a half hourly service!

Indeed to achieve the present masterpiece of route planning it is necessary for Route 40 Parkside (via Wainoni and Eastgate) bus to depart New Brighton at 03 and 33 minutes past the hour, exactly one minute after the Route 5 Hornby via Aranui and Eastgate departs at 02 and 32. These services both offer a fast direct link to the city. Apart from the very widest section of the Aranui block between 40 and 5 routes, for most of their journey these are fairly well an either/or option for a great many Stanmore,  Linwood, Wainoni and New Brighton residents. Or they would if timed to run in an alternating pattern!!

Now the No 40 Wainoni-Parkside bus is not tied to any through route, and presumably could be ratcheted forward or back in time,to create something much closer to 15 minute service pattern with No 5 Hornby - for example 12 27 42 57 past Eastgate (and presumably almost virtually in a 15 minute cycle out of New Brighton for the city).

As I said I could walk up to Eastgate but I'm running a bit late and wow - who wants to finish work in an evening and then miss the bus (well, actually three buses!) and have to wait a total of 42 minutes after work to get out of the neighbourhood and homeward bound?! So instead of rushing that way I stay out on Linwood Avenue where two more routes head townward. Route 21 Ilam goes past the southern end of Eastgate (about a kilometre from the previously mentioned Buckleys Road stop) at 22 minutes past the hour; and route 35 at 38 past the hour....sixteen minutes apart, forty-four minute no bus gap - sigh. But at least within my required time range.  

I catch it a few stops back from Eastgate, at a pleasant clean quiet stop. By the ambient light of the illuminated advertisement in the Adshell shelter I am able to spend my dalliance waiting a few minutes reading the 35 and 21 timetables on the pole. Hmmm.

I read that on Saturday evenings and all day Sunday, these two routes both  leave Woolworths at Ferrymead via Linwood Avenue and Eastgate to city at the following minutes past the hour - Route 35 ;03/04, Route 21; 02 (Sat eve) 57/58 (all day Sun). What by all rights should be a half hourly acccess option, to local shopping centre Eastgate or to the city centre for everyone living down the bottom end of Linwood Avenue and adjoining housing sub-divisions towards Ferrymead has by a stroke of magic - pfff! - been made an hourly service.

Christchurch's Metro have done so many things right - it is an attractive looking service - but they have such an enormous distance to go, many hard miles ahead, in actually planning an effectively timed and integrated service!! (That is - the principle purpose of a bus service).

Yes it would take bloody hours, days, weeks of shunting operating times, route patterns, schedules, to arrive at the very best option templates, at integrated patterns flowing and out of areas like cogs in some giant clockwork mechanism, same core pattern every hour within certain parameters. It would probably need different core patterns for different times of the week - perhaps 9am-6pm  Mon-Sat; and 6pm-11pm evenings and Sunday all day 9am-9pm, with added services here and there, after school, peak hours, Friday and Saturday night etc (note;key word here is added services, not varying the underlying core pattern, strong and predictable as a rock - added services that would in many ways be more flexible to plan or alter than at present). Some allowance would also be needed for foreshortening of running times at quieter moments - "services from outer terminii may leave slightly later than listed times on weekend and public holiday mornings before 11 am and after 5pm; arrival and departure times at central city remain the same" [so much better than all those silly fussy and confusing minor changes such as 03 some hours and 04 other hours, as with route 35 mentioned above!].

The effect would be to absolutely minimise the sort of anomalies described above or in the equally dismal and wasteful, pathetic Saturday night and Sunday services to South Christchurch, such an insult to the consumer, from Redbus or Metro (it isn't clear who).  
Indeed a chance to create templates of absolute consistency through which routes are woven - for instance a guaranteed and systematic 15 minute mall-city departure time, from every major mall in Christchurch, every hour - not 10 mins, then 3 minutes, then 22 minutes etc but simple and consistent  eg 05 20 35 50 or 12 27 42 57...and through which heaps of added services can then also be woven. With so many buses on the road now it is surely within reach of existing service levels, it just needs absolutely committed planning. In tems of various monitoring criteria (such as maximum waiting time for next bus to points A, B etc ) I guess it would improve existing service patterns 25-50%, with most improvement on off peak periods.

With the National Government historically no friend of public transport grander dreams might have to move down the back of the bus. But this does offer public transport authorities a chance to examine current services more deeply, integrate, fine tune consolidate. Or, at very least, stop turning princes into frogs!

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