Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Has City Council bought New Brighton bus station site?

I see in the Pegasus Post (a free community newspaper letterboxed to Christchurch's eastern suburb households) that the City Council has now bought the Burwood-Pegasus Community Board Rooms on the north-east corner of Union Street and Beresford Street in New Brighton (previously leased) and intend to spend $237,000 for a makeover. The purchase price is not revealed ("commercial sensitivity" -yr) but I would imagine the whole deal will cost in excess of $450,000 -  I'm no expert, perhaps perhaps a lot more. A possibility reported in the Pegasus Post is of also installing on-site a full time council office, a City Council Service Centre, similar to those operating out of Smith Street Depot in Linwood and Shirley Library at The Palms.

What a high flying wabbit who works in the area sees, (and you can too, Googling up the map for "Beresford Street, Christchurch") however is the unusually wide apron of land on the site  facing Beresford Street, firstly beside the building then running onto a wide footpath and then on to a wider still area of landscaped traffic islands and  road control devices.
Immediately across the road are three bus shelters and an overhead real time sign, in-stops for buses travelling via routes 5,40,51, 84 and 83 to the central city. This immediate area of Beresford Street would seem to have some real potential for a New Brighton bus station; one that has plenty of room and street layout for bus movements in both directions, sufficient parking opposite beside or in the car-park for an organised bus layover point (with staff room and driver toilet) and is close enough to all things (beach, shops, houses) but not likely to be intrusive. During big events like Guy Fawkes when up to 50,000 people attend festivities the whole roading section in that area could become bus stops, closed off to cars at Oram Ave and Union Street. [Note the size of a bus can be gauged from the extended length bus stop immediately left of the Board room, west of the Union Street intersection, on the Google map]

Two obvious options - remove current in-stops on opposite site of road and instead create a through road on the south side of Beresford Street; and bus lanes in both directions and passenger islands past the Board room on the North side of the road (with a large covered/wind sheltered area and possibly a small glassed off enclosed day time waiting area). Or plan B keep current in stops and re-arrange the street layout to allow buses to drop off passengers or pick up Metrostar, 60 route etc passengers from covered platforms immediately beside the Board Room, with an enhanced walkway across to current in-stops.

In recent times Chrissie Williams, local City Councilor, and Lianne Dalziel, local MP (Labour) have both pushed for a bus station at New Brighton as a priority. While it is hard to see it New Brighton as a major transfer station compared to en route junction points, for instance Westfield or theThe Palms, certainly better shelter from the notorious "fresh" (cold!) nor-easter is needed as is a common terminus, rather than having stops for different routes departing different places. 

If the council is spending upto or around half a million on a meeting room, or adding a service centre, this seems an excellent opportunity to put its money where its mouth on the importance of promoting public transport  and investigate the cost and viability of creating a bus station  building beside or integrated with the Board Room complex.

Opportunity for an attractive design, a multi-faceted, a winter sunny and summer shaded  (but definitely all seasons wind protected!!) bus station - and all land already in council possession!
Or is this the cunning plot anyway?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

To Rangiora via Berlin!! Bob takes his most expensive trip yet

Double EMU on suburban line,  Frankfurt und Rolleston, mit engineer Bob at the controls?

New Zealand's railway network is approximately twice as long as the German rail network*

*Per capita - and taxpayer.

Germany has 43,000 kilometres of railway track (much of it double and electrified) and 81 million residents. If the wabbit caculates right, that means around 1890 residents (and pro rata taxpayers) for every kilometre of rail track. By comparison in New Zealand we have 4000 kilometres of railway track but only 4.3 million residents or 1067 residents (and pro-rata taxpayers) per kilometre. In Australia this difference is even more exaggerated - only 661 residents per kilometre of track - but it also has huge long haul ore and coal trains etc which may soften the costs for taxpayers.

So if even before we step on a train - and even if we don't - a kiwi taxpayer will be forking out around two bucks for every one dollar equivalent of German citizens, on every bit of rail track.
Of course we also have to import most of the hardware - whether raw steel or built up parts - so that adds greater freight and added Exchange rate factors. The absolute number of tourists adds significantly to public transport ridership figures -  Germany getting 300 million tourist nights per year!

Hey but we get the space man!! All that wonderful open air and uncrowded living space and that fantastic backbone of snow covered alps! Yup 

Germany is not such a big country physically - about 25% bigger in land area than Te Wai Pounamu. Expressed another way if we had a comparable population to Germany we would have 60 million people living south of Cook Strait. Not counting school bus ridership, all surface-based timetable public transport systems in Te Wai Pounamu, between them probably currently carry around - at the most exceedingly generous estimate - 25 million passenger trips per year (i.e. ChCh Metro network 17 million; Dunedin CC network 1.5 million passengers per year, plus longer distance bus trips and trains and some smaller cities with services).

Multiplied by the equivalent German population 25 million trips per year x 60 million - that's 1.5 billion passengers a year our Te Wai Pounamu networks would carry if we had a German size population even just on a current low percentage transit usage!  In reality with that sort of population/tourist density ridership services can afford to run far more often, including fast and smooth (wider track) long distance electric trains at frequent intervals stimulating far far greater use of public transport.

So not only is New Zealand operating a railway system almost twice as long per capita as Germany but, in Te Wai Pounamu at least, we have one 60th the potential passenger ridership available, probably less if we factor in our lower absolute tourist usage level. In the circumstances, building any public transport system dependent on rail has slim chance of success or being cost effective or even environmentally effective. Rather it will consume billions of dollars - as it is in Auckland - whilst delivering minimal quality service - long walks or needless bus/rail transfers, lots of standing passengers, services in three or four directions only and heaps of land in carparks.

I say it is time that we said "auf wiedersehen" (i.e. goodbye for now) to rail and started building effective public transport systems, the sort that minimize journey times and maximize frequency, direction and doorstep to doorstop access!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

TransJakarta Busway Station Pic

Photo from Institute forTransport and Developmental Policy - Thanks

I can't find any blurry self taken photos to pass off as artworks (see previous Art in Transition entries) and have other engaging commitments at the moment, but I know the insatiable appetite of my millions of readers for constant fresh news! 

So to keep both of you happy I enclose a random photo of one the busway stations on the TransJakarta Bus Rapid transit System - when I last checked carrying over 160,000 passengers a day. Note that the bus doors on this dedicated do not open at conventional street level but are designed to offer platform level loading. With Paris and Montreal having rubber tyred trains, and many busways having dedicated tracks there is almost no clear cut-off or dividing line between bus and rail except for one key factor, relevant to lower density cities - busway vehicles can leave the corridor and pick passengers up and drop them off close to departure points and destinations - a superb and compelling advantage!!  

Almost all the other supposed advantages of light rail - smoothness, capacity, safety - are rapidly being achieved - at a fraction of the cost - by rapidly developing bus technology.

ps though I only have two readers they are very constant in checking this site! - just passed 3000 views - and that just since about  Feb, not bad for an obscure subject like transit, mainly about buses in one small city (ranked 980th in size) at the bottom of the world  - and  a blog laced with lengthy tirades from a carrot wielding know-it-all busspotty rabbit!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Move to scrap Auckland bus lanes

Following a common pattern overseas the car addicts in Auckland are reclaiming the bus lanes.  The "Citizens and Ratepayers" [a National front?]  dominated Transport Committee has decided to consult business and land owners and "stakeholders" such as the Auckland Regional Transport Authority on whether in essence to convert bus lanes into HOV lanes giving them into "T2" status. That would mean buses sharing space with any other motor vehicles with two or more occupants. [For more information click on the title box of this posting]

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Steam South?

Throughtful Jigging between (gasp) pot shotting rabbits in Central Otago, NZ c1900 Alexander Turnbull Library (No Copyright Restrictions )

Here is my synopsis for recreating passenger rail between Christchurch and Dunedin!

Anyone who knows anything about rail knows its is hugely expensive and in the current climate [or to be precise climate change and peak oil stage] we do not have the numbers to sustain a regular service. I suggest just one train a week each way! But this a train service so very strategically planned it might have the potential to meet most or all of its immediate costs. The cost-benefit ratio to the communities it serves and the accommmodation, hospitality and tourism sectors it fosters could  be significant, way beyond just the patronage itself, making it a win win win win situation. In this scenario one train a week is enough to establish an world class iconic image (adding immensely to existing rail based tourism) and establish a further layer - or repeat visit factor for tourism in  NZ -  the Te Wai Pounamu  east coast  experience. At the same time (unlike current rail) the locals and traditional travellers such as students get a more modest opportunity to use rail.

In this scenario I see the City councils and District councils of Christchurch, Ashburton, Timaru, Waitaki (Oamaru) and Dunedin form a joint company (I have called it Steam South - I like simple package names!). The holding company would be as legally required separate from direct local governance. Shares could be held pro-rata with population except Christchurch would be held to a max of 50% of shareholding so it does not have absolute power. Funding equivalent of $2-5 per ratepayer from each of the East Coast councils would raise several million, Government might offer some funds or a loan for more. (politically, I think most south islanders would find a $5 gamble on restarting rail fairly attractive!). Steam South subsequently calls for tenders for private company to supply a steam pulled rail service Christchurch to Dunedin and return. The successful tendering company might be established local outfits like Ian Welch's Mainline Steam, the Taieri Gorge Railway [owned by Dunedin City Council]  or could be an outfit from anywhere - India for example -with a background in steam locomotive operations. 

The core minimum train suggested in this scenario, pulled by a steam engine, would have a standard consist of two heritage carriages (one with birdcage outside observation deck), two ultra modern first class level carriages, and two conventional carriages for "backpackers". The first four carriages are marketed to tourists - from overseas and New Zealand to have "the heritage experience" [with added elements] or luxury travel, honeymoon or high level comfort etc and are priced accordingly (circa $60-80?) ; the last two carriages are strictly economy and aimed at the conventional travel market including mum and dad and the kids on their first rail trip kiwi, budget travellers, overseas backpackers and students from universities in both Dunedin and Christchurch and from tertiary institutes along the whole journey path. They would be priced accordingly ($40-55). Of course there might also be the old fashion guards van for dogs, and bikes heading to The Rail Trail  or new planned trails south of Oamaru etc  Additional carriages, in any category, might be added in response to long term demand or just for special occasions, such as extra conventional carriages  for an International Rugby Test Match or Crusader/Highlander game in Dunedin.  Special return rates for weekend festivals in any of the five centres could be a major marketing ploy beneficial to both the rail system and the cities and town involved (I for one one am keen to attend the Dunedin Chocolate Festival in July and see Jaffas rolled down Baldwin Street, the world's steepest street  - thinking mainly of John Banks and Rodney Hide here!).

The norms of modern transport discounting (cheaper booked non-refundable well in advance etc) might also apply for the backpacker style conventional carriages. While it is expected the contractor to supply the trains will have a stable of several steam locomotives, in the event none was supplied, and it was necessary in an emergency to use diesel, all "heritage" and full luxury fares would refund back to the standard fare level, possibly with a 10% discount for future heritage and luxury trips.

In this synopsis Steam South negotiates with KiwiRail to allow operation of a train departing Christchurch  9am Friday morning for Dunedin. A train departs Dunedin Monday morning 9am for Christchurch. Obviously all the necessary bits and pieces are done before hand  - checking platform length, ensuring new coal [or oil] and water supply systems are in place, adding computer control links directly to the steam  locomotive if necessary, and doubtless a 1000 other tasks.  Some sort of KiwiRail, Steam South, and operating contractor division of tasks, infrastructure expenditure split would be needed here.  In my vision the train stops only at the five main centres and five intermediate points (Rakaia, Temuka, Palmerston etc) between them. It is also suggested that Oamaru (which still has a magnificent old classic wooden NZ station) and once was the "Taumarunui" major cuppa tea stopping place of the South Island  be revived as an en route tearooms - partly to allow the train to have water added, but also to foster the classic rail experience, for everyone.

After the steam train has arrived at Dunedin each Friday night, the locomotive could also be used to do the Taieri Gorge trips during the day Saturday and Sunday. This concentates more steam at the weekend - say for someone who has flown down for a Saturday rugby match in Dunedin, or car-driving NZ and overseas travellers not able to use steam service between Christchurch and Dunedin.

This service, once a week each direction, is a fairly minimal level of service (especially coming from a blogger much given to promoting frequency as a key public transport factor!!) but I think it consolidates all enthusiasm for rail travel at a key point in the week. For overseas  and out of town tourists it virtually guarantees they must overnight in Christchurch or Dunedin; for residents of Christchurch or Dunedin (etc) it offers a long weekend or five day midweek break, book-ended by rail, or with a mix of rail one way, bus the other. This can work both ways - rail to Southwards for Fri-Mon away; rail northwards for Mon-Fri away. 

If it really worked a reverse flow train could be operated, but I suspect one way flow done well offers better prospect of not financially bleeding to death, as so many other rail services! For the festival market, in all centres, it offers a way of added promotion and mass transit to and from the festival.

From the point of view of tourist industries in all the five main centres served, it allows a hugely useful structural starting point (Oamaru - the Heritage experience Steam from Chch Fri morn -have three wonderful nights doing x,y,z in historic. etc, or Oamaru's emerging Steam Punk Festival, or dozens of variations of similar themes, including those operating in or out of Ashburton, Timaru etc - do the plains alps bus experience and join the train midday at Timaru). Many bus companies or hospitality providers in smaller centres could tie into rail ("We can meet the the train at Palmerston etc....).  It allows Taieri Gorge Railway to offer and promote - almost to guarantee  - steam locomotion will operate every weekend.  In turn Steam South as a funding agency by offering a contracted payment tenders a minimum base income for the operating company to build upon - and if it dies the costs are evenly spread.  And for all us locals, for an extra $10 more than a bus service, we get to travel up and down the key population spine of Te Wai Pounamu by rail, if we plan our travels around Friday or Monday.

I think this has huge local, national and international tourist potential for areas mostly off the "lakes and mountains" prime tourist route. One train each week,  each way - yet carrying one hell of a head of steam!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Changing Face of Bus Travel

Photo courtesy of Independent Transportation and Development Policy  (see below for website) Photographer Karl Fjellstrom

This is the busway through the centre of Chinese coastal city Xiamen (2.5 million population).

No, no, the busway is not where you can see the buses, that is just an on-street lane - the busway is on the viaduct above! More photos of this impressive piece of public transport infrastructure available here

I remember watching a BBC Economics  type programme on TV a couple of years ago. It was an interview with China's associate Minister  of Finance (or was it Development? He was fairly high up in the governmental apparatus anyway). He said words to the effect that China was not trying to catch up with the developed world - they are trying to see where technology is going to be headed in the future and jump right over the top. Starting more or less from scratch they had the benefit of brand new technology and hoped this would place them at an advantage.

It is very interesting in this light that the Chinese Government appears to be funding commuter rail systems and bus rapid transit systems (though not all of them as spectacular as the one in Xiamen) but light rail development has virtually stopped, leaving China with 660 cities, but only four with light rail. The notion that bus rapid transit can not match light rail for capacity is truly laid to rest by the huge carrying capacity of these systems.

Monday, June 7, 2010

NICERide - an introduction !

.... public transit is first and foremost about moving, mobility, flexibility, options to get places, options to avoid waiting.

Foreword by the Zen Wabbit ....

The best ideas are often the simplest.

In engineering, as in artistic media, close relationship of form to function, symmetry and sense, harmony of all working parts, repetition of themes, all play a part in creating beauty, instinctive understanding, ease of use and appreciation.

To create simple ideas, the most effective ideas, paradoxically can take great depth of understanding. 

Rarely are simple concepts made real life and part of every day without great complexity of prior development.

(Pssst - You may now clap politely with one hand if you so wish). 

Main Article by David Welch (thanks dalai wabbit)

I believe the greatest gift Metro could give Christchurch is to create an integrated bus route pattern and a co-ordinated departure time pattern, city wide, covering 90% of operating hours.

By integrated and co-ordinated service I mean buses would depart the Bus Exchange at the same time every hour (yes every hour) and if several routes run along a shared corridor such as Papanui Road or Riccarton Road or Linwood Avenue (Bromley), or through a common major intersection (such as Eastgate or QEII), or through adjacent neighbourhoods, then every effort is made to ensure these services run in relationship to each other, in a consistent alternating pattern with an even spread of departure times. 
Not least operating adjacent routes in a staggered and alternating pattern means thousands of residents living the greatest distance from a route (more or less equally between two routes) and getting the lesser quality access suddenly get as much as 50 to 100% more option, in some situations 15 minute access to and from home by route A or B, and this is so at all times, even on Sunday evenings.

In an integrated system as far as possible services are organised to ensure buses arrive at and depart major employment and study zones at times useful to those starting or finishing on the hour, including weekends and evenings. Departures from such key zones at two or three minutes past the hour etc - leaving most of those just finished stranded for another 15 or 30 minutes - do NOT happen in a carefully integrated system.

This system suggested also makes possible consistent transfers, not only because the same pattern applies every hour, but because as far as possible interactive routes are timed to pass through the common junction never less than 7 minutes apart. 

Transfer options are simple, consistent and protected, as far as any such option can be in the world of transport. Delays may occur, as now, that is inevitable but consistent times can also highlight consistent delays and be addressed. 

With consistent transfer patterns city wide regular users - such as teenagers, tertiary students and gold card users - would soon become very familiar with multiple options for journey pathways, even those where three buses/ two transfers are needed, if they can be trusted to get passengers from A to B, or E or M, much faster than wasting time travelling into the Exchange. 

Amazingly - in an integrated system what works in one hour works in every hour!

This system of having a consistent core pattern also makes it possible and in some cases necessary to also operate additional services, for specific time periods such as after school or evening peak hours, or Fri and Sat evenings, or the middle of the day Sunday. 

In the current system reliable departure time patterns, such as x and y minutes past the hour 9am -3pm, often erupt after schools come out into a mishmash, often more frequent, but inconsistent in gaps which destroy transfer consistency with other routes that don't change frequency. 

A key difference from the current system, in an integrated system the underlying pattern itself does not change. A service every 15 minutes on school days might become every 7.5 minutes, or even have a doubling of buses on the same departure time between 3pm and 4.30pm, but all these extra services are structured as an overlay, additional to, but not altering, the core pattern. The core pattern itself always continues 100% reliable, not exchanged for a mishmash of departure times. 

Equally, additional services to entertainment zones and venues, for example on Friday and Saturday nights can be threaded through existing patterns to create optimum spread - a half hourly service between 10 pm and 12am to and from the university hostel areas could for example be made a 15 minute service for an experiment - or dropped again if unsuccessful, again the core pattern does not alter, it remains solid, the same minutes past the hour every hour  of bus operations. Likewise the same interactive pattern for switching buses and moving around the city

The integrated system of consistent departure time patterns also makes possible threading cross town buses services, or special event services, or peak hour industrial express services, etc through the standard system in a logical pattern of optimum connectivity and benefit to patrons.

In general the effect of system wide integration and co-ordination is like a giant clockwork motor with hundreds of cogs turning and interacting every minute of the hour in a consistent and predictable pattern designed to be of optimum benefit to consumers. 

I realise Metro services already often work to patterns on each route (same minutes past the hour departure) and already have system-wide patterns - it is just these patterns change several times during the course of each day and across each week, making a reliable departure time difficult to remember and undermining transfer fluency. 

In general, as anyone reliant on bus travel knows, Metro services offer very patchy, indifferent and often poor integration, with rarely any obvious gain from such poor co-ordination. What possible benefit can there be running both the 40 and 5 routes (both offering quick access to the city and to Eastgate, and within walking distance of each other 80% of their route) from New Brighton on an identical schedule, and the next quickest option, via route 83, departing one minute later?  Ten buses an hour being used, de facto, to offer 4 departure time options an hour! 

It would be laughable if it hadn't (unnecessarily) wasted several hours of my life,  some of that in a cold nor-east wind.

In one way or other, specifically or explicitly I have made several submissions to Metro involving variations of this concept of a fully integrated service dating back to 2003. 

We have such a great, tight, route structure in Christchurch (give or take half a dozen gaps and the need for higher speed bus corridors to the outer suburbs - grin) and regular services spread across seven days and evenings a week. I am often made aware of how thorough our local network is when I read about overseas public transport networks (or Auckland rail) which will proudly offer a service to xx thousand residents "within a kilometre" of the line - what crap who wants to walk that far constantly as an option to owning a car!!

Christchurch has all the "assets" the situation just cries out for an integrated system to make that huge qualitative leap. I believe with computer technology, the more sophisticated machinery, communications, loading and vehicle tracking systems, and the market expectations of today the old "public service, ad hoc" approach is a dinosaur out of the 1950s. 

We should expect bus systems to be designed and operated, integrated in flow patterns, with all the precision of a major railway or airline system, with a sense of total integration, with a sense of symmetry and logic that feels at home in the heart and fosters great confidence and faith in our bus system to be there as needed.

I have been exploring this concept of integration in my mind for many years. I am sure there are plenty of other names possible, but because an integrated system acts a whole and needs a name, I call this concept NICERide [interestingly, funny how the unconscious works, the "concept name" just came out of the ether. It took me another week or so to suddenly realise that NICE, logically, must stand for Network Integration and Co-ordination Enhancement!]. 

A couple of years back I spent months (on and off) ratcheting current running times back and forward on each route in Christchurch in relationship to surrounding or overlapping routes, to arrive at a more user-friendly pattern [albeit applying off-peak only]. It was like doing a giant mind boggling puzzle every minor shift of one route produced effects on five others, then they on others etc! But even with-out any major modifications (I would liked to have swapped a couple of through routes to different termini) or any minor route alterations I believe it offered beyond argument, a vastly superior weekend and evening services currently in operation. 

This would be obvious to anyone familiar with the multiple junction points I measured departure time patterns against, though only taxi drivers and people who once worked for the Christchurch Transport Board (when bus drivers did every route in the city) would probably be able to visualise every point described. the filter sheets looked hugely complicated but it was no different than our current system "only the times were changed"

Metro already makes a few efforts to co-ordinate buses - for instance running No. 14 and No. 16 services (which both run up Cranford Street) in an alternating pattern, at most times (but not all the time!). But for every success like this there are dozens of anomalies and DIS-integrated service patterns, some bordering on the farcial or indeed down-right insulting to local residents in some areas. Redbus - it appears - has created an great service every ten minutes from the airport to the city via (alternating) routes 10,29,and 3 with commercial (non-subsidised) routes but at the price of dumping grossly pathetic services on to South Christchurch. 

It is my experience integration can't be done piecemeal or a bit by basis - a properly integrated system needs to develop a sophisticated holistic template based on every route as its starting base. There are thousands of variables or possibilities involved and they all have to be weighed against rankings of priority, fairness to all residents, driver hours and changes, and balanced one route against another. Perfection is not possible - a very very good bus service is!

"It Can't be Done!!"

The first response to anyone in the bus industry to the idea of creating system wide patterns I imagine will be "It can't be done". I worked many years in the bus industry and recognise several factors that may foster this belief.

(A) one pattern would be too clumsy, given services levels vary, for example between evening demand and weekday demand.

(B) Trying to co-ordinate buses before 9am is a worthwhile activity but must take second place to ensuring services arrive in the city in waves linked to common work start times 7.00, 7.30, 8.00, 8.30, 9.00am.

(C) During quieter periods, with less passengers and less traffic, buses need to depart outer teminii later to avoid waiting at timing points enroute - always a source of irritation for passengers. To have services running from the outer suburbs to the city, that depart the Bus Exchange at the same time every hour, means that buses must depart from the outer suburbs later at quieter times. This "foreshortening" also effects cross town routes, such as The Orbiter and The Metrostar

To address these three primary factors I suggest NICERide operates to just two core patterns - first pattern from 9am - 6pm Mon-Sat; the second pattern operating evenings 6pm - 11pm and all day Sunday 9am - 9pm. The NICERide system (all routes operating to a set integrated pattern) would not apply for any services starting before these times nor operating after these times,individual routes may (or may not) keep to the same departure time pattern on that specific route. Either by bold fonts or back-shadowed text, or some other indicator, NICERide pattern times are always clearly delineated from any additional services operating during NICERide periods, making it easy not only to learn and memorise, firstly, consistent patterns for every hour but also, probably to fix departure times for additional services into that pattern.

Starting after 9am every day not only gets around weekday morning peak variations, it allows greater flexibility in departure times on weekends and public holidays, before 9.00 am which can be amongst the quietest trips. 

Where services from outer terminii need to be foreshortened, during NICERide departing a bit later (for instance as is likely between 4.30 pm and 6pm on Saturdays) this is handled generically by including a statement; "Departure times from outer termini may depart slightly later than time shown, on some trips. 

I can't imagine anybody catching buses worries about a minute or even three minutes difference if the core service pattern is consistent and reliable within the parameter of those few minutes - do motorists note whether a journey from A to B takes them 11 minutes or 14 minutes on any particular day? Nope. Nothing looks sillier than seeing timetables such as (Sat afto) 3.20 3.51, 4.22, 4.54, 5.23 etc - get a life! 

Any larger variation is mostly covered by the breaking services into different patterns, at 9am, and after 6pm. Those in the outer-most suburbs and areas will see the 12 mins past the hour service Mon-Sat day time goes at 16 minutes or 17 minutes past the hour evenings and Sundays - but arrives at the bus Exchange same minutes past hour. 

It is actually the same trip as during other times, it just leaves later. 

Once the brain has anchor times, it is far easier to attach slight and simple variations of "the bus goes at 12 past the hour every hour - except when it doesn't" type - in other words, 12 is the memorable time 16 or 17 is the variation" tied" onto the 12, if 12 is the only remembered time you can't miss the bus. 

Lastly - a word from the viewpoint of a [former] bus worker - I think most bus drivers who care (or can't be bothered farting around driving overly slow en route) will leave a little later if everything is looking very quiet or dead, it is all part of the bus driver's craft to read conditions and fine tune the journey to suit.

It might also be argued this structured system would destroy flexibility - I think not, it may even improve it. A

lthough many many hours might be taken creating the first NICERide templates, and they might offer a solid predictable pattern for several years, over time introduction of changes or fine tuning, evolution of city patterns is sure to slowly erode the major pattern and perhaps need an city-wide overhaul every five ten years. It will no more be a static system than now but ideally expected increases in service levels are already structured in, the gap in holistic pattern to be filled if patronage rises sufficiently. The current tender system (groups of routes retendered every few years) makes an integrated system more complex to introduce, I can't see it effects the tendering system subsequently. 

Secondly creating all services over and above the pattern as "additional" may be more expensive in the short run but allows great flexibility to adjust these services, add new ones, make cut backs (in worse case scenario) without disrupting core services. In many ways it offers more freedom to experiment.

Let's be honest - public transport is planned and promoted by national and local politicians, administrators and planners - who rarely actually actually ever use public transport outside of peak hour commuting (if that) and certainly don't rely upon it 18/7 for their primary form of transport. Often it is the big tangible projects that attract their attention - new buses, new Bus Exchange etc. But public transit is actually first and foremost about moving, mobility, flexibility, options to get places, options to avoid waiting. 

We have a good bus system in Christchurch but it includes a terrible amount of wastage and dumping on the consumer by virtue of poor integration. A system that sets out to maximise the viability of public transport for those without cars will inevitably create a system also much more attractive to the casual user. "Look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves" (thanks Grandma). Or "Cast wide the net but keep your nuts tight" (thanks Granddad). 

Particularly off peak but at all hours NICERide (by whatever name) would have the capacity to vastly increase the effectiveness of Christchurch bus services with almost no added resources needed, just a lot of thinking and commitment to the consumer. 

Politicians love monumental projects (like Christchurch's first Bus Exchange photographed here on a Sunday morning); but regular passengers are more interested want service quality, frequency, and ability to travel easily in any direction. Both elements need to be given equal weight in investment and planning. 

Note to photo; Original Victorian an Edwardian facades retained - behind them also a classic of architecture, the late 20th century multi-levelled car park !

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Life in the fast lane...or even in the bus lane

Anyone who travels across the motorway, over the Curletts Road overbridge, and up through Curletts Road to Upper Riccarton, morning or evening will be familiar with the huge sea of cars that swamp this area at peak times. Yet not a single existing bus route offers the same link...


I have taken to carrying my camera when I go out - the most innocuous scenes can have meaning to me in terms of some larger global picture! Here is northbound traffic on Christchurch's Papanui Road at 4.30pm, on a today's winter evening (2nd June 2010).
Clearly the bus lanes are working well - it constantly amazes me the "duh" factor when people write letters to the paper about "empty bus lanes"... I mean like an unimpeded bus takes about 30 seconds to appear and then pass out of visible range so if there are 40 buses an hour (potentially 1500-2500 passengers) in any give rush hour the bus lanes will have a visible bus less than a third of the time. Duh? That's how they work.

However this said, I think bus lanes go so far and no further - they're are judging by comments, opinion pieces and news items on the web (measured since about 1998 when I first started internetting bus stuff) constantly under invasion from (a) opportunist motorists, breakdowns, ignorant or stupid car parkers  (b) motorcyclists, cyclists, taxis, high occupancy vehicles, private bus companies, emergency vehicles...all of whom want a slice of the action but who bit by by bit erode the clear run nature of a bus lane.

Here are some headlines and news snippets  of the last month from an RSS feed

Transit lane cheats in the fast lane will be in the firing line from today (May 10) with the arrival of reinforcements in the fight against traffic congestion.Acting Transport Minister Craig Wallace said transport inspectors would use their new powers to pull over motorists driving illegally in transit and bus lanes in the state's south east. SUNSHINE COAST NEWS AUSTRALIA;
New York City Transit is looking to spend $167,000 on cameras that could help crack down on cars parked in bus lanes, according to agency documents. NEW YORK USA;
Despite taxi drivers in Swindon being allowed to use bus lanes from this month, many have said the new rules do not go far enough. Since May 1 cabbies have been able to use the town’s 12 bus lanes but are still not permitted to use bus gates – shortcuts that bus drivers are allowed to use. SWINDON UK
Parking in a bus lane causes minimal upset to bus users and as only a few radical thinkers will park there it gives them the chance to park with a low risk of having to pay for parking. Bus lanes take up too much of the road and are empty most of the time any way, so very little distruption is actually caused." LETTER TO "THE SCOTSMAN" re item in opinion piece about bus lanes
Over the next few weeks, police in Montreal, Laval and Longueuil will be keeping a closer eye on reserved bus lanes. It's part of an annual awareness campaign co-ordinated by the Agence m√©tropolitaine de transport, which co-ordinates public transportation in the region. ... The campaign runs until June 18. Motorists caught using reserved lanes could face fines of up to $200. MONTREAL GAZETTE
Nottingham City Council plans to install digital cameras at a cost of £68000 to catch drivers who ignore signs banning them from bus and tram only lanes. ...NOTTINGHAM UK
Enforcement has also been poor to nonexistent. The District needs to pass a specific ordinance to prohibit cars from bus lanes and it needs to settle on enforcement mechanism(s), such as cameras mounted on bus shelters similar to speed and red light cameras, or assigning of ticket writers specifically to enforce the lanes. WASHINGTON DC USA
Traffic congestion can be reduced with a special bus lane that is separated from other commercial vehicles. The lane will be exclusive for buses and will be separated by a divider to prevent other vehicles from entering the special bus lane. This special lane has been implemented in Bogata, Brazil and Bangkok KUALA LUMPUR

What all this tells me (month after month, year after year, same problems, constantly different cities) is that bus lanes are under constant invasive pressure, and even those that have existed for years, require constant policing and expensive surveillance systems. It doesn't take much to block a bus lane and it is presumably a factor in why many cities are now moving towards completely  segregated busways or to implementing ones that by-pass (or run over or underneath) congestion sticking points.

I have suggested several potential busways in Christchurch - running northwards, eastwards , and a western link service - I can see further potential using the High Street, Madras St (segregated contraflow lane, outbound buses), Glasson St (laned) Burlington Street, Milton Street and Frankleigh St (centre laned busway when road widened) corridor to  Hoon Hay the new SWAP area; and a busway utilising elements of unused or under utilised land beside the main southern rail corridor

I am not against on-street bus lanes, they are valuable on certain arterial roads and indeed they may play some minor role in the busways suggested above. My fear is that we are so "insular" in the South Island (as one overseas correspondent to NZ in Tranzit recently described Christchurch attitudes to public transport) that we really have not grasped (A) that except for specialised situations of very heavy traffic (bulk freight or massive numbers of passengers) rail is steadily  becoming obsolete, a dinosaur transport technology from a past era. (B) segregated busways are dramatically surpassing light rail as the dynamic trend in the developing world and in the low density high car ownership world, and probably running equal with new rail and light rail projects even in intensely populated areas in Asia and Europe.
The kilometres of segregated transit lane being created in four areas alone Johannesburg 330km, Capetown , Tshwane 472km, Kuala Lumpur 320km, will probably equal over fifty times the total new light rail track created in the world in the next ten years. 

Indeed the ENTIRE track length in the 23 cities in Europe under 500,000 population with light rail  systems- over a 1000 kilometres in total -  I would speculate is barely four times the length of Christchurch bus routes.

Anyway enough of the raving rabbit loony!!....out in the fog and rain today. With-in the space of about 60 seconds, several great photos of bus lanes being compromised. Below, at top - a car pulls out of McDonalds finds no space to get back into the main flow so, after dillying for a few seconds takes off up the bus lane! Below that  - a few metres further along a car has run out of gas and the Metrostar hesitates for about 40 seconds trying to find a way to get past, until a motorist allows him to pull out around the car. 

No big delays for sure. But do we want a truly sophisticated rapid transit system, outer suburbs- city busway, equivalent to rail in quality with potential to attract 10-20% of commuters [as per Ottawa or Brisbane busways] and be economically attractive and competitive with other cities, or do we just want to settle for  "ok bus lanes" - good enough -  with potential to attract maybe 5-10% of passengers measured across all modes? And bus lanes taking 22 years to implement 1997-2019!

Busways won't wait - in two, five or ten years most potential corridors will be gone, built out by office block, motorway, high rise and residential subdivision politically impossible to change. In my experience good strategies and good win-win solutions can take months or years to come together, the most obvious things are not seen whether they be concrete ideas or subtle factors that recommend or reduce the value of other ideas. Notwithstanding giving much thought to cross-town links in the west, on and off across the years, the combination of Hoon Hay Road and Middleton Road (to university and airport) utilising Annex Road and the relatively simple and inexpensive technology of a bus tunnel beside the cycle subway under the new motorway, to Birmingham Drive and a further bus and bike subway connection under the rail yard, is a very recent realisation to me. Anyone who travels across the motorway, over the Curletts Road motobridge, and up through Curletts Road into Upper Riccarton, morning or evening will be familiar the huge sea of cars that swamp this area at peak times. Yet not a single existing bus route offers the same link, let alone offers it faster and better than cars can do, as this simple hugely direct busway route (linked to major passenger generators) would do if implemented.
This is one busway option that won't wait!

All about to be lost because we don't yet have a political leadership, aware of world trends in mass transit; a leadership aware of the major structural "failings" or limitations of our otherwise good bus system; aware of comparable infrastructure spending in Auckland and Wellington (hundreds of millions) and a leadership fully committed to getting the best possible public transport system for our city and its ratepayers.