Saturday, July 31, 2010

City Mayor Bob Parker goes on the Offensive (literally offensive!)

Bob Parker has certainly demolished any public confidence that the City Council under his governance could capably manage public transport after all the nonsense he is quoted as having said in this morning's edition of "The Press".**

I can't imagine a more tragic situation for the citizens of Christchurch and particularly bus users relying upon a public transport administration led by a man who clearly thinks bus users are "losers" and buses "loser cruisers",  the last resort of  - I quote - "the young, the poor,  the elderly and drink drivers who have lost their license".  Parker is describing the USA bus system (with the odd exceptions of a handful of cities, arguably the least effective public bus systems in the developed world!) but that Parker bothers to bring this attitude into an article about Christchurch public transport says it all. 

Where has this man been for the last twenty years??  He clearly does not catch or uses buses in Christchurch, nor does he do any professional research into comparative system cost-benefits, and yet he seeks to govern a public transport system that involves millions of dollars of capital and operating costs and effects the lives of tens of thousands of local residents. Whoa!!

Some organisation in Hawaii, by far the most successful city of [just] under a million residents in the USA in terms of annual transit ridership figures (70 million, all by bus) did a survey a while back, which I can't find now but remember well,  and identified four main bus passenger groups that were represented disproportionately to the population as a whole - tertiary students, CBD office and retail workers (particularly women); tourists/visitors and retired persons. If we add high school students and people who are physically and mentally disabled - including the invisibly disabled (eg can't drive because they have a heart condition, don't speak sufficient English to obtain a driver's license or are epileptic etc) I think we would probably cover 60-70% of bus riders in Christchurch. A portion of healthy greeny looking types I suspect ride buses because they care about the degraded planet we are leaving our grandkids (I look more seedy but my heart is in the right place!!). Then there's a bit of everything else;  most the other riders I ever encounter - which includes riding buses through several less wealthy areas on the way to and from work - are just a cross section of our society,  fairly homogenous and in the kiwi way socially the same as the rest of us. More than half of Christchurch residents never catch buses but I don't think the primary dividing line is social class. The groups listed above feature strongly in Christchurch usage too but are by no means the lowest decile in income. I travel most routes in any given year, not having a car, but mostly Papanui Road routes and those through the eastern suburbs and rarely do I see significant numbers of people who look overly impoverished or depressed looking.

The only exception to who is using buses I would say is perhaps the top 10% income group and the bottom 10% income group - which by other overseas studies I've read and by casual observation [hardly trustworthy!!] I would say are disproportionately under represented. 

When I was a bus driver in the 1970s and 1980s were often used to get patched street gang members on buses [never had any problems, even bizarrely in a disputed fare amount with five hefty gang members, on the first night I ever worked alone in 1977] but I haven't seen gang patches on buses for years. The most common problem behaviour (apart from scratching windows) seems to be the occasional group of over-loud14 year olds mouthing off and hyping each other up - on the back seats sometimes with foul language as well.  If the behaviour is too bad, drivers or one of the passengers will sometimes reprimand them. This phenomena seems to transcend social class - that relentless teenage insecurity and energy that talks loudly in peer groups and only grunts and mumbles at home is just part of growing up for girls and for boys. [14 can be the least lovely age of the human lifespan!]. 

We shall have to put up with youth and let them mature - there is  an emerging trend appearing in various surveys overseas for the 16-24 years to be using buses more proportionately than other age groups, and rating buses higher than others. This a generation that does not remember dirty chug-a-lug diesel. Nor the prolonged dwell time at each stop as poor old Mrs Jones painfully climbed a bus staircase as steep as Mt Everest, saying "Never grow old driver" before hunting five minutes for her fare of accumulated tiny coins. Modern buses  with warm heaters, big wide windows and clean bright interiors, low floor entrances to help load elderly, swish along the road hardly stopping for more than a few seconds at most stops even as half a dozen boarding passengers swipe their Metro cards . With bus lanes much of the drag goes out of bus commuting.  

I image that there are still the odd wealthy dowagers or people that "look after the pennies" or excutive type using buses, but as wealth accumulates with age for most people I imagine these numbers are mainly subsumed in the retired category anyway. Real wealth (and indeed real poverty) is often more quietly spoken than we assume.

Usually  people keep to their own inner space when travelling en mass with strangers but generally I'd say the friendly moments, shared humorous situations with smiles, or "looks" all round, the polite or helpful incidents, or a young child's enthusiasm charming passengers, outweigh the negative at least four to one (one of the reasons I enjoy bus travelling is the sense of being in a shared and interesting community and amongst an incredibly rich diversity of dressing styles, ethnic groups and character types, a.k.a people watching). 

I don't see too many loosers in this situation Mr Parker, unless it is someone who has never had time to enjoy the community participation of bus travel and the more relaxed shared or inner journey it usually offers bus users.

** "It's one of the big things I learnt from hearing the experience of cities like Portland," says Parker. Buses suffer from a "loser cruiser" image. They are seen as the last resort of the young, the poor, the elderly, and drink drivers who have lost their licence. 

"Changing Track" Feature writer John McCrone, Mainlander section of The Press, Saturday 31st July 2010 (looking at public transport policies of various mayoral candidates)

NOTE; This posting was up-dated  and a link to the original Press article added on 22nd July 2012 

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