Saturday, October 30, 2010

In any event ....

Despite its poor technical quality this is one of my favourite historical photos of Christchurch.

It shows a Baldwin steam tram pulling at least ten double deck trailers, turning from Buckleys Road (now home to Eastgate Mall) into Linwood Avenue. In those days the Avenue was called the Canal Reserve, legacy of attempt to built a canal for shipping up from the estuary into Christchurch. I estimate the steam tram is pulling 400-500 passengers, presumably tofro some major event. or maybe (given the era) a bible school convention.

It is even possible that this blog may be only the second place that this photo has been published in the last fifty years. As far as I know or can recall it doesn't appear in any of the well known NZ tramway histories and I think I've read most, some several times a few years apart.

It is scanned here from its original printing in "New Brighton - a regional history 1852-1970" by Geo. W,Walsh, self published, it appears, in 1971. The photo's source is acknowledged as Alexander Turnbull Library [NZ's national archives]. If it still exists it does not appear on any online archive or record. At the risk of getting my hands smacked (though if a photo is past copywrite can any authority claim absolute right?) I liberate it. Maybe it will even inspire this library to hunt it down and offer a copy of the original to the world of greater clarity.

The Baldwin was the standard steam tram in Sydney and had about twice the huff and puff (technical term!) and pulling power of the eight little Kitson steam trams used from 1878 in Christchurch. Christchurch only ever had a single Balwin steam tram, purchased second-hand to help carry the huge crowds for the NZ Exhibition which ran for six months in Hagley Park in 1906. With 2 million visitors - many obviously repeat (Christchurch itself had only about 50,000 residents) it was possibly the biggest organised event in NZ history to that date. To illustrate its perceived importance, and budget, to get a NZ built locomotive into the exhibition halls the exhibition organisers arranged construction of a temporary railway line from Riccarton Station (Mona Vale) across Hagley Park to the exhibition site, also used to bring in building materials and other large items.

By this point in time the Christchurch Tramway Board had been established as a public authority, bought out the three private companies and begun electrification, though steam trams pulled passenger traffic on non-electrified lines for almost a decade afterwards, and occasionally for big events. I would imagine this photo dates to between 1905 and 1910. It is very hard to tell but it does look like that might be an overhead catenary pole in the foreground. There are quite a number of clearer better quality photos of trams pulling multiple trailers in Christchurch -a common practice in our flat city but fairly rare elsewhere I believe - including this one from the local library website Heritage photo section.

Still I like the pure madness of the shot of the snaking, de facto tram-train above and enjoy the fantasy of how bizarre it would look nowadays if such a lengthy vehicle was to try to pull itself through the constant traffic congestion around the Aldwins/Buckleys/Linwood Ave intersection. I imagine it as a huge ghost train dragged up from the subterrainium depths of our collective history and appearing for a moment as a vision to thirty or forty queuing motorists!

And what the hell would OSH say to this??!!**

It is ironic that a recent article in The Press referred to Mayor Bob Parker renewing his call for tram-trains. I don't think he meant the above, rather something of this nature . That such systems would ever be suitable in Christchurch seems unlikely - generally railways have very tight standards about who they share lines with, and more typically it seems seeking to create separate passenger and freight corridors or dedicated lines. Unless they rebuild the entire rail corridors into the city it is hard to see KiwiRail - whose agenda and expectation is to double freight on our sparse lines in the immediate coming decades - agreeing to this vulnerable and complex situation. Moorhouse Avenue aside, we don't really have the wide boulevards to carry such huge vehicles as these into the city centre.

However we can learn one thing from the photo above - the great value of using public transport to service public events. Indeed one of the major reasons that Christchurch and Sydney had steam trams pulling trailers (and so many other cities didn't, stuck to horses, or went back to horse trams) was the lucrative market in day trippers to beaches far from from the city centre. The New Brighton Line, the Sumnner line and the North Beach line were built in Christchurch across scrub land, years before some intermediate areas got housing, because in the days when vacations away were rare, the weekend or the public holiday trip to the beach had huge social import, not least for (in biological terms) mating!

Last year the Parker-Marryat city council duo visited four North American cities (and none less than 2 million in Metropop). In contrast during 2008 and 2009 I travelled virtually (so slim I sped effortlessly along optic cables - wow what a fantasy for an expanding mid-lifer ) to 120 smaller cities, much closer to Christchurch in size, in Canada, Australia, NZ and USA. One of the things that really stood out on overseas and Auckland transit authority websites was how they almost always featured the next big game, festival or concert, or listings of services to coming events. It was commonplace indeed to find a transit website with a sport link given high profile- football, league, soccer,baseball, grid-iron etc - at the top corner of the homepage with direct links to appropriate timetables or special services to get patrons there by bus or train. Here's a sample from Brisbane. Or an example of a specific venue map, applied for big events at that venue, one from Sydney. Sometime in the latter days of the George W.Bush admin (USA) a law change prevented transit authorities with a monopoly (rail systems for example) from unfairly using this to promote event access, but the principle remains.

In my submissions to Metro strategy over the last year or so, I have suggested rather than ad hoc organisation about running buses to events, most of the large events are so predictable, that Christchurch Metro could publish an attractive map/timetable pamphlet [and online equivalent] once or twice each year, showing what buses run to what events. Some of this is generic buses depart Northlands following the Orbiter Route to Ferry Road, and then "the stadium formerly known as" (Lancaster Park) at 80 minutes, 70 minutes, and 60 minutes before kick off time, for all NPC , Super 14 and International Tests [with samples of typical times] and depart as full after the game.

There are several regular large event focii points in Christchurch - North Hagley Park, QEII, Westpac, Canterbury Park Showgrounds etc - and also reasonably predictable attendance (for example, Classical Sparks the big popular orchestral performance culminating in a fireworks display typically gets bigger crowds than other SummerTimes festival events). It would not be difficult to organise variant patterns applying for large special events, including departure times for special services from Malls etc to these places. Indeed the "scientific" analysis involved in creating these generic map/timetables will reveal unmet gaps. It will be obvious for instance if some parts of Christchurch have standard timetable services that allow relatively direct access to a venue, and which other parts make direct access (in route or connection times) difficult. From this it would be possible to create a "event route" crossing several routes, utilising existing stops, to pick up that gap traffic. The pamphlet might list all events during the coming year, or season, to which these special services run and departure times from key points. It amazes me for example that Leopard bus lines long ago have not picked up on running specials via The Orbiter route, until Ferry Road then deviating to Lancasterjadeamiwhatever Stadium, for international test matches if nothing else. Redbus runs shuttles from the Bus Exchange to various major Rugby fixtures but I image these barely skim the water of huge attendance figures. Having such systems entrenched by Metro marketing allows far wider, deeper and constant publicity and promotion. For example what better way and place of promoting such event services in the future than at events themselves, obtaining the right to hand out copies to all attendees (and why not incorporate a luck number, offering say a trip to ozzie prize, announced a week or too later to ensure they are taken home and event services get looked at by many otherwise car addicted persons). Imagine handing out 20,000 such leaflets at the New Brighton fireworks promoting all coming summer special event services !!

Well amazingly not only as Metro included such possibilities as suggested here, in there 2010-16 strategy upgrade -A new target (No. 13 in Attachment 2) - trial some bus services to special events. - but they have even included the same concept in Timaru's Metro strategy. ("Prepare a marketing plan for Timaru which includes a calendar of special events").

Event services are a huge but fun challenge - they are open to too many buses empty looking silly, too few jammed to the hilt, or delays caused by traffic queues or lack of co-operation with traffic management organisations. But done well? There is no better time to "sell" public transport to a sector of the public that in many cases rarely uses public transport. The families and father and kids going to football games to avoid traffic congestion and long walks from cars parked blocks away, the somewhat bigger boys who want to go "on the piss" afterwards and catch a cab home to avoid drink-drive. Map-timetables would allow visitors up or down from other places, clear and understandable access, without a car or without needing to bring cars in close. It can introduce clean modern buses and efficient services to people who still think in terms of old dunga school buses. In my view, showtime is showcase time for the astute marketing of public transport being done well. In any event, this is at least possible.

** For overseas readers - OSH - Occupational Safety and Health...but operative in many many areas. e.g. I was once on a promotional committee for an historical parade which was told horse drawn vehicles (even those with experienced in public crowd situation horses) would not be acceptable for safety reasons. Sigh. To think last century they used to lead circus parades through Christchurch streets with horses and elephants. To my knowledge not a single toddler was ever left like a pancake for his weeping mum to fold and take home.

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