Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday night at the Opera, via an award winning bus shelter, Queenstown's impressive bus service and a well earned limp lettuce leaf award

No not the Opera House (couldn't find a good free image) but on the way towards the same architectural grandeur. Tyne Street, in the heritage area of Oamaru, a slice of old metropolitan
Europe in a small country town. Now home to a network of cafes, galleries, a historic pubs, old fashion radio station, traditional craft shops, livery stables, stone carvers, quality book shops, a bike museum, car museum, rusty train wheel museum, ther iconic live music Penguin club (20th birthday this month!), and the corsets and ray guns of Steampunk. Further afield are the magnificent old banks and public buildings up on the main shopping thoroughfare. Photo wikimedia Commons
One of the really magnificent buildings in Oamaru, outside and in, is the Opera House. An opera house in Oamaru? 13,000 residents, you've got to be kidding. Nope. It's a classy town. The whole south end of town [missed by most drive through-travellers heading twixt Christchurch and Dunedin] is full of classic style limestone buildings. Even so without getting out a car it is easy just to see pillars and pediments, quoins on the corners, arched windows. It is easy just to taste a blur of creamy limestone soup, even I guess for some the big yawn! Despite the elongated sprawl at the northern end (for most petrolheads the prime image of Oamaru is the long speed reduction phase needed to pass through the town) at the southern end of the central area - after the road to Dunedin veers right - there is the very opposite, a great connected intimacy. Only in walking around can the feel and flavour of the grand old buildings beside and overhead and out of the corner of the eye permeate the soul.

All these stone buildings are equally heritage buildings but some are more equal than others [as every literate pig farmer knows] - some of these buildings are minor masterpieces, so balanced in their complexity and proportions, the repetition and minor diversions in their indentations and multiple architraves, their parapets and window shapes it is as if some great classical symphony, complex but soaring and uplifting has been created. With the best of them it is like music set in stone and sets up the same sort of thrill or pleasure in the heart. One of the best - and designed slightly later than others -is the Opera House. During the day it exudes serious confidence and authority but at night nowadays it dresses up in drag, being underlit by a pulsed sequence of ripe purple, green and red lights, as lurid a tart as ever strolled colonial streets! [Here's how the Chillawhile Backpacker Art Gallery site catches the Opera House in these loose disturbing moments!] Inside during the day you can check out its grandeur (including leather seated boardroom) even when no show is ago. It has been restored funding in part from sale of land previously owned by the Council at a prime site. This week it was announced the restoration has won a regional architectural design award.

No doubt I might be a bit suspect (for undisclosed reasons!) in writing this entry but it is a genuine. And a side issue. However the real reason is that I have been unable to uplift a photo from the Otago Daily Times (ODT) of another winner of the same award - the Frankton bus shelter on the outskirts of Queenstown!! So you'll just have to ride this link to the Oamaru Opera House and then flick the photo aside to see the bus shelter. There is also a better photo here. and credit where it's due and greater details here. Looks good, stylish but not so pretentiously a "statement" that it will end up becoming firstly outdated and (if it survives 20 years) eventually fashionably retro until once again becoming dated! What I like is that it looks like it has a lot of open space but with panels in different ways that allow waiting passengers to get out of the wind. Wind is always the real hassle at bus stops, especially icy winds! And of course it is built to withstand snow falls [Queenstown is the ski capital of NZ]. I like it's considerable "presence" and hope it may prove a design inspiration for other bus stops, say in Christchurch.

It seems like a good time to announce another award going to the Queenstown area. This the little known Golden Carats award, generously sponsored by B.Bunny, the famed "dwatted wabbit" - whose family members were once the scourge of the central Otago area, but whose charm, bow tie and illegal use of the late baby Warner's ID opens every door.

The highly dubious sponsor, judge and chief bottle washer of Golden Carats award for Public Tranport Achievement

Trumpet call, Drum roll etc The award goes to bus company Connectabus- I am fairly sure the credit goes mostly here, to owner operator Ewen McCammon.

Connectabus in service frequency levels; spread of hours; reach of routes; attractiveness of vehicle presentation and marketing (including clarity of timetables) is unquestionably one of the better (if not the best) urban bus systems operating in any small town under 20,000 in New Zealand. To be sure, to be sure Queenstown, New Zealand, is hardly the average backblocks country town. Queenstown has a resident population of around 10,000; a district population of 22,000 and annual tourism of 1.5 million, a tourism that goes summer and winter. That averages out about 4000 extra heads a night in Queenstown. Or about 25,000 around the burgh all tucked up in bed (yeah right) when the clock chimes midnight.

Connectabus which I believe is 17 years old as a business, seems to be one of the least subsidised systems in New Zealand. According to a report in the ODT earlier this year, [9 September 2010]

" Mr McCammon said the perception of the community was Connectabus was fully subsidised by local authorities. However, only a quarter of its budget came from the Otago Regional Council (ORC) and it was allocated for the new links between Queenstown and Arthurs Point, Quail Rise Estate, Kelvin Heights and Lake Hayes Estate. "We get paid a kilometre rate to service outer areas slightly above cost and ORC gets money that goes through the till," he said. " **

Further along the same report continues;

" Historically, only 27% of passengers were residents and the rest were visitors, which contradicted an opinion voiced by committee member Cr John R. Wilson that interaction with tourists had been "completely ignored" by the new services. Mr McCammon responded to the views of Crs Cath Gilmour and Gillian Macleod on the cost of fares. A journey in Auckland of the distance between Queenstown and Arrowtown cost $7, and that was on a fully subsidised service, he said. "It costs $8 to come to town. On a Go Card, you get 10% off that. "If you get a five-day pass, it costs $3.50 per trip, if you go twice a day, from home to work and back. "That applies to anywhere in the system. Sunshine Bay to Remarkables Park costs $6 and the same discounts apply. "

In a sense this suggests that standard fares are set on the high side for the casual visitor and tourist but even on unsubsidised routes regular users get a fairly good deal - $35 for a week of commuter trips over quite large distances. Commented McCammon ... "the company asked for bus shelters five years ago, but their installation had not begun until this year. The network was larger and operated for longer hours than buses in most centres. "Queenstown doesn't realise they've got a transportation system that's superior to most city systems, but it does have a cost to run."

It would be easy to say high tourist numbers have made this service and undoubtably it is a key factor, but many of those same tourists travel to Rotorua and Taupo, or to Art Deco Napier, and to other parts of New Zealand but I don't think the public transport systems in these centres have used this asset to lever up local services in anyway close to the way Connectabus has done so well, not a patch on it. There seems to be an added factor or imagination and real commitment, the X factor, the stuff of which Golden Carat's are made! No doubt he's gonna be all shy and modest [under his breath cursing, who is this bloody nutter in Christchurch?!! For heaven's sake don't let our good name get tangled up with his wild and woolly, and fluffytailed, site ] but Connectabus Queenstown deserves a jolly big carat carrot.

Unfortunately (astute readers by now will guess it is a long Saturday night with no social life happening for this rambling raver blogster) B. Bunny has also been called on to hand out a few limp lettuce leaf awards. Back to Christchurch and the home of real opera, tradgedy and comedy, strange marriages and divorces and dying swans covered in dents and rusts and squeaky brakes.

Today in The Press indirectly quoted Environment Canterbury Chief Executive Bryan Jenkins, responding to Mayor Bob Parker's criticism of the tender system. According to The Press "Jenkins said Parker was misrepresenting the situation and the best way to boost patronage was to keep prices low".

I think most studies overseas ranked frequency and reliability ahead of price as key factors in public transport usage surveys. Chopping fares or keeping them to low (or no fares) only goes so far in studies by transport institutes. Times are changing and consumers want quality in public services and facilities. The way that so many letters to the papers and casual comments I have heard rubbished older buses, buses in anyway inferior; the way the Queenstown bus system has operated and grown so successfully with a relatively high casual fare; the growth of bus use amongst younger adults reported in Canada and elsewhere and I think apparent here; the cited determination by NZ Bus to move buses away from the "poor cousin" image...all to me seem to saying just what retailers found in paying millions to built marble-lined shopping malls...create a classy (accessible most hours and frequent) product that honours the user and people will use it.

So hardly a soggy lettuce leaf but a fairly patronising and out of touch focus with trends, in my opinion not exactly dynamic leadership, especially for the amount of money paid.

I don't know whose being taken for a ride (and who is not) and by whom, in the bloody crazy mess that has put CBS (Christchurch Bus Services) permanently off the road and put Go Bus in the drivers seat with Redbus still blocked out. Most absurdly Redbus is being blacked in the media just because they wouldn't let competitors (one of them poorly run and a high credit risk!) use and trash their buses! The last thinking sounds like some sort of catch-22 bullshit from a totalitarian state and must raise suspicion it is politically motivated

Environment Canterbury is so under suspicion now for ineptitude, poor judgement, political manouvering , lack of competent leadership at higher levels, arrogance and naievity (see below) and in a closed shop atmosphere, even dare I say it the remote possibility that something unethical or untoward or even corrupt has happened behind this whole shambles.

I believe in the circumstances Environment Canterbury must do the decent thing and restore public confidence by re-opening the tenders of the routes now vacated by CBS in its collapse. Back door entrance to the tendering process is not on, whatever its cause or reasons. You don't employ somerone for a job and a few weeks later his brother turns up! We are a city with a bloody good bus history - the busing capital of New Zealand - let's keep those standards high.

It is not only a matter of fairness but of being seen to be fair.

Last act in tonight's long opera is one of farce and tragedy combined; "Fascistly imposed appointee" Rex Williams, the ECan board member supposedly primarily responsible for public transport on the governing umbrella body of public transport in Canterbury, when approached by The Press to discuss the biggest public transport issue for Christchurch in many years refused to comment! Excuse me mate what are we paying you for - and paying I believe a ridiculous $900 a meeting salary. Entrepreneur Bob Jones claims he used to sack executives if he found spelling mistakes - said he wasn't paying high salaries for incompetence. I agree with the sentiment. Even so I still laugh aloud when I read the following comment - it is so unbelievably absurd in it's silliness and pettiness. The newspaper also quotes Williams following up his refusal by saying The Press" was just looking for "an easy story".

Is the Pope meant to be a Catholic? Unlike Williams it seems, at least the reporter knows how to do the job he is paid to do. And, ironically the reporter, got his or her "easy" story, we can all see the measure of Williams now, in one revealing sentence. Such a totally deserved limp lettuce leaf.
On with the Grand Opera of life.

**BTW Gross contracts seem gross to me too . Where's the incentive for bus companies to take the huge risks of losing contracts or creating the best possible system?

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