Tuesday, May 31, 2011


NZ, AUCKLAND Transport Auckland's multi-level Newmarket rail station has won an award in the Urban Design category at the prestigious annual New Zealand Institute of Architects awards ceremony. The station which opened in January 2010 cost $85 million to build and is currently used for about 3,500 commuter movements a day. Auckland Transport Chief Executive Dr David Warburton notes that twenty-eight new and upgraded stations have opened in recent years, including major stations at Newmarket and Grafton. [and New Lynn, at $160 million - ed] A further 15 are likely to be upgraded in a $38.9 million project over the next three years.

NZ,  RAKAIA  A "repentant criminal" builds a bus shelter for a large group of school kids

NZ, AUCKLAND  A new audio information system is being trialled by Auckland Transport on a limited number of trains this week. The system is expected to make a big difference for blind and vision impaired people and has been welcomed by the Royal Society for the Blind. The announcements will let people know what station they are arriving at, what service they are on, including special event trains, and where to change for other services.

CANADA & USA Two very different general views of transit in North America. From Canada and the Toronto Sun, a fairly emotive and aggressive dismissal of all public transport by columnist Ezra Levant with very sloppy figures and no contextual analysis [the comment following by Adam Vaiya offers a more intelligent understanding] ; from the USA and Denver Post a thoughtful, caring, article on work access and transit, referring to its cost in human terms. by columnist Neal Pierce

CANADA, HALIFAX  Construction of a $12 million Metro Transit Bus terminal at the Dartmouth Sportsplex has been delayed yet again because of concerns about storm water drainage and whether the ground in present state will be adequate in all weathers.

CANADA, WINNIPEG  Previous trials of hybrid buses brought very limited fuel savings for Winnipeg Transit, despite a bus price tag almost triple that of conventional buses. Building up the fleet prior to the opening of Southwest Rapid Transit corridor Transit authorities have opted to buy 40 diesel buses.


Note; this news monitoring section linked here in future will be included in main postings, as above, but on an item by item basis to allow comments specific to that posting

ABOUT TRANSWATCH - A listing of current news and magazine items about public transport in NZ or news seen as having some relevance to the Christchurch or New Zealand type situation. Generally this means, mostly,  news from small to medium cities [100,000 - 1 million population] found in CANZ (Canada, Australia, NZ) - countries and cities that most share demographics relevant to public transport. Also listed, occasional news items from elsewhere, especially news about transit trends and emerging bus and rail technology.  Items selected will typically have appeared elsewhere within the previous three days, in most cases within the the previous 24 hours. Check date of original source if this required for any reason.

Comments or media releases welcome.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is Deans Avenue a better site for Bus Exchange?

"BUS EXCHANGE" at Parkside; A welcome emergency response in the weeks after the devastating Feb 22nd earthquake  - three months later Metro's strategy of service cuts, complicated transfers and funny exposed "Bus Exchanges"  is looking distinctly shabby and proving too clumsy in use for many patrons.

Utilising the broad area of roading in Deans Avenue (south end- back of Hagley Park) in front of the old stock saleyards would appear to provide a far more effective bus exchange than the present two bit system.

It would allow all through routes to be linked back together again, with stops facing in a natural direction. There would no longer need to be the current time-wasting  temporary loops around South Hagley Park. As far as I can figure out all city-suburb routes could be adapted to "seamlessly" run through this common point, with minimum route change. Using Deans Avenue would eliminate the need for two exchange points (and patrons to having to make three or even  four transfer journeys - a lottery with few winners!).

With more loading space (and bus parking) space it would be possible to resume 15 minute services on routes such Lyttelton, Halswell, Queenspark. Restoring the 40 Wainoni route to a 15 minute service would be a welcomed act as no other routes currently serve this general area (one of the worst quake effected) and it is one of the few routes with an open and bus accessible supermarkets.

At Deans Avenue there could dedicated passenger loading bays with routes grouped logically - WEST, EAST, NORTH, SOUTH , and signage with each set of routes listed underneath and a dedicated real time sign. Sufficient space might also exist to allow a departure bay for long distance coaches and shuttles, also displaced from the city. And of course there would be space for coffee wagons, a mobile food outlet or a convenience shop type portacom. might be possible.

This large area would allow sufficient space, with appropriate portable traffic and pedestrian management devices to channel through traffic (cars etc) down to two lanes at 20 kmh. Walls of containers or the walls of the old Saleyard building would provide added general area shelter using large scaffolding with roofs above waiting areas or commercial large tents [as per Fire Station shown in the last NZ in Tranzit posting] might also be used.

A key aspect would be having big floodlights and other lighting - in a gloomy and stressful, winter darkness, post-quake situation bright lights would offer a lift to spirits as well as a necessary security device. Lighting the park-land immediately adjacent may also avoid behaviour problems amongst some youth.

With a well lit securely fenced and controlled area, it would be possible to resume late night services. Three months down the track people who depend upon buses (including students, younger people, people with disabilities etc) are being held to a curfew by early finish Metro policies that make a fuller evening social life difficult.

The area described is well away from housing, or immediate retail space, some office space is too peripheral to be seriously effected. No potentially dangerous higher buildings are in the area, nor any major demolition works The amount of buses on Deans Avenue at this section even with return to greater frequencies on some routes would be little more than present, with many routes in the current truncated system having to loop twice around this road.

On the surface it seems counter-intuitive to move the Bus Exchange so far out from the centre, but as city streets become safe to use, routes using those streets can travel tofro Deans Avenue Bus Exchange via these same central city streets and load and drop off at the normal city bus stops that are accessible, - nothing is really lost. The current loop around the park offers a convenient terminus for suburb-city routes whilst maintaining a steady flow from Hospital corner.

The free Shuttle could be restablished around safe perimeter CBD streets, for the local residents, in inner city areas, and many businesses and retail outklets immediately outside the corden that have resumed. This Shuttle could include a loop via the Deans Avenue Exchange.

Perhaps this idea is unworkable for some reason. But it certainly seems a lot more attractive than the current shambles, with significant service-frequencies reductions; with complex and often hugely time consuming journeys involving multiple transfers at different locations  required; with services terminating too early to enjoy a reasonable night-out.

This centralised-in-one-safe-location Bus Exchange has potential to offer better shelter and be a bright well maintained area, with toilets, food, info and even long distance bus connections, a boost to morale rather than the depressing dead dog on the side of the road sort of situation!  

The Press back on 1st April 2011 reported Ecan Commissioner Rex Williams as saying that " it would be at least another month before there was sufficient "stability" in demand for buses for route planning to be done. He said traffic patterns had been unpredictable, especially straight after the February 22 quake, when schools and universities were closed and many businesses were seeking alternative premises. "It has been quite difficult," he said. "It's important to keep people in the habit of using the buses."

It's two months later Rex and the service is certainly not winning any awards!  The Deans Avenue site appears to have many advantages as a 12 month (or whatever) Bus Exchange site - not least in outer areas across the whole city that will benefit from resumption of normal  frequency made possible.

But if Deans Avenue is not a goer I think it is well overdue for Metro and the Council to come up with a game plan that IS workable. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"like the transport for a badly organised school trip...."

Parkside (Hagley Avenue) Exchange;  Metro giving passengers the runaround!  13 buses were counted in this evening peak  line up - everybody elderly included and all forced to scurry back and forward.  It was like some badly organised school trip...

Bealey Avenue; Arriving at 7pm one night I found a cold, pitch black, smelly old bus supposedly a waiting room but obviously inaccessible to many elderly or handicapped, even if they could see where they were going.  After about 20 minutes wait two buses then departed for Papanui simultaneously, at least something was normal.

In Christchurch post quake the fire engines get better shelter from the elements than Metro passengers.

Street scene on a rainy Saturday, Asian tourist trying to make sense of the timetable for a non-existent bus, in the end a local helps out, Sorry - buses don't run past this stop at this moment. No, I know there is no signage to indicate changed situation.

Like the transport for a badly organised school trip......three months after the earthquake this is surely a joke?

Unfortunately 50% of passengers don't think it is very funny and many have abandoned buses. Most will come back I'm sure, but that's not the point....Environment Canterbury is paid to serve the public to the best of its ability! The service is clumsy, slow, incomprehensibly organised (why, two exchanges and three-transfer trips?!) poorly advertised, offers minimum information online and virtually none off line, and savagely and unnecesarily cut back to areas of greatest need. Hours of extra time are needed to get many places.The temporary "bus exchange" facilities are grossly inadequate, amateurish, and unattractive, they hardly suggest a competent professional response to the situation. No alternate shuttle exists to serve work places peripheral to the CBD that have resumed, no extra links to new relocation areas.

About a year ago  John Keys government moved against democracy and sacked the elected representatives of Environment Canterbury. He not only replaced them with a junta but increased their payment to the absurd (for normal mortals) amount of $900 per meeting and the Chair Dame Margaret Bazely $1400 per meeting. 

I think the photos above say it all. Metro is one of the biggest parts of the Environment Canterbury budget and organisation and the area  that arguably effect the greatest number of people directly.  Dame Margaret amongst other things a former Secretary of Transport was sold to the public as a person of great skills, problem solving acumen and leadership. Even so, when this crisis is over, I imagine the city won't be asking her to organise celebratory drinks in a local brewery.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Budget 2011; Government allocates $88.4 million for upgrading Christchurch city bus network

One of the big and unexpected winners in yesterday's budget is Christchurch's public transport system.

Announcing the Budget Bill English said it was imperative in reviving the earthquake battered city that funding be made available to lift the public transport system out of last century and into one that was truly competitive in making Christchurch an attractive cost effective city in which to live, commute to work, and do business in.  Said the Minister, "You don't get that with-out investment in infrastructure, buying extra land for transfer stations,  to widen roads, add separate bus lanes,  or build underpasses to by-pass congestion ."

Interviewed after yesterday's budget reading in Parliament English admitted," The amount is not huge compared to the $500 million upgrading rail infrastructure in the Wellington region, or the billion and half dollars spent on Auckland rail, under the previous Government, but times are hard.  This will allow Christchurch, a similar population size to Wellington, to get started. As has been noted years ago the city is notoriously behind other centres in rapid transit development".

Bill English also said the effect of the earthquakes has been to bite this rather staid, complacent, smug and very provincial city on the bum and post-quake traffic congestion shows it won't be long before moving around Christchurch by car is as miserable as Auckland. "Christchurch Councils have known this has been coming for years but little attempt has been made to build an appropriate rapid transit infrastructure." Minister of Transport Stephen Joyce commented, "Countless overseas studies show we can't build our way out of congestion by more roads, so getting thousands of cars off the road with superior public transport systems is a long term win win for everyone, motorists included."

Upon questioning English did admit Christchurch has the prettiest heritage tramway system, even if was no longer workable.

Mayor Parker has commented on the Government allocation, "It is about time, we have been sitting around waiting for years for funding like this for rapid transit to fall out of the sky, I just can't understand why has taken so long."


It was just a "yeah right dream".

From the Christchurch viewpoint it is same old same old. 


Yield to bus - it's law - spreads in North America

Nova Scotia has recently  joined several other Canadian Provinces in passing a law that makes it mandatory for all other road users to slow or if necessary stop - "to yield" - to allow buses to re-enter a main traffic flow lane from bus stops. The law applies only in areas where the speed limit is less than 60kmh , basically urban situations.  A similar policy in New Zealand is called for by the NZ Green Party.

Nova Scotia's recent new law follows similar laws introduced during the last decade in other Province's of Canada, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and also in several states in USA. In Denver buses are being fitted with flashing Yield lights high on the rear of buses just to help motorists see exiting buses well in  advance or above other traffic flow.

Similar laws have been in force in Holland for some decades but Canada has many smaller cities, more akin to Christchurch in size, and with similar lower density suburban sprawl and similar roading patterns, a better situation from which to measure and monitor effectiveness, as several studies appear to do.

It is a policy that would also seem necesary to increase the status of buses , a minimum requirement needed to move transit out of its poor cousin status of years gone by and to create reliable integrated multi-directional networks that can offer genuine alternative to car usage.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Christchurch Rebuild; Added Parking Bays Could Allow "Queue Jumper Lane" for Bikes and Buses.

Sydenham after the first earthquake in September 2010; local retailers feared bus lanes, ready to go but never implemented, would kill this ailing retail area - could the inset parking bays, easier traffic flow, generous cycle space and bus lanes suggested in this posting be a major aspect of its rebirth?

I believe the devastating earthquakes which have led to the destruction and demolition of rows of shops, in several places, offers an unique opportunity widen city streets at certain points.

The rough diagram below speaks for itself - in this scenario the Council has purchased the added frontage of empty sites, taken the boundary back about 4 metres, to allow the road to be re-created as five lanes (in a few places this could be six lanes, both sides of a street) with a parking lane and three or four lanes of moving traffic. Although the idea is obvious and will no doubt be suggested by many others, it is the traffic management and potential value to public transport that mosts interests NZ in Tranzit.

There is potential in this concept for overhead signs at the start of such a section to say PARKING &; LEFT TURN AHEAD ONLY (for the bus, bike, and slow lane) and THROUGH TRAFFIC ONLY  [possibly also & RIGHT TURN AHEAD]. Double lines between lanes would indicate vehicles are not permitted to switch lanes within that block, eg not move from centre through lane across to parking space or vice versa. Possibly an electronic sign could use "eyes" - as used in Taupo [see below, at bottom of posting]  - under car parks to feed back parking availability to the sign and display the number of car parks or read at that moment NO PARKING -  LEFT TURN AHEAD ONLY .

In the case of the Bus, Bike and Parking Lane the ideal situation is that the (compulsory) left turn only for private cars leads to added parking in the side street, including possibly angle parking. However - my main interest - is that the Bus,Bike and Parking Lane is in effect a queue jumper lane for bikes and buses.

A transponder in the bus itself, or on a pole, reads the approach of a bus and adjusts the signal phase accordingly. Overseas these signal systems can be very sophisticated. For example in many cases normally the signal phasing works "turnabout" (east-west/north-south, or some variation of this, etc) but if a bus is approaching it holds the opposing phase, and stops the main traffic lane [same direction as bus] to allow the bus on the inside lane to move across the intersection and back into the centre lane itself, the bus or buses now ahead of all the other centre lane traffic. Where traffic movement in some other direction has lost a bit of time to the bus movement phase (eg 10-20 seconds if two or three buses came through at same time) in the more sophisticted systems the signal then compensates by granting the banked traffic in that direction a slightly longer phase than normal. Of course if a bus or buses,  and on their inside, bikes are only going straight ahead, this still allows the parking/left turn traffic to exit as well in that phase.

Overall the amount of on street parking with inset bays can not be huge - possibly maximum 10-15 cars per block - and though a car backing in or out of the bus lane will ocasionally delay a bus, overall even on a busy bus route, the higher portion of the time will allow buses a modest but continuous forward flow. I imagine studies already exist overseas on delay vs flow in situations like this. Again with an electronic signage management system this could be adjustable, but unlike the original bus lanes planned for Sydenham [which never got further than the rather ironic looking sign in the rubble from the first big earthquake in September] there is never a time when the actual parking space itself is needed for bus flow. This system could be the "making" of Sydenham as an attractive corridor, rather the final nail in the coffin as peak hour bus lanes swallowing car parking was thought likely to be.

It is not presumed that this structure would necesarily apply for a whole block but in blocks where it does where the current boundary reapplies, there would be no parking kerbside at that section. Nor does this pattern have to apply every block - with traffic in the bus,bike and parking lane required to turn left and only bikes and buses moving straight ahead, there is no reason traffic an not revert to two lanes in each direct, as now one of them a kerbside parking lane.
I can see this working on sections of Colombo Street between north of Kilmore St; between Lichfield and St Asaph St; in several parts of Sydenham and even n Stanmore Road in brief section.  It could also apply in parts of Manchester Street. Most of all it would allow Tuam Street (suitably renamed) to be rebuilt as a substantial boulevard, many sections either five or even six lanes, as above, (possibly with centre trees) between Hospital corner and Fitzgerald Avenue. Along with the retained clockwise only one way system, as previously suggested in NZ in Tranzit, and Moorhouse Avenue further south I see this as the great through road and one to some degree separating the inner city's largely residential and suggested "village" commercial area south of "Tuam" Boulevard and the more conventional cosmopolitan city north of "Tuam" Boulevard. At the same time it frees up Lichfield to become a more user friendly inner city street, hopefully with enough surviving strengthened buildings to retain at least some of its potential elegance. I see Tuam street as very important street for buses - busways feeding into the city from northern and south-west areas included - as well as a primary corridor tofro the eastern suburbs.

Where an existing building remains, the footpath (with suitable aids to sight disabled) flows around it. In the case of designated Heritage buildings this will probably always be so. With modern buildings or high rise buildings, the Council places a Notice of Requirement on the front portion of the site. This would require owners to offer Council first option to buy the required frontage of the site if the building is ever demolished and the site is redeveloped. By this means over a 20-50 year period some streets might be fully widened for several blocks in a row.

In the meantime I believe we are creating a potential win-win-win situation for through traffic, cars seeking car parks, retailers, pedestrians, cyclists (widened area) and buses.

Parking eyes in Taupo emit GPS signals to tell wardens when cars have exceeded the 60 minute free parking time; equaly one imagines they could feed availability of an empty space to an electronic sign,  alerting approaching motorists to parking availability, in a bay or area accessed by left turn lane.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Too Many Buses? Time for an integrated service.

From the mists of time.....or rather the faded images of a newspaper cutting about 45 years old.  This photo came to light during the preparation for the Christchurch Transport Board staff reunion (and 100th Anniversary of the establishment of the CTB) in 2003 after a call was made for old photos. This photo presumably appeared in one of Christchurch's major papers, but no original clear quality copy was found amongst archival photos of local trams and buses held by either paper.  Various clues in the image suggest it is taken in the latter 1960s. 

From  about the 1870s until the early 1990s, Cathedral Square at the centre of the city, was also the hub of the city's public transport network - from horse drawn buses and then steam trams and electric trams, then from 1954 buses. Now the oddly  designed and unsafe narrowed roading through Cathedral Square is merely a through point for a continual line of buses.  The problem for a transit network is the same as for all vehicles - if multiple vehicles all head from a wide area into a central area it goes without saying, the closer they get to the city, the greater the concentration of vehicles per roading or parking area available. 

Ian Athfield, the architectural ambassador sent to advise the city on its town planning has said of Christchurch "We also run a lot of buses around the city with not many people in them". As Christchurch Transport blog so aptly put it "This seems a rather generic and ignorant statement " allowing " but could have been portrayed in the wrong context in the media".

I won't mention (oops I did) the fact that this sounds a bit rich coming from a Wellingtonian with Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Manners Street etc a perpetual queue of buses often equally sparsely patronised at central points. Then again maybe Athfield feels the same about the windy city and it's narrow streets. 

Certainly though, if you are going to plan a new city around accessible transport  it helps to recognise that whatever the size or capacity of trains or buses,  full capacity is only utilised for a relatively small part of the week, and that typically in only one direction (peak hour tidal flow) and that is the ergonomics or dynamics or economic success of any particular route can not be realised just by casual observation.  Excess capacity is a fairly minor expense in the over-all dynamics of public transport where capital costs, administration costs and labour costs (including repairs) remain the largest factors.

But all that said and done, I too believe Christchurch has too many buses coursing through centre city streets. And I depend upon my buses. as other people depend upon a car, to get everywhere. But there comes a point when instead of adding to the life of a city, it feels to me,  multiple queues of buses, buses crowding bus stops, become exhausting, kill the whole quality of life feeling of the streetscape. And this a huge problem for the city, with Metro believing it can coax patronage up to almost double present bus usage in the next ten years. Some of this can be absorbed into existing capacity and some of it can be absorbed into cross town routes, but even a 33% increase in buses trailing through the city centre would be almost unbearable. It looks clumsy, it looks stupid, it does nothing for the feel of an effective efficient bus service. And as the photo above shows (I count 13 buses visible) it is hardly a new problem.

The Metro/city planning policy across the years has been to add on new routes and services, increase some services from 30 minutes to 15  minute headways. It appears to me this is done largely on an ad hoc basis, there is not a systematic ground plan, or at least not one that is fully integrated.  In many cases timing of one route is completely unrelated or competing with other services serving the same area (as here!) The system often has buses running simultaneously (indeed timed to run simultaneously) while leaving long gaps to the next (two or more) simultaneously departures. There are key areas and directional flows that remain without any service whatsoever and when Auckland and Wellington were receiving hundreds of millions in Government funding  for rapid transit options (rail and busway) our city was asleep at the wheel and sought and received next to nothing.  Yet without much greater capital investment - for example in "queue jumper" lanes for buses at key congested intersections - no reliable timing can be achieved. Under the piecemeal strategies typical of the last decade, more of the same means too much of the same, including too many buses in the city centre.

I believe  instead, the city should be looking at creating a fully integrated system as its core service. 

On Papanui Road for instance ten buses an hour (on five routes) and two on express service travel in each direction, minimum, on a normal business day. Often they run nose to tail  though only carrying a handful of passengers, and only diverge near the last  third of their route,  a relatively wasteful service. I think 8 per hour (4 x 30 minute routes)would be more than adequate, if consistently patterned and evenly timed.

In an integrated system desired service levels of each road, to each area is pre-determined. as is the  pattern of directions available from each node point, and then the overall route pattern is  fitted into the desired pattern.  The pieces needed for the mosaic are figured out and then the routes designed to fit into a tight, frequent and consistent pattern, areas  in many cases will served by two or more routes with overlapping functions (for example access to the CBD) in a predictable alternating pattern. An eight minute service might consist of one 15 minute route, and two 30 minute routes, three routes that hit the same arterial toad into the city at a common point, in an integrated pattern that also relates to cross town route departure times along the way.

In an integrated planning, for instance, might be determined for example that nine of the busiest and most important arterial roads heading towards the city have a standardised setting,  8 buses an hour all Mon-Sat from the four km ring of malls inward (and serving the denser inner suburbs) and 15 minute service at other times. Also that in the lower density suburbs further out these branch out to offer a 30 minute setvice to town at all times but (by clever use of integrated loop shuttles) a 15 minute service tofro nearest large mall complex during the day seven days a week. De facto arrival at the mall zone is also arrival at a transfer point offering 8 services an hour to the city. leaving every 7-8 minutes. Consistently. Predictable.  

In that scenario of predetermined service levels and directional diversity one of the  five routes [excluding Rangiora Express buses] currently traveling down Papanui Road would be surplus and instead might travel via Matsons Avenue/Ccondell Avenue to run down through Idris and Rossall Street to complement route 15 and create a (predetermined as appropriate/needed) 15 minute access to the city,  based on these two routes alternating in departure time. This in turn might mean Route 9 Wairakei Road follows a slightly different pattern. etc etc.  At the same time a large sector of the northern area near Northlands, which is bizarrely with  no current bus access to the mall/high school/pool etc gets a service. Integrating departure times of the Matsons/Condell/Idris service with a west link shuttle from Northlands to Fendalton, Avonhead, Rssley, Hornby would then give a 15 minute consistent access between Idris Road area and Northlands Mall. And so on, city wide.

Instead of increasing buses into the central city, or adding more and more buses to existing over-bussed roads, such as Papanui Road or Riccartion Road, an integrated system would slightly reduce and stablise the number of buses, spread growth more evenly into other areas between the major arterials , create integrated shuttle loops between outer suburbs and midway malls, and offer access tofro the central city more evenly spread across different pathways. This sort of enhanced, top quality service, is not possible in today's style of planning (or budgeted planning). 

But underlying all this, at another strata altogether, I believe this city needs to build five or six semi-segregated busways, that in effect link all major outer residential areas directly to the city centre (and one or two other major work zones) completely by-passing congestion, mall areas etc and offering access to work at peak times of less than 25 minutes from Templeon/Hornby, Halswell, Sumner, Redcliffs, Southshore, North Shore/Parklands, Prestons, Belfast, and Styx. These busways would employ articulated buses, have platformed stations, and travel along virtually uncontested roading corridors, for example passing under QEII Drive and over Cranford Street,  or under Linwood Avenue at Worcester Street.  Where they travel on city streets, they would be mostly secondary arterials and feeder roads with minimal contesting traffic, and traffic lights on intersecting roads, automatically favour busway vehicles. Well designed busways can carry tens of thousands (overseas hundreds of thousands) of people a day quickly and smoothly right into the heart of a city without having to stop  at all, even in peak hours. 

The lesson of such busways in Sydney and Ottawa,  however, is that it is very important to have inner city entrance routes, equally free flowing, and with room for multiple buses that does not compromise commercial life and, yet again, put too many buses in city centre streets.  

Services that "jump across" the inner suburbs can be key players in jump starting a city centre that has been losing out to suburban malls for the last two decades and now taken a savage blow from an earthquake of rare and devastating ground acceleration rates.

I believe Christchurch still has some excellent potential pathways to bring multiple buses  (including longer articulated buses)  into the city central areas with minimal impact on traffic flow or commercial activity.  These will be explored in  the next posting.

Friday, May 13, 2011

TRANZWATCH - public transport news monitor

 Blogs are a sort of underground equivalent of a newspaper column, a great vehicle for people to sound off their opinions or try to bring together a range of unrelated bits and pieces and hopefully weave an entertaining or informative story from the bits.

Doing a blog is a style of writing, immediate but loose and not merely dry reporting  that suits my personality and I enjoy it a great deal. However only a small portion of data from my researched sources gets aired.  I would like to share much more of the world of public transport than the just the topics raised in the two or three opinion pieces I write a week.

TRANZWATCH is a new NEWS page, on the permanent pages[see sidebar]  which will be updated fairly constantly, for any person interested in public transport issues to dunk into when they choose,  Reports will be closely linked to the main focus of this blog,  Christchurch NZ and its public transport system, and after that, public transport in other similar sized cities (200,000-800,000) in countries of shared and roughly similar demography - Canada, Australia, NZ.

In general larger CANZ cities [Sydney, Toronto etc] or other parts of the world will not be covered unless employing interesting technologies, policies or concepts that could be of value in smaller systems. As modern bus technologies are more relevant and economic for smaller low density cities, this will get greater coverage than rail. Regional and intercity rail and bus services in NZ will also be covered because these are also important to car less lifestyles. Cycling and skating are alternative forms of transport well covered in other blogs etc and will get just random bits and pieces. Almost all items will offer a direct click through link to relevant sources or reports, with occasional comments or added background info.

So still a quirky mix, but much broader in "raw" material and original reports accessable.
Items posted will probably be deleted after about two weeks, but I will keep an archive,  readers are welcome to write to tranzwatch@gmail.com  if enquiring about an item or its source no longer on display

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting real about public transport, using the rapid study method

My late grandmother used to have an embossed leather plaque on her wall with the inscribed message "Never put your wishbone where your backbone ought to be". That can be a hard call in the arena of social activism and politics. For anyone.

We all have our wishbone - our dreams and ideals, abstract values of the way we think the world should be (prescriptive) - it can take a lot of courage and much harder research and study to come up with an accurate picture of how effective these dreams are when applied in reality, when all factors including upstream needs and downstream effects are added into the equation (descriptive).** And there will always be a margin of perspective (where we stand) as to what is real, in any situation.

Even though my wishbone leans towards the "socialistic" - I'd rather pay more taxes and see everybody have equal access to protected wilderness, clean water, sealed streets, educational opportunity, accessible medical care etc etc etc - I am no fan of fluffing over reality or sloppiness about the truth or wasteful spending of public monies.

My experience of being employed by a range of public and private organisations, spanning multiple jobs over 40 years of working life, is that all larger corporates get flabby and wasteful, inefficient, grow too many staff and too big around the middle management sector, add silly add-ons [like meaningless training seminars or junket trips] that do very little to enhance productive function. Equally the arrogance of larger corporates is often appalling (the worst phone call system in New Zealand is Telecom!! It can often take 23 minutes ...[timed] ..on hold even to speak to a person!! - a truly pathetic level of service in the very product sector it is selling, for which the cheif executive is paid millions per year!). Flab and bullshit in my experience is not just a disease of the public service sector.

I hate waste most in the world of transport. Let us never, for one moment,  forget that our whole world is built on the incredible energy and activity made available by cheap oil (it has been compared to every individual having 100 slaves) and that this is a finite resource. Mindlessly driving our cars to the convenience store a block away is frittering away our grandchildren's inheritance and prosperity (and because democracy can rarely be sustained in poverty, their relative freedom as well). It is an unsustainable life where a few generations of life upon this earth (and about 20% of the world's population) is clearly being subsidized by future generations.

Also with only 8% of people in the world owning a car [although I imagine as much as a third have easy access to private vehicle] clearly it will not be possible for equality - the world's resource pools of rare metals and cheap oil will collapse long before car ownership is spread to even twice that number, a spread of car ownership that is of course is happening in China, India, Russia and emerging economies.

For this reason I am fan of a car-less world - literally less dependence on cars, less cars, more effective use of fewer cars. And effective public transport. But the world of public transport is also full of bullshit and flab. It makes my blood boil to see bus services so shoddily organised as on Papanui Road or Riccarton Road, where multiple services run nose to tail one monent and yet there can still be long gaps - upto 25 minutes at nights, just through poor resource management strategies.

Another thing I find almost laughable is the naievity [I presume it is not deliberate dishonesty] of people like rail advocates or Green Party members talking in silly generalisations such as "Passenger Rail is more environmentally beneficial than car (or bus transport)" or "Rail is more effective because it can carry more people".

Almost the figures used in these debates (for cars, for buses, for trains) are based on vehicle capacity, not actual or predictable usage; wishbone not backbone. Each situation needs to be analyzed here, but we can be fairly sure virtually no public transport system of any sort operates consistently at full capacity. Almost everywhere passenger flow in peak hours is tidal (concentrated more in one direction than another) meaning part empty buses or carriages in the opposite direction; and that many people will only use public transport if it that service operates across a wide spectrum of time - few people would chose not to own a car if public transport doesn't run at night or weekends. Equally many would not catch a train to work if the one and only service homewards ran at 5.15pm, without multiple departure-time choices, including later into the evening when logic suggests usage will be well below capacity.

Even without specific backbone research we can assume environmental evaluation starts for buses and trains, as for private cars, at perhaps average usage of between one quarter and one third capacity. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, if all the environmental factors or socio-ecomonic factors etc stack up right anyway. It costs very little extra in the lifetime of a bus, or private car, to carry around extra unused seats much of the time, whilst keeping open flexibility. The real measurements are in averaged out costs and uses - passengers per kilometre, costs per passenger etc. Or in side costs - adding the cost in gas/journey time/pollution/parking space of passengers driving to a station into the total train fuel/journey time/pollution equation. Many public transport systems seem far from environmental.

I was very impressed recently when I came across a study done of public transport "myths versus facts" in the medium size city of Grand Rapids in Michigan USA. The public transport system in this city, called "The Rapid" serves about 450,000 people and carries a bit under 9 million passengers a year. In response to the local tax needed to support a new Bus Rapid Transit corridor a local group opposed has produced a 17 page, footnoted, booklet "The Rapid; A Critical Analysis. Myths Vs Facts".

The United States has some very virulent critics of just about every form of public spending, as if a civilized society could somehow exist on nothing more than the competition of the free market, which in very short time inevitably means the capture of resources and seizure of power by the strongest (and often strength = corrupt and unethical practises) and debasement of the larger population. Public transport "transit" - especially bus services or very expensive rail projects - are a favourite target of the extreme right warriors, an easy target in the USA where public transport outside the very large centres is seems liitle more than a rather meagre "social service", with limited hours and frequency, offered as a sop to impoverished groups. Public transport is seen as a sort of charity rather than as in London, Paris or many other places, including NZ to a fair extent, as an attractive way of keeping cites and their centre's alive and vibrant, easily accessible by all.

The publishers of this document "Kent County families for fiscal responsibility" judging by all those key words I imagine come within this generally right-wing framework. But what impreses me in this study is the readiness of the authors (I suspect probably one key author, Jeff Steinport) to go beyond loose and sloppy statements and the usual tacky use of loaded and abusive propaganda style language "pork barrel" etc of other transit challenging groups***.
This is a study of genuine backbone, with a descriptive rather than a noxious, badgering style and extensive footnoting. It certainly asks some very good questions - questions that I believe should be asked of public transport everywhere. Questions that need to be asked by supporters as much as by anybody else.
The Grand Rapid's study asks (and analyzes) what are the actual costs and benefits of in terms of environment, effectiveness, overall patronage, growth strategies etc. The study measures these against the transit authority's own claims; against other options and against another comparable transit operation in a similar size city nearby. The study has an air of honesty and integrity but whether the found answers are open to challenge or not. from this distance I can not tell. Nor does it ultimately matter, it is the framework of of analysis and accountability that appeals. And if their are cost/benefits/social factors not added in, well they could be framed in the same style, not generalised statements.

I fight for good public transport - it is my wishbone but the long hours also take backbone.
I support and rely upon public transport as much as anyone in our country. This said I don't think anyone ever wins a war by self deception. Public transport is full of wishbone statements, part of the fanciful aura that public transport is something it is easy to do well. This study is a reminder that it is not, it is a very elusive technology despite appearances. And let us stop pretending public transport has some superior moral status (wishbone politics). or that sloppy poorly run systems can be justified or that exorbitantly expensive rail is sustainable in situations where it is not.  

Get real, get facts, do the hard miles, get feet on the ground and target resources. Effectively.

Related resources;

**Thanks to Jarret Walker for his conceptual discussion of expertise vs activism (and descriptive vs prescriptive) for  some of the inspiration here.

*** mostly ; last sentence about "bilking" let's it down abit !!

Grand Rapids - the transit authority's own website and documents here

Sunday, May 8, 2011

After the earthquake the oilquake?


When cheap oil leaves town...       Photo Wikimedia Commons

What is going on? The International Monetary Fund -- a body that states its mission is to "foster global growth and economic stability" has produced a major report which concludes the world has entered an era of oil scarcity, and openly discusses a peak oil scenario in which global GDP doesn't grow, but declines steeply !

So starts a recent posting in Denis Tegg's blog Oil Shock Horror Probe titled IMF Warns of Oil Scarcity And End of "Growth

I'll leave this blog's readers to follow these links up for themselves, but the most interesting, awesome and fearsome thing I find (apart from the fact that bodies like the IMF are starting to squeak on this issue) is the relatively low thresh-hold in oil supply shortfall perceived as needed to trigger world-wide recession and more or less permanent decline in living standards.

The IMF economists give serious consideration to a scenario where oil production declines at 3.8% annually and which is enough to start bringing down the house in the world economy and particularly countries like the USA and NZ which are net importers of oil. This type of oil decline scenario is similar to projected by those who have tried to alert the world to peak oil challenges for many years. In New Zealand's case Denis Tegg estimates there would be a 4 to 5% reduction in GDP within five years and a 14% reduction in 20 years.

The size of the "oilquake" - hitting as it does every aspect of every one's lives - fertiliser, perfume, plastics, medecins, transport, tourism are all heavily cheap oil based - will be far more reaching even than the sudden shock to our prosperity delivered by the huge costs of the Christchurch earthquakes. And far more enduring, yet another and ultimately probably a much larger groundshift in many people's lives.

New Zealand is already a much less wealthy country than Australia, I imagine mostly because it does not have the huge mineral wealth,  the large internal population market or intense concentrations of population on the scale of Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. According to Wikipedia Australia's GDP per capita is $39,699 is 50% bigger than New Zealand's current GDP per capita, at $26,966.

An economist in a recent "Mainlander" (weekend supplement) to The Press recently calculated it would take 14 companies the size of Fonterra to lift New Zealand's economy to the prosperity of Australia. Anyone who knows the size of Fonterra knows that aint gonna happen! But we do have a beautiful country and brains, let us use them to create a different sort of prosperity, life-style rich, including amazing transport systems that do not merely try to ape the motorway madness of much wealthier countries. 

Having BRILLIANT public transport systems in our city, across the nation, has always (well since 1970 anyway) seemed to me the simplest and most attractive way of enhancing living standards in New Zealand, whilst maintaining prosperity and making the country resilient to climate change and peak oil impacts. This doesn't do away with cars, privately owned vehicles as an option, but recocognises that the world has the technology today to create very sophisticated alternate systems that could drastically cut car use in general and render ownership of a car an unnecesary. Boy racers could still love their cars but for many car owning would become a ridiculously expensive option in comparison to more attractive alternatives. This would be especially so for certain sectors of the population and/or at certain times in the life cycle, including before and after raising children.

In my experience most people are addicted to cars (I don't say this lightly or to be amusing!) and suffer panic, anxiety, rage and mood swings if they are asked to walk or bus anywhere, except long distances from a car park when they have are forced do so. The late director of Oakleigh Mental Hospital Frazer MacDonald way back in the 1970s described cars as metal boxes which allowed people to get in and out of their property with out having to relate to their neighbours! I find too much convenience and comfort is a sort of drug like prozaic, softening and blurring the actual quality of life (the sensate, active involvement, natural world and living community involvement quality of life) and suspect it requires large doses of real world experiences - such as overseas trips**  - to try to compensate for the spiritual depletion of travelling in metal boxes away from life. 

In my experience it is not possible for many car users hooked on this, spiritual deprivation -"fix" cycle to realise life doesn't need to be set at a "car-needed" pace. Nothing is lost by taking longer to travel, relax, read, people watch, chat, smell the flowers or feel the rain. If one chooses to stop owning a car in my experience it takes about 2-3 weeks to adjust one's time scale and find the longer traveling time normal (and of course to enjoy the reduced working hours needed to fund transport).

This said, along with car share, car pool, car hire, set fare taxis, taxis, and many other "car-less" options and superior off road (for miles) bike tracks, it is important we lift mass transit bus and busway systems - city, regional, national - way beyond their present half-assed 1950s style systems and anchor them in the modern age. Running all bus services as a set of separate routes ignores the computer age possibility of running as an integrated circuit in which pulses (each bus) move in relationship to each other, and dozens of travel options unfold at each major intersecting node point. This also recognises the central city is the most important but certainly not the only destination of service intensificartion needed. By comparison the higgledy piggledy systems run by Metro currently seem to me incredibly wasteful of resources (not least passengers' time) and the conceptually belong in a bygone era. Metro (and its partner Christchurch City Council) has embraced lots of new techno toys but have not put them to work together in the way necessary to create a fast, effective, reliable, frequent and predictable network system

Faced with the potential of 3.8% oil scarcity tippng point for prosperity, we can cling to cars and hurt or build a parallel highly effective mass transit network. Stress is inevitable if we cling to ideas and attitudes no longer relevant to the new situation. For mass transit we need to give buses the same status, but probably less than half the funding we give commuter rail (in Auckland and Wellington) including some permanent bus lanes, queue jumper lanes at congested intersections, completely segregated off-road busway sections including bus-only under-passes and over-passes, heated platformed major transfer stations and multiple transfer node points. As reliability and certainty of maintaining schedules grows we need to shift to a fully integrated core system in which the furtherest outer parts of Christchurch and longest cross-town trips would be accessible under 25 minutes, and most trips under 15 minutes even in peak hour congestion. With an integrated pattern the would be minimal waiting times at most stops and multiple options of access to various locations easily learnt and retained by any regular passenger.

You could say it would take an earthquake to bring such a shift in attitudes in Christchurch but we tried that and alas the opposite seems to be happening! I personally can not understand, now that most roads are open, why the WHOLE system should be run (or is it run down?) in the current clumsy manner - not least why a proper multi-stop temporary bus exchange pattern can not be created at Parkside using both sides of the road and traffic management devices. Nor why, when drivers and buses are standing idle, key services are not being operated at half steam. And the John Key government - more retro than a Mark 1 Zephyr - seem bent on cutting public transport funding in favour of more motorways, even though car use is already starting to decline on NZ State Highways and more recently the Auckland Harbour Bridge and yet oil has barely begun to rise.

The future does not bode well for quality public transport at the very time it should be getting the tools to support and maintain prosperity in new more effective ways!!

** I wonder if it ever strikes some people the freshness and stimulation they get on overseas holidays is in part, in many cases because they are not travelling by car but fully immersed street-level,  in the people and places world - a lively world that also exists in their hometown?

*** for instance drop in Harbour Bridge traffic, noted at bottom of NZ Herald article on oil price rises 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Restoring full services on route 40 Wainoni needed to boost depleted eastside access

....in particular it seems to me thoughtless to run the 40 Wainoni service only as a 30 minute service given the lack of other services in areas through which this route passes .......

Why Environment Canterbury and Metro are running services in the current clumsy manner is hard to comprehend. But one thing is for certain, the eastside of Christchurch is suffering more than any other area through reduced bus routes and bus services.

In fact the eastern arms of five routes are not operating at all at the moment. These are 23 Bromley via Eastgate, 35 Heathcote to Lyttelton via Eastgate, Ferrymead, 51 Aranui via Eastgate, 83 Burwood to New Brighton, and 84 Avondale to New Brighton. No other area of the city is so impacted by service loss. This must be huge extra stress for people, getting to work (especially if their previous workplace has been relocated, out of the closed-off central city area, to locations further west) or in many cases just getting to the doctor or an open supermarket. While road conditions, from ruptured streets, to road and sewage repairs through to unstable cliff areas will take time to repair, it seems to me Metro should be doing far more than they are to offer genuine public service.

The east has suffered devastating liquifaction and house damage; massive loss of normal sewage functions; relocation of several high schools with students bussing to temporary shared used with other high schools; and closure of both major malls at The Palms and Estgate, including their associated supermarkets - the last thing eastern residents need is for Metro to offer nothing but an enfeebled bus service with long waiting times between departures.  

NZ in Tranzit believes there is a very strong case for why a 15 minute service should be restored on route 40 Wainoni as soon as possible.

The higher density areas around Tuam Street and Harrow Street used to have 8 buses an hour in each drection, four from 40 Wainoni (15 minute service) and two each from the half-hourly services of 23 and 35 route. A reduction from eight to two per hour seems grossly inadequate, not least because with the closure of Eastgate supermarket thousands of local residents will either have to travel much further out to Ferrymead or Pak'N'Save Wainoni, or into a Moorhouse Avenue supermarket. It goes with out saying (Murphy's Law) that without adequate timetables for intermediate stops being offered, big potential exists to emerge from the supermarket just as the one and only bus for the next half hour disappears out of sight, leaving shoppers including the elderly and mothers with young kids (and grumpy old men like this blogster!) with a 29 minute wait - add a cold wind or rain for added hassle!

With no bus services at all operating to areas of Avonside and  to Avondale housing lying north of Wainoni Road,  it would seem caring to at least ensure that those still living in parts of Avonside or Avondale and able to walk the 5 or 10 minutes further to a bus service can at least be assured of a regular service, or in worst case scenario no waiting period longer than 15 minutes.  It is primary school level knowledge in the basics of public transport that the distance people feel comfortable and secure to work is fairly closely linked to the frequency (and speed) of the service they have to walk towards. If you are going to spend five to ten minutes extra walking, the last thing you want is an extra twenty or thirty minutes waiting because you missed the bus! This can happen anytime if passengers are delayed, or buses don't turn up, or run through early etc. With post-quake-shaky-flaky current time-tables (on-line only) showing only outer terminus departure time, showing no immediate timing points and showing no indication of how long the journey may take to the city, getting an accurate fix is loaded with even greater risk!!

For those people normally served by 84 route, living  in the Avonside area near Woodham Road and Dunarnon Street who can walk to 40; for those people around Avondale around Breezes Road (north) and Avondale Road, Orick Avenue etc who can walk to 40 route; for those people in Aranui  southside of Wainoni Road (normally also served by 51 route) - for those people living in one of the city's most earthquake devastated areas in the whole city the very least Metro could do is to try to reinforce the one service they can access.

Then there is New Brighton itself. For several years the 5 and 40 route ran at simultaneous departure times from New Brighton, reducing what could be in effect a direct 8 minute link to western Aranui, Eastgate, Linwood in the Tuam-Cashel area down to a quarter hour service. These two routes share a lot of common territory, either sharing parts of the same route or housing areas between, many parts being accessible from either route. It was just crazy to run on the same time and it has been a great improvement to see buses return to integrated pattern for the many who can use any route.

Now that east-side people need buses more than ever, post quake this sensible integration has been thrown out the window! New Brighton service has regressed to having Route 5 buses leave New Brighton at a time not supplied (!!) but by guessing the running time from Caspian Street (Southshore) approximately 02 and 32 past the hour; route 40 at 05 and 35 past the hour, in other words virtually simultaneously.  For those wishing to get to city and Hagley Exchange area this reduces services to, de facto, 30 minutes only,  at all times other at peak times Monday-Friday business days only, when extra sevices are added to route 5 [noted return trips offer more slightly more departure time options].

Needless to say when all services are running at 30 minute intervals and transfers, between routes terminating at Bealey Avenue and Hagley Avenue temporary exchanges require reliance upon a central link that runs only every 15 minutes, there is a recipe for huge complicated journeys, in my experience of the last nine weeks often absurdly taking between 90 and 180 minutes to get across town!!  Restoring the 40 Wainoni route to a 15 minute services would at least bring waiting time down and help restore some degree of quality to all services and all associated transfers. And not least;  40 Wainoni anyway normally terminates at Parkside - the site of the temporary exchange - it is not a through route and it is one route where service could be restored (with slight route variations) to almost normal relatively easily.

It may be that Civil Defence or CERA have asked Metro to limit buses along the Wainoni Route, in which case Metro should re-argue the case and bus speed be strictly limited (there is a 30kmph speed limited gazetted in many eastern areas anyway). For all the reasons above current eastern services seem grossly inadequate to address the situation - returning route 40 New Brighton via Wainoni to 15 minute headway on services is a key step towards recovery.