Monday, June 6, 2011

Christchurch being railroaded, missing light bus trend

NZ in Tranzit Advocacy  - Light Bus Network

"If buses are not co-ordinated or run late nowadays it is not usually mechanical failure, or that the technology needed to do this does not exist;  it is poor or indifferent scheduling or lack of vision and political will by regional or city councils to put in place the sort of adequate infrastructure that gives buses priority"

Example of a core week-day (Mon-Sat 9am-7pm) timetable using
Light Bus integrated route pattern and NICERide schedule patterns
For more info see repeat of same image  below -

When I was a city bus driver in the late 1970s and during the 1980s, I often found my scheduled bus trip went through some suburban intersection or shopping centre at the same time as another bus, on another route, went through. Both services would be heading into the city by different routes, similar in travelling time. In some places or time periods - such as evening or Sundays - these might be the only services for a whole hour. But even half hourly services running simultaneously is a huge wait and waste.

I guess I am a closet socialist who wants public service to work, effectively, efficiently. Even back then, I had previously lived without a car, and also felt the casual indifference and cavalier arrogance of planners implicit in situations like this, good enough for the peasants etc, the sort of low quality scheduling still around that insults the people whose taxes and rates and fares actually pay the scheduler's wages, the sort of slackness that puts people off public transport use. To my thinking any services running less than 10 minutes headway should not be over-lapping in departure times with other services doing a similar role.

I got pissed off then and I still do about the gross waste of resources that occur in a poorly co-ordinated services. But what a different world we live in. In 1978 buses had underfloor engines and high steps, at any given stop some poor old soul or disabled person could take a minute or two just to get up the stairs; prams and push chairs were (uniquely) hooked on to the front of the bus, the driver usually climbing out to do this; passengers had concession cards requiring a hole punched in them, but mostly it was cash fares broken into a complex fare structure of five-seven different sections, based on distance travelled. Each ticket sale required the driver to know or calculate which of twelve different tickets to select (and one in fifty issued, probably, ended up in a 30 second to 2 minute polite argument with a passenger "That's not what the last driver charged me" "I'm sorry but her must have made a mistake, this is the correct fare" " Well I didn't get charged that last week" etc etc - usually over a difference of only 5 cents or less! The buses were old, cold and slow to accelerate, it was often a case to some extent of "barge out" - into a too small gap in traffic with the occasional irritated motorist honking or racing around the nose of the bus finger extended (though many kind motorists do slow to let buses out) Waiting for a longer gap, in rush hour at least, dragged the service further back behind schedule - a vicious circle because then the late bus driver starts getting passengers who would have arrived after he went through, if on time, passengers intended for the next bus behind him or her. Consequently the bus gets later and later. When a bus broke down (often), a driver had to knock on the door of some one nearby house and ask to use the phone - passengers sat in the bus tapping their fingers, sometimes it took four or five houses to get somebody home, or that didn't say "sorry, no" or even some giant saying "Piss off !" before slamming the door. If a new bus was sent out, or another driver and bus cut in to replace your service it could take 20-30 minutes.

In short these and many other factors made a well co-ordinated network service all running on time very difficult. Indeed there was no way of knowing, except when buses came past the inspectors kiosk in Cathedral Square, whether or not buses were on time. Drivers had no radio contact with base until the early 1980s. Better route planning and scheduling could only go "so far" in those circumstances. The only major attempt at co-ordination was evenings and Sundays when all routes arrived in the Square at the same time, to allow passengers to switch routes, and once the inspector on duty was sure this was safely completed, all buses would be dispatched simultaneously - a process well meant but hugely clumsy - it usually took from 10-15 minutes just waiting, before the buses even got moving.

Not too much happening this Sunday in Cathedral Square in the mid 1980s!  Buses on all routes wait to be simultaneously dispatched by Square inspector, (sometimes many minutes waiting!) By the mid 1980s faster more modern buses have been introduced and equipped with radio telephones but systems still lacked today's sophisticated monitoring technology that supports light bus systems

It is inevitable on a big network a certain amount of over-lap might occur, or on some corridors buses heading in towards or out from the city might nose to tail each other a bit. But even better scheduling could not have achieved an adequately reliable or consistent co-ordinated pattern in the conditions applying 30 years ago

These conditions no longer exist. There will always be late buses, but they should be a rarity.

If buses are not co-ordinated or run late nowadays it is not usually mechanical failure, or lack of availability of the technology needed, it is poor scheduling or lack of vision and political will by regional or city councils to put in place the sort of adequate infrastructure that gives buses priority access.

This includes along streets, or through intersections, or between areas on segregated corridors separate from other traffic, and will include in some cases bus only (or bus and bike only) over-passes, ramps or trenchs, tunels and underpasses. This sort of investment in quality infrastructure is constantly made in rail and light rail, which can only deliver a relative limited service directionally, albeit high capacity, and needs substantial feeder bus or park-and-ride to sustain its image of effective transport. Rail is also system that rarely measures true home-to-work total journey times, nor adds capital costs into accounting.

Major infrastructure investment is rarely applied to buses. The sorts of hundreds of millions being poured into Auckland and Wellington rail is denied buses, not least in Christchurch by over a decade of local body politicians besotted with rail as an image rather than analysing what will work best city wide.

Only a bus based system with modern technology can deliver city wide rapid reliable, multi-directional travel fined tuned to demand variation (multi-layered = express, limited stop, busway, community, circuit route, cross-town, airport direct, standard or premium quality services. Buses themselves have changed radically in the last 30 years, though subtle shape changes hardly convey this, and they seem set to change even more.  The apparent success of five years of  electric bus trials in China (20 cities, millions of kilometres) using self charging (in less than 30 minutes) fully electric buses without overhead wires, delivering smooth acceleration, full pulling power and quiet rides suggests this technology will almost certainly replace diesel in the decades a head; the pulling power of electricity or the exponential growth in diesel efficiency means loading capacity of multi-articulated buses now reaches into the low hundreds.

Although "trainspotters" are very fixated on the appearance and felt quality of vehicles, it is effective land use and roading patterns which is the primary determinant of passenger use and successful public transport.  The nature of the corridor, roading surface, relationship to other traffic, is far more fundamental than the mode of vehicle used. A segregated bus corridor can be used by multiple routes, feeding from multiple sources, so residents across a wide spectrum get rapid transit advantages; in any distance under 10km this is virtually impossible with a single light rail line.

Guided busway in UK - exclusive roading for buses, or buses and bikes only, allowing buses to bypass congested roads and intersections on attractively landscaped busway corridors., have long been ignored in Christchurch

Buses run late because there is  also a lack of funding, commitment and appropriate use of technology available. Potential exsts to adopt ideas partly operative and also from elsewhere using a central monitoring station to identify on a large computerised abstract map, exactly where every bus is at any given moment. If working to a pre-set programme, possible with a core pattern, the marker light for each bus would change from green dot to orange or red, according to delay status. In a system absolutely committed to maintaining schedules (because this absolute reliability is worth millions of extra passengers a year) a number of buses would have a distictive livery and front body signage "Support Service" or some such well known identity. These would, "by their nature" - well known to locals within a short period - offer partial support - pre-determined for each route, departing from a key point "back on time" and running only as far as another set point of major passenger destination. Example - an Orbiter service running late out Westfield heading south , might be replaced by a support service bus running with Destination flashing "Orbiter" and "Eastgate Only". In a monitored and mediated system a range of devices and strategies would ensure frequency and even spacing, with ability to pull buses, add buses, shift buses back to replace buses about to overtake and lap the slow bus, all with minimal disruption to on-board passengers. Meal break times for drivers would be elasticised, within parameters [meal between 6pm and 7.15pm etc] and taken "roadside" at canteens at key transfer stations, to allow flexibility in manning services.

And if buses can organised to run on time, every time, and that departure time is described with elements of in-built elasticity "services depart with-in five minutes of time listed" [98% guaranteed] then schedules can be designed to an integrated pattern, same time every hour so to speak. The timetable/map image above demonstrates buses can run to core patterns that stay the same and run in an integrated, inter-woven pattern with each other to ensure constant access to city by one route or other; constant access to one or more major suburban malls and supermarkets, high schools etc. Major cross-town and in some cases express services to large employment zones, tertiary institutes and universities, and airports would be interwoven as well, ensuring the margin of sutiability for transfers (or not) is clearly shown. In many cases alternative combinations to arrive at the same destination will be available and easy to determine - in larger transfer stations shown on press-button style electric maps.

Buses on any route may run to the same pattern all day, from first bus at 6 am to last at midnight but thecity-wide core integrated pattern (all routes in concert) would apply only between set times; for example Pattern A 9am-7pm Monday-Saturday; Pattern B 7pm-11pm Mon-Sat and 9am - 9pm Sunday. These would be a core pattern, colour or bold coded in timetables. Additional services could be operated at peak times, or late night, or seasonal (summer, to beaches) and added or removedif not successful without altering the steadfast reliability of core service patterns. What appears to be a more rigid and expensive form of public transport provision, actually has more immediate (daily) and longer term flexibility. If well designed uses similar amounts of bus services to that current [at least in Christchurch] to deliver vastly increased frequency and travel direction option along major corridors or through major junctions. The timetable illustrated above was based on actual buses times in use in 2003, with all buses placed on a 20 minute cycle, rather than ome 15 minutes and some half hourly, estimated expansion was less than 15% of current buses and mileage to delver vastly better service.

In a light bus system transfer points play a big a role and transfer locations are typically designed so that the flow of buses facilitates "ho ho" transfers (hop off one bus, hop on another) from same platform. Or one immediately adjacent or on the opposite side of the road and with pedestrian controls or grade separated pedestrian crossings. This is not only practical but psychological, promoting a sense of ease of movement.
At the same time where possible deviations by routes to achieve alignment should be natural, inherent in the route rather than cumbersome "going around a block to face the right way", particularly on shorter routes. Another factor is finding locations in a neighbourhood, close to major facilities, such as a mall, where the channelling of buses does not directly residential or retail life unduly. An example of redesigning routes might be bringing route 45 and route 60 - heading down Marshland Road to the city past The Palms - around the back of The Palms to turn right into New Brighton Road and the most logical site for inter-action with The Metrostar, The Orbiter, and Route 46 and route 70. This said it offers accesses to virtually the whole north-east quandrant of Christcurch. This is one of the major transfer hubs of the city (particularly if Prestons gets the green light) and would need one of the more expensive bus stations to built, on par with say just one of the Auckland railway stations (for example Panmure $28 million) but probably serving more people, straddling the road, ideally with a retail hours entry direct into The Palms.

Light Bus Network typically requires a major Transfer Stations within every 3 km radius, across a city. It is a network system not a set of linear routes that just happens to cross at certain points. In the Christchurch context, as in the example above, these stations would typically link four to seven routes, typically offering access to three or more suburb-city routes, access to one or more cross-town routes, guaranteed access to major universities and polytechs, and access to major employment zones and to the airport (whether incorporated into previously mentioned normal/cross-town routes or by special express routes or workers trips). Most such as Barrington, Ilam University, Airport, New Brighton, Hornby, Belfast (if incorporated in Styx Centre) Ferrymead (if incorporated in land between Humphreys Drive and Ferry Road) do not need to straddle across or over roads, a piazza style tiled area with a narrowed slow channel for cars (and fenced bus area apart from pedestrian cross over areas) would be more than adequate. However Eastgate, The Palms, Westfield and Northlands appear to offer no obvious cheaper, logical, solution.

Major Transfer stations would have full verandha roofing areas, a temperature moderated waiting room open to 8pm, interactive electric journey planning maps and pre-pay by card bus ot automatoc ticket machine loading areas. As mentioned above a small number might need to straddle very busy roads, under or over, with escalators and lifts to platforms, something in the manner (but hopefully more suitable in style) to Swanson rail station platform on the Weatern Aucland rail line. [photo below] Coffee and newspaper stall or convenience store concessions might be operated in larger transfer stations which typically anyway are likely to be adjacent to large shopping mall complexes.

In Christchurch I see about 11 major (exceeding four routes) transfer stations are probable. To a fair extent much of the route structure to support these goals exists already. Foccussing movement like this then means added services - worker buses direct to major employment zones, express links to Airport, special event buses [including rugby tests] can then be added on. At Ilam, Hornby, Belfast and Northlands an adjacent platform for long distance buses would allow direct coach-to-bus connection to much of the city, including eventually regional commuter coaches from around the Province. Bus Rapid Transit corridors, designed to link outer suburbs to central areas in less than 15 minutes would by-pass most inner ring malls, running often on completely separate busway corridors direct from outer Transfer Stations only, such as Hornby, Belfast, Burwood Hospital (or Prestons) and Halswell, via Henderson.

Giving buses the same status as cars and trains means quality infrasrtructure
- Smales Farm busway station North Shore Auckland

In a light bus network these larger transfer stations would interspersed by T-Zones at key points where two or three  bus routes intersect, essentially just larger bus stops with real time signage and superior shelter facilities. This not only reduces route changes that nean journeys have to double back, by increasing the amount of routes interacted with,  it vastly increases the options and speed of transfer travel.For instance transferring at Avonhead  Mall to a No. 3 bus heading for the city from route x might be possible, where as waiting until the first service gets to Ilam Uni Transfer Station would miss that service and add a 14 minute wait for the next No.3, a wait that could easily be avoided. The way timetables are structured (such as those illustrated here) would make choices like this obvious and easy. Teenagers (who later become adults) are likely to grasp this concept of "ho-ho" mobility very rapidly and develop mental pathways of fastest ways to hop around the city, not always the most obvious either. There is little additional cost to what exists at the moment for T-Zones but threading the routes and the pattern of schedules through in a complementary integrated way will require added time and thought. Integration at these points is the ideal, but if it comes to an irresolvable crunch point, the even spacing of flow between routes at the larger Transfer Stations must take precedent over achieving same at T-Zones. T-Zones at Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Rolleston would have better facilities than most, being closer to Transfer Stations in status.

Offering options, in times of travel, in directions of travel, in pathways to reach a destination, giving bus passengers options (that are such a big part of car usage) to bus passengers is the essence of Light Bus Network,  a multi-direction, city wide access, mosaic route network. An interesting facet is that a great many routes, transfer locations, bus service levels, are already there and in operation, the pieces just need to be assembled in a more effective way in relationship to each other. This said, to be done well, be attractive and have quality facilities will cost into the hundreds of millions, albeit less than rail in Auckland and Wellington. But unlike rail a Light Bus Network can be built in parts bit by bit over many years using a mixture of Government and local funding, in some cases public and private partnerships. The biggest hurdle though is not money but lifting our view out of the 20th century,dropping the baggage, to re-own the bus, recognising modern buses are the fastest (destination-to-destination), most versatile, cost-effective, and potentially attractive form of public transport of all systems, if we choose to empower them with the funding, infrastructure and status they warrant.

Unlike rail or light rail this high frequency and multi-directional mass transit system would serve the whole city and surrounding Metropolitan area, not just one corridor.

One tower of the two upholding the walkway bridge and with Kone lifts in the towers.
These are on the Auckland Western rail line at the new Swanson station - a multi million dollar rail infrastructure (13% paid by Canterbury taxpayers?) infrasstructure investment by Government that sees rail being supported out of all proportion to population or usage compared to bus. 

More about integrated scheduling - Click on image to enlarge

Although conventional single route timetables (map, all timing points etc) will still be available, combination area map-timtables play a much larger role in Light Bus Network. Here, in a scheduled pattern I call NICERide the sequence of departures can be read starting from top left, down each column within a box, each column in turn [there can be rare exceptions where the chronological order can not be achieved, but all departure times are still listed ]. As services run the same time each hour within parameters, hours arenot listed on the time-table map for the defined period.

On the left the route number, in background colour coded to match route on map [shown here only in abstract fomat]. In the middle are shown departure times from that location. Generally the flow of a particular service, each bus, point by point is obvious and can be calculated with this layout; probably each bus run might be given a  letter in superscript, so that people wanting to arrive at The Palms before the hour can check at a glance, Bus B is the one leaving North Beach at 20 past, not the 40 past (Bus C)  etc.  

On the right hand side of each box major destinations are shown X =Central city and Bus Exchange; P=via The Palms (mall) E= via Eastgate (mall) or D = via Dallington Bridge. In this scenario SB =SeaBird, a name I suggested for a Metrostar style west-east cross town service. The final small letter in the right hand column codes is the (then) city terminus p=Polytech, h=hospital, which also offered access tdifferent corners of the central area.

For 90% of regular bus users this will contain all the information they need to make instant a whole range of on the spot choices; wait for next bus; go to different mall; travel to city via different route; decide whether the possibility exists to connect in time to make a transfer or not; check out which side of the central city the bus runs to; decide to ring up Dad and ask him to pick me up at H or stay another 10 minutes and ask him to pick me up at J; be dropped off by mum at G etc. All the services from one stop OR (reading across a horizontal row) all the services that will take the passenger to a location on a particular route. Most people already know approximate travel times from past experience, or it doesn't matter anyway or (for the few that do need a specific arrival time at a place not shown on map) can use conventional timetable or phone, text or online info.

This is based on taking all routes onto a 20 minute weekday frequency and then entwining key corridors to get a 10 minute service (usually with good transfer options). My calculations at the time suggested (it could only be guesstimate) it needed less than 15% more buses than current, because 15 minute services were reduced in number needed. Also because turnaround time (and the driver's short break time - urban bus drivers don't get morning or afternoon tea, a fact that USED to be compensated for by paid meal breaks) would work better in a 20/40/1hr /1hr 20 etc matrix. than a mixture of 15 minute and 30 minute frequency services This might not prove accurate, but most routes in Christchurch are 35-45 minutes long

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