Sunday, October 30, 2011

Getting around the one track mindset of city hall

Diesel railcar in suburban service in Adelaide  Photo Wikimedia Commons

I have just made an updated version of the submission I made to the Central City Draft Plan to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) Draft Recovery Plan calling on CERA to pressure the City Council to include Busways and commuter rail in the $4 million study of light rail.

To me it seems absurd that city councilors with no obvious background depth in public transport principles, accounting or technology have already ditched by far the most established forms of public transport - systems used by over 95% of all public transport systems/users in the world* - in favour of one far more expensive and far less common, particular in CANZUS and in cities under a million population, light rail.

Most of the ideas included in that submission to CERA have already appeared in my blogs over the last few weeks, but I expand here why I believe that for commuter rail to have viability in Christchurch it needs an expanded route system. (ps I have also updated the previous route map to make the suggested  link to Woodend/Pegasus more sensible and easily accessible to residents from both these settlements and north Kaiapoi)

Essentially the populations of the out rigger towns - the ones where longer distances from the city are likely to encourage rail commutes is too small. Combining Rolleston, Rangiora and Kaiapoi and other bits and pieces only comes to about 35, 000... and that is an exceedingly generous figure! This is only one sixth the "out rigger" population of the Greater Wellington region where approximately 90,000 live up the Kapiti Coast and 115,000 live up the Hutt Valley. Yes our own peripheral towns will grow (and commuter rail will foster growth) but still remain relatively small.   In themselves I believe far too small to sufficiently support a rail system only serving limited facilities.

On the other hand between Papanui and the city; Hornby and the city, Hillsborough and the city the number of people using rail to get into the city is not likely to great just because the ratios of distance and wait and walk to time saved would just be too cumbersome for most and in no way time competitive with car or suburb-to-city bus use. Of course some of the commuters from these same stops will go to workplaces other than the city centre, such as Chapmans Road or Middleton. Nonethless unless the line passes through sufficient suburbs and settlements of dense population and easy access to rail further out from their destination this number will remain too small. Middle distant catchment areas such as Belfast or Islington, Templeton are so thin, or still too thin yet, such relatively small settlements they would not provide a big user group to boost or to help carry services/spread costs either.

As for Lyttelton, once the busiest commuter route in the former suburban rail network there is nothing to warrant commuter rail now. The daily population no longer consists of 700- 1000 waterside workers, 750 ferry passengers twice a day, 500-1000 seamen in port on 20 or so heavily crewed ships for three weeks while ships were unloaded by crane and slings, or barrowed bags, nor close to 4000 residents with no road tunnel before 1964!  Why would anyone nowadays want to catch a train to Lyttelton and then have to walk a kilometre up a steep street in all weathers just to get to the shops, let alone houses, when a bus (two routes)  is just as fast and takes them much further up the hill?  This is quite apart from the huge amount of coal trains, log trains and container traffic that already has to be managed through the rail tunnel choke-point.

Ostensibly "light rail" might be able to use the road tunnel, but what a huge disruption trying to build that at night, what a huge cost to implement, what heap of dead running, and for what? A population at last census of 3062 in an area of constrained land growth and in Diamond Harbour (via Ferry) and an area that gets many visitors (or did) but usually linked to car use, campervan tourists, evening social trips or Sunday drivers etc. 

When I saw the City Council in its Central City Draft plan  including Lyttelton in the multi-billion "light rail future network"  it just made me laugh. Extraopolating the distance from the Riccarton Road proposal to a light rail roughly Waltham-Opawa-Heathcote-Lyttelton it would cost three quarters of a billion dollars to serve less than 5% of the city's population. It makes as much or as little sense to run light rail to Beckenham or Parklands.

So my thinking is commuter rail can only really be warranted, worthwhile and successful if it links lots of residential areas (including those planned to build in direct relationship to rail access), if it is a system that particularly addresses longer journeys and the if the rail  itself also serves lots of traffic generator points.

In this scenario at almost every station people are getting off AND getting on.That can only happen if rail services multiple points and multiple functions and does so intensely, not just carrying commuters from the outskits to city centre and back again patterns, even if this would still be the single most common trip pattern. The system will need continuous patronage in all directions, and short hop trips within longer journeys and the fare structure to foster this, people going tofro a major employment zone or shopping or sports facility and/or tofro a relatively dense residential area, all facilities within easy rail station access or linked to co-ordinated frequent bus services via the station.

A comparison might be made with The Orbiter, the city's most successful bus route which even when it only has a handful of people on board at any one point may be picking up the equivalent of a  full bus load of passengers every circuit. Public transport transport typically operates around a quarter to a third full, that is its nature by virtue of tidal commuter flow at peak hours and maintaining sufficient spread of services to attract commuter traffic and meet social goals.  Even a full load on a typical peak-hour city-suburban train, tram or bus route doesn't achieve full loading until after it is half-way to its destination; or is reduced to half a load before it gets halfway out from the city towards its terminii.

Ideally a pattern of land use and employment zone and recreational facility and residential development that fosters an even flow of passengers getting on and off is the key, the same seat is sold more than once. A half filled bus or train operates each trip at a patronage level beyond at its actual seating number capacity yet is rarely over-full, or crowded because all the passengers are not on at the same moment. I do not believe this latter goal can be achieved successfully enough with the current inverted "T" railway lines from North and South that meet at Addington. There would not be enough locations, a rich enough network of connections served or journey options, to feed this constant process. So many Christchurch residents would have to walk, drive, bus or bike so far to access a station on the current route pattern, they may as well travel direct to work by the same mode - and the they would!  Joining the three spurs to a loop and adding another  tp Restons, through purpose build new subdivisions with concentrated hubs near stations, ticks vastly more boxes, including sports stadium/event centre direct access and a link to the airport as both an airport and major employment zone.

This said, including the option of rail to the airport is certainly no instant panacea, it has not done so well in other CANZUS cities, it does not automatically attract a huge percentage of travellers. Sensitivity to luggage portage, shuttle bus or trolley connection, and other issues (friends coming to say goodbye or greet etc) needs to be well factored into any design and fare structure.

A thoughtful article in the NZ Herald last year by Michael Barnett -questioning Auckland's push for rail to airport - noted  "Unchallenged evidence tabled at the Auckland Regional Council some years ago projected the passenger mode share for a CBD-Airport rail service would be, at best, about 6 per cent. This is similar to airports in Australia and the United States and makes no difference to the numbers of cars going to the airport.". It is my understanding that regular commuters, working at airports, often form the backbone of such services.

However Christchurch does have one advantage, the city's airport is not out on a limb, not out 25km or more from the city centre, but sits neatly on the edge of town where it can be integrated into a passing train service. We can take advantage of that. The airport averages 115,000 passengers a week, 5000 people work on the airport campus. Probably almost as many work in Sheffield Crescent only a 5 minute bus trip away. According to a New Zealand Transport Agency pamphlet on the Western Corridor Road 37,000 vehicles a (working) day head into Christchurch from the north through Belfast. Building the western corridor around the back of Belfast to link up with Johns Road will reduced that amount by 17,000 vehicles. Only 10% of these travel beyond Hornby, so adding in the classic 1.2 passengers per car that source delivers about 18,000 commuters to try to woo to rail.

There will be an over lap in all these figures but let's assume rail can win 5% of the traffic from these sources, averaged daily. Rounded up that's 850 air passengers and perhaps another 100 friends etc going to say Goodbye or meet and greet; 250 of the 5000 workers in the area; 900 of those commuters traveling in from the North into (currently) Johns Road. In all about 2000 commuters a day, with two trips (there and back) applying for the majority....let's say 3,500 passengers trips a day utilising the new link Redwood to airport. That is, before we count in new population in the Upper Styx area where subdivisions can be built to foster rail usage, if only to shop at the airport shopping complex, The Spitfire Centre;  or factor in the rail patronage of those travelling from Papanui, Rolleston or Heathcote etc to work industrial areas close to the airport such as Sheffield Crescent; or those using the park-and-ride at Russley to access the CBD or Woolston/Opawa industrial area; or those traveling tofro Islington Park industrial area; or full trains to a Saturday test match at Addington City Stadium; or Broomfield kids traveling to Hornby High School et etc

It would seem about a 5000 trips a day could be generated from this link on a relatively conservative base of 5% of likely traffic using rail. Of course the idea is to grow far more, and ideally start getting 10-15% using rail, from existing facilities or new ones. However there is nothing more short-sighted to me than "talking up" public transport figures and then wasting too much money on a single system that could have been more effectively spent elsewhere. The same services not based on reality are then liable to get cut back or canned completely at the next big recession. Few things can waste public money faster than an ineffective public transport system, pumping out excessive losses unrelentingly day after day,

Allowing for quieter weekends (apart from  later Sunday air passengers and big events) that might allow us to estimate a bottom-line of 30,000 trips a week, or 1.5 million passenger trips a year, generated by including that section of track. If oil was to go through the roof - doubling or tripling as has been predicted once the current plateau [ceiling?] of production of 75 billion barrels per day starts to decline - this is likely to rise, exponentially. Anyone building rail in this era is well advised to build long platforms! This increased patronage allows/demands increased frequency and in turn stimulates further patronage gains.

But even assuming all these oil price rise predictions are bosh, 1.5 million trips per year seems like it might be a feasible start point to build a 10 kilometre link which I would guess would  probably cost (with various overbridges apart from the Memorial Avenue one already included in roading budget) under $200 million to build,  Redwood to Islington. (And probably the same amount again to upgrade the existing corridors, add a spur to Prestons and build a central rail/bus centre in Sydenham or Addington).

If patronage never grew much beyond 1.5 million trips per year, this link would still generate about 40 million passenger trips across 25 years, as well as generating freight benefits,  tourist support and city imagery benefits, and regional rail benefits. This gives an immediate cost benefit ratio which might give us a spread fixed cost per passenger trip of under $4 per loading plus operating costs plus a lot of added intangibles nonetheless worth millions of dollars. This seems fairly similar to rail elsewhere, and probably comparable to car use in real costs to society (though who can count the millions of lives damaged by global warming in which heavy carbon generated by cars plays such a significant part).

I also imagine some of that amount will also be regained by the classic non-resident (non-Metro Card) cash fare from the airport being higher for tourists, as operates in most cities.  Even at its lowest (as on current bus services to the Christchurch airport at $7 non-resident) typically fares are two to three times the standard fare for the same distance.

Of course all this calculating is just wild guestimate!! I could be miles out. But it is good to try to get some fix on how realistic things may or may not be. Everybody also knows big projects can skyrocket in costs from earlier estimates.  But I do know good public transport is very much about getting it right in the various details, careful conservative estimates [albeit with room to grow exponentially] not just fanciful images and wishful thinking.

Obviously the whole "loop and spurs" commuter rail for Christchurch concept would need to be looked at by professional consultants from one of the big international transport engineering firms that has a long history in such matters -  just a pity that our city council has already committed ** $4 million to studying light rail instead!

* I am basing this on the fact that the world's top public transport federation (to which most major NZ public transport bodies also belong) the UITP says over 80% of the world's public passenger traffic is carried by bus PLUS the enormous size of patronage and number of rail and subway systems in the world's 200  largest cities, contrasted to the comparatively few light rail systems and even fewer large passenger carriers (over 100 million passengers per year).

** Carried by a comparatively thin margin 6-4 with three more votes absent, the decision also dropped the predetermination of a  light rail route, city to the University, proposed in the Central City Draft plan.  Historically the great expense of light rail versus proportion of residents served has made light rail a particularly hot potato in the low density CANZUS countries, with debates and studies etc spanning years and unseating or installing Mayors and Councils as tides change - eg Honolulu, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo [Canada]. Cities in oil or mineral rich areas Edmonton, Calgary, Gold Coast City, Perth etc often had substantial grants (gifts)  from Provincial or State Governments towards light rail and other expensive public transport infrastructure and appear to have not encountered the same degree of local tax payer resistance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A train of thought on several tracks.

                                        From Sockburn overbridge looking towards city centre

There is a strong push for the potential of commuter rail to be investigated more thoroughly in Christchurch. 

The various groups and individuals promoting it (NZ in Tranzit included) see it as a far more sensible option than the hugely expensive per kilometre on-street "light rail network" being mooted.

A major factor often mentioned is that there an existing current rail infrastructure to build upon.

I do not have any great deal of learning in rail systems, but enough enough background reading to know this would certainly not be as simple as it sounds.  Ideally peak hour services would need to be not less than every 20 minutes from Rolleston and Rangiora/Kaiapoi running to the city and to Ferrymead (near Heathcote). Adding up the commuter trains in both directions, during this peak period it appears to tie up a lot of rail line for about or six or seven hours a day, and would be be complicated at any time.

A major factor is West Coast coal trains and those heading for the Picton ferry will have their own timetable requirements, tied to passing loops and ferry sailings freeing up and filling up yards and locomotives. The coal trains will also have their own scheduling needs, closely tied I suspect to getting through multiple tunnels - including the Lyttelton tunnel and the Staircase tunnels and 8.5 km Otira tunnel through the Southern Alps. The latter tunnel needs banking with three extra locomotives to haul the hefty coal trains up the steep tunnel incline [NZ Railfan magazine had an exceptionally brilliant photo essay on this process a few issues back] . Just running this particular operation alone would take quite a lot of organised timing. Ideally, I presume, it works to a rythmnic pattern of arrivals and departures night and day.  Delays and interruptions of freight movements at Lyttelton can also cost thousands, with ships only in port for brief spells and containers etc needing to be stacked to patterns, if not for that ship for the next, or some other sequence. other words even though I don't know any specific details, all of these systems will be linked to timing, and maintaining workable margins of time to cover contingency.

There will be much more involved than just commuter train schedules. 

Sydney is spending multi-millions building a new South Sydney Freight corridor and is looking at upgrading the Northern Sydney line for the same reason - to free up trains delayed by commuter rail. Time is money! As small as Christchurch is, we have a tight corner in our Port which has to be accessed through central city lines.

I have proposed in past postings Christchurch should be pushing for an added line (or indeed double track corridor) between Redwood and Islington via the Airport.

Built before housing and along the airports noise zone boundary it is possible this could be gently trenched, with security fencing hidden from view and embankments either side (made from a tiny portion of the millions of tons of bricks and masonry rubble of our earthquake devastated city!). Presumably the same embankments could be covered in top soil and be planted in native bush and sound absorbing plants.  

This would offer reduction of immediate noise from both 24 hour a day freight trains and from late night flights landing/very early flights taking off for houses in the middle distance. Christchurch airport income partly relies upon arriving in the small hours budget flights, these being tail-ended on services to Melbourne or Australia from Europe or Asia, when aircraft would otherwise being sitting idle overnight at these major Australian airports.

In additional double-track line, Redwood to Islington, also gives Christchurch three active lines from the north. It is also possible judging from areas photographed for this page, that three or four through lines between Hornby could also be achieved , allowing parallel freight and commuter rail operations in most areas.

There certainly seems some capacity for extra lines from the photos above and below. Some of the sidings no longer connect to anything or have rubbish stacked on them. This suggests capacity for a third or fourth track or at least building lengthy passing loops capable of bearing full weight at reasonable speed.

The legit photo above is from the bridge itself - looking eastwards - shows a light weight siding/loop on the right, a disused siding/loop on the left.  Just discernible in the distance is the Alloy Street footbridge. This runs off a poorly marked and hard to find alleyway near Sockburn roundabout offering access to over top the rail pedestrian access to Parkhouse Road industrial area and Halswell.

Below the "illegal" view - definite no-no being on railway tracks nowadays, as I discovered  thanks to being apprehended and removed by two policemen one sunny Saturday morning back in 2010.Nonetheless they did not stomp on my camera or rip out the card, so I did get to keep the photo I wanted, showing that each of these side tracks has its own bay for passing under Sockburn overbridge

 Sockburn Overbridge from below - hard to believe this sliver of concrete carries some the heaviest traffic in the whole city!

The overbridge also has a one way road (on the Hei Hei bus route years ago).  Grade separated - potential for buses to run both ways under congestion to a small industrial area platform station also linked to the Parkhouse industrial area, and Wigram and Halswell side of the track

This is the city end of the Sockburn overbridge, which also has a one-way underpass for cars and trucks to access the industrial areas around Waterloo Road and Buchanans Road and Hei Hei residential area. This suggests potential to create a limited access (with traffic signals for buses to travel in the opposite direction) to a Sockburn station, with footbridge to the Parkhouse industrial enclave as well, or a Wigram side - drop off point for rail passengers the close proximity of all elements is obvious from the photo below.

With appropriate bus routes and an overhead walkways large areas could easily access the suggested rail loop covering much of the city from a simple station here 

I am skipping past the railway yards and through Addington here (not having photos on hand) to the former railway goods shed (all 10,000 square metres) between Durham St and Colombo Street overbridges. This building appears to have withstood the earthquakes and probably still has internal platforms.  I believe this would make a fantastic Christchurch Central Bus and Rail centre. Added reinforced concrete columns, mezzanine floors, long cathedral windows cut in the sunny side and refacing in the stone removed from all the collapsed churches, as well as many other saved materials and artifacts, and hanging gardens,  indoor  trees etc could make this a magificent memorial as well as hugely functional buildings, with electric shuttle buses every 5 minutes to the city centre driving right through the middle!! This could be the city exchange for through route bus transfers, albeit most routes will go through the central city, as well as a long distance coach centre, and railway station with a direct line to the airport and Addington City sports and events centre. The external view makes it has heaps of land for added through routes or external platforms, with ample room for freight to pass without needing to interact with passenger rail.

Further east - on the other side of the central city - the line passing through Waltham and across Ensors Road also seems to have room for additional lines or passing loops

In the event creating a terminus at Ferrymead was not seen as viable another option might be to terminate (and mid day park up) some services at Ensors Road, at a station beside the railway workshops opposite the Sullivan Avenue campus of CPIT. With added bus lanes and priority measures fast access to rail from Colombo Street via Tennyson and St Martins Road, and from eastern suburbs and Eastgate via Aldwins could be offered.

On the other hand creating a Park-and-Ride station at Ferrymead, and opposite the site I believe of the National Railway Museum has a beautiful synergy. This would link the approximate 20,000 people living on the Sumner Peninsula (so to speak) and around the Harbour with easy access to city, sports complex and airport as well as jobs elsewhere such as Birmingham Drive or Izone in Rolleston whilst bringing workers into the growing industrial zone around Radley, Woolston, Hillsborough and Ferrymead Bridge.

I am not a 100% sure but I think the National Railway Museum is to be sited at the spot marked X, opposite the current historic railway station and yards at Ferrymead Historic Park. The actual liners beyond here are part of Ferrymead's Heritage tram and rail network.

The City Council is investigating playing poker with a $400 million gamble on light rail.  I believe conventional commuter rail is a better hand all up.

Indeed three track through line access, north and south may represent three Aces, giving Christchurch a very grunty infrastructure, for industrial freight or for passenger movements.

Note again; this is purely speculation, floating some ideas. There may be factors in rail I misunderstand that render these suggestions meaningless....I feel more at home with bus issues

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Light rail comparisons "duplicitous" - are we talking serious porkies?

Tranzwatching in Hobart, Tasmania, a peek at Christchurch too.

A Tasmanian academic has described comparing light rail in Hobart with Perth and Gold Coast City as "duplicitous" a word implying dishonesty, if not an outright lie, at least self serving in bending the truth.

Bob Cotgrove, a regular voice on Tasmanian infrastructure issues is an honorary research associate at the University of Tasmania. He has special interests in urban geography, human development and environmental economics.

Last month in an article in The Mercury Cotgrove drew attention to the campaign for light rail in Hobart (population 202,000) continuing to seek an $80 million upgrade of a northern rail line to carry light rail whilst ignoring a professional study which canned the idea.

"Proponents of the NSLRS base their arguments on comparisons with similar light rail systems planned for Perth and the Gold Coast.

The Perth system, due for completion in 2031 when Perth is expected to have a population of 2.2 million, is planned to connect Curtin in the southeast to Mirrabooka in the north and Stirling in the northwest, passing through the dense inner core of the city.

The Gold Coast system will connect Broadbeach through to Griffith University in the southern suburbs of Brisbane, passing through a dense corridor containing more than a million people within the rapidly developing megalopolis from the Gold Coast to the Sunshine Coast.

To compare these schemes with Hobart's NSLRS is duplicitous.  The NSLRS is planned to go as far as Claremont and service a population counted only in the tens of thousands."

One wonders what Mr Cotgrove might make of Christchurch !! 

Here sloppy research and failure to understand how world-wide public transport is funded or draws patronage from metropolitan areas, rather the single city hubs, mars almost every comparison rail and light rail advocates put forward.

Sloppy or duplicitous? No comment. 

Here are some gems from the files 

"New light rail systems were working well in the French city of Grenoble, which was similar to Christchurch."  
- Former City Councilor Denis O'Rouke in The Press September 8 1999.
Grenoble is a city of over 600,000  in a land area half the geographic area of Christchurch in the French department of Isere (a third the size of Waimakariri District) with a population of 1.1 million . Presumably the size disparity between Christchurch and Grenoble is not new, approximately 3 times the population; one third the land area 

For example, in Zurich, Switzerland, which has a similar population to Christchurch residents make an average of 417 public transport trips every year, which is more than one trip every day" - Ecan - Metro document 2010
The Zurich metropolitan area is an urbanised area of international importance constituted by a population of nearly 2 million inhabitants. See past NZ in Tranzit posting for greater details

Tram-Trains are now in service in Kassel in Germany as well as Mulhouse in France, both of which are smaller than Christchurch, connecting these to surrounding towns
- Richard Worrall in "Right form of Transport Vital, "The Press" October 10th 2011
Wikipedia notes Kassel is the administrative seat of a district of 1.2 million, itself part of Hesse an area the size of Waimakariri District with 6 million inhabitants. It also pays to recognise that German public transport infrastructure costs are met 50% by Federal Government, 40% by region and only 10% by actual city

... Also re Mulhouse Tram-Train in Wikipedia "Mulhouse Tramway".. re the actual section of line itself shared by both trams and diesel railcars a rather telling phrase "Freight trains also run at night"(Mulhouse immediate region 742,000 in an area half the size of Waimakariri District, Mulhouse itself population density six times that of urban Christchurch)

In other words  typical tram and light rail routes in Europe probably cover less than half the width of Christchurch, cost only about 20% or less in direct property taxes, have the equivalent of about four times more passengers per stop just on population (let alone the added frequency greater patronage allows), and serve a surrounding regional population area 3-15 times larger with all the added internal passenger traffic within the hub city this generates. Where's the comparison here? Should we look at North America....
Early Studies

As part of the Draft Central City Plan's development, early outline investigations have been taken city-wide into the system form and function, constructional and system operational implications,and economic viability of introducing a next generation light rail system at the nucleus of the city's new public transport network.

Appropriate comparisons have been sought with cities around the world of a similar size to Christchurch, including some with broadly shared objectives to stimulate economic growth and regeneration, as well as introduce fully integrated transportation systems in central cities for a host of wider social benefits."

Draft Christchurch City Council Central City Plan section on Transport p90

Helloooo? Does the fluffy phrasing here send up some very large warning flares? Bullshit detectors ringing? Mine certainly were. Getting correct facts is endlessly time consuming and difficult but at least public advocates and professional organisations should be trying! For a start there are NO cities comparable in size, density, shape or funding base to Christchurch that are building light rail -  the only thing vaguely similar being in the elongated footprint Kitchener-Waterloo in the Province of  Ontario (where 14.5% of fuel tax is committed to funding public transport) - "KW growth" suggests it will hit 750,000 about the same time Christchurch reaches 450,000.  This, next best-match, the most relevant city appears nowhere in any city document I have seen.Also noted; Noted; Public passenger patronage figures in Canada are twice per capita than those in USA, whose smaller city transit systems typically also lag far behind NZ in frequency, spread of routes and hours of service and farebox recovery [typically only around 20%]

Secondly, I have followed public transport issues in Christchurch for years and regularly scan and read council agendas and reports.  Never in recent times have I seen any reference to a studies involving "appropriate comparisons ..with cities of a similar size to Christchurch".regarding light rail.

I am sure if studies of a city a similar size had been produced they would have been widely reported - indeed just as widely reported as was the trip by Mayor Parker, CEO Marryat and senior planner Thelan to "study" four North American cities with metropolitan populations six to twenty times bigger than Christchurch (Portland,Oregon and  Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco in 2009).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Commuter rail versus light rail, some costs examined

NZ in Tranzit goes riding the rails with an eye for the costs

Creating commuter rail, as part of the earthquake recovery in Christchurch, has been suggested in several recent newspaper articles and submissions to local hearings. It has been seen as a better alternative to light rail proposed down congested Riccarton Road. 

NZ in Tranzit
believes the existing lines in themselves do not offer sufficient advantage for commuter rail and has suggested creating a proper network by adding links to new residential areas and other key passenger traffic generators. 

This posting is about trying to get an approximate compass fix on the cost of building new rail corridors around Christchurch.

While there is no way of knowing exact costs it is good to get a close approximation if only to discover all the secret snags or other realities that can upend a good idea.  I get sick of the absurd claims that various cities are the same size as Christchurch or talk of tram-trains that completely ignore the heavy freight factor in Christchurch (up to 16 full & empty coal trains a day) missing on these other lines, such as Mulhouse in France.

The light rail proposal being put forward for Christchurch at about $55 per kilometre appears fairly similar to the set up cost per kilometre of the light rail currently being built in Gold Coast City. That is after the $A180 million needed to purchase about 173 roadside properties and part of a further 111 properties  to a build a mainly separate lane structure for the trams is deducted from the total cost of stage one,  $A980 million dollars for 13 kilometres.  Much of the success of light rail (as with any transit mode!) is based on clear run and having totally segregated corridors or lanes (80% of of all French light rail is "off road, about the same proportion of Gold Coast light rail will be) -  the lower cost in Christchurch will not deliver much punch if running merely on streets in congested traffic.

Conventional rail appears to be considerably cheaper, not least I imagine because it does not have to dig up and replace, rebuild or strengthen multiple underground service conduits every few metres along the way, and can use the spread weight of shingle embankments to absorb weight and vibration.

I have identified five conventional or "heavy" rail projects in New Zealand and Australia that have been completed in the last five years that may offer some perspective on comparative costs.

These are  some broad figures deduced from (1) Perth's new commuter line to Mandurah; and slightly more precise figures gleaned from various sources regarding (2) the upgrading of the Wellington region commuter rail line between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki; (3) electrification and double tracking for 13 km north Paekakariki to extend commuter rail to Waikanae. In greater Auckland recent projects include the reopening of (4) a commuter rail service to Onehunga and (5) the building of a short, commuter rail only, spur line from the main line to Manakau City.

All projects include site specific factors but I believe some general parameters of cost can be established for amateur trainspotters.

(1) The Mandurah line which opened in 2007 is a 70 km long suburban becomes regional rail corridor heading south of Perth which cost $1.6 billion to build, albeit this cost is particularly tilted by having 700 metres built underground in central Perth.

However an article on the well researched Melbourne Passenger Transport Users (PTUA) website comparing the costs of motorways to rail gives us an approximate fix for the basic line costs (albeit with overhead wiring).

We cannot rely on Melbourne experience for accurate costings of rail lines, since the last major urban rail extension completed in Melbourne was the Glen Waverley line in 1930. However, Perth is currently undergoing a renaissance in urban rail, and we can use their costings as a benchmark.... Perth's new southern railway to Mandurah was built for $12 million per kilometre, including the cost of freeway realignment and tunnels under Perth CBD. Excluding the latter, the cost of earthworks, track, overhead, stations and road overpasses for the 70km surface railway was $422 million, or just $6 million per kilometre.

(2) Wellington region's Kapiti Coast line snakes through several tunnels north of Pukerua Bay. In 2007 Finance Minister Cullen announced "About $80 million will be spent adding a second track to parts of the 3.4-kilometre section of the main trunk line between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki".  As far as can be deduced this included day-lighting one tunnel (replacing it by a deep cutting) and dropping the floor level of three others, work carried out in 2010, so this doesn't give much of a fix except to say you get a lot of heavy engineering extras for around $NZ20 million per kilometre heavy rail as compared to light rail.

(3) Also on the Kapiti/North Island Main Trunk Line has been the extension of electric commuter rail north of Paekakariki to Waikanae. Ths involved double tracking an existing rail corridor and adding overhead wiring and rebuilding two stations, Paraparaumu and Waikanae (a station at Raumati originally mooted was never built). The distance was 13 kilometres and the cost was $92 million for the line and $6 million each for the two stations upgraded (including underground access etc). This is about $7 million per kilometre. Interestingly, I heard this described for some years as bringing regular commuter rail to Waikanae a fast growing area of 38,000 people - only recently working through census maps did I discover this population figure is for the whole district called Waikanae and includes areas that were already served by the existing line. Over a $100 million it appears was spent bringing new electrified commuter rail connection to less than 15,000 people, a residential population growing fast - but so too are many areas elsewhere around NZ including Christchurch.

Another curious fact is Wikipedia Kapiti Rail Line  states; "The project involved 50 workers and 20 machines installing 600 traction poles in eight or nine metre deep holes, and laying 30 km of rail and 30,000 sleepers. This suggests the existing line was also replaced. I am unable to trace this quote nor find any other reference to 30 km of track,  but if this is so costs would be closer to $3 million per kilometre.

(4) Upgrading the 3.6 kilometre rail line from Penrose to Onehunga to take commuter rail for the first time in 38 years, ostensibly was done at a cost of $13.6 million. This consisted of $10 million for general line upgrade by KiwiRail and $3.6 million by Auckland Regional Transport Authority on new stations at Penrose, Te Papapa and Onehunga. However I notice in research this does not seem to include an earlier expenditure in 2007 by the then Auckland Regional Council of $8 million. This was to purchase two hardware warehouses, demolished to make possible a site for a future Onehunga railway station. This line doesn't appear to have any major additional infrastructure and comes in at $6 million per kilometre upgrade cost (not known whether the tracks themselves were replaced but it sounds very like it)

(5) The latest addition to New Zealand's rail system - the first new rail corridor in Auckland for 80 years - is only 2 km long but expected to be extremely busy. This is line linking the centre of Manakau City [as it was until amalgamation into the Auckland "supercity"] to the Auckland commuter rail network and to central Auckland through a junction point off the North Island Main Trunk line at Puhinui. This project costs $98 million  but includes a 7 metre deep  300 metre long trench bringing the train in under roading in the central Manakau business area. A campus of the Manakau Institute of Technology will be built immediately above the line and station, starting with 1500 students in 2012, but planned to grow to 25,000 by 2040.

In Christchurch it would not be realistic to build a commuter rail network - adding dozens of trains a day to the already busy freight and coal train corridor - without creating some form of grade separation between Middleton yards and the existing overhead bridge at Durham Street. Traffic around rail crossings at Lincoln Road and Whiteleigh Avenue is already hugely congested without constant commuter train interruptions! Increasing mainline through tracks to three and/or trenching the rail lines is one option. Arguably Christchurch already has as strong a case for grade separation in this area, as strong a case I suspect as did Manakau,  as did New Lynn ($160 million for 800 metres trenched, albeit with a bus/rail station infrastructure included).

The figures and calculations here, for these five projects, can only be a rough and ready indication. Every over-bridge of the rail in suburban areas such as at Waterloo Road or at Buchanans Road on the Western Rail Corridor  NZ in Tranzit proposes will probably add $15-20 million and ideally at least 6-8 should be built as well as a northern motorway underpass, and of course buying land will add a few million dollars more as well to project costs.

Even so it is fairly clear from the rough scan of figures above that a basic new rail corridor - just track with level crossings - could probably be built at generous estimate for less than $10 million per kilometre - about one fifth of the cost per kilometre of the proposed light rail along Riccarton Road. Adding in attractive station designs, overbridges etc might lift this to $15-20 per kilometre - or about $260 million for the city links proposed (Redwood-Islington, 10 km; Northwood (Styx Centre) to Prestions 3.5 km). I have not added the suggested eventual Rangiora-Woodend-Pegasus-Kaiapoi loop as per this map but that is virtually all open country and no major river crossings.

Upgrading or adding additional mainline quality track on to the Hornby - Ferrymead section (suggested terminus at National Rail Museum) could add an unknown extra amount, but would enhance all rail operations and options. This might include about 2 km trenched or cut and cover section of the rail corridor, from Durham Street to Middleton - or an overhead rail viaduct - which could double or even triple this total cost, but may need to be considered anyway.  Or alternately several new road over-bridges such as at Lincoln Road ( perhaps half and half, the rail partially trenched, the road partially raised to get less ugly and divisive bridging than the current Colombo and Durham Street over-bridges).

It is hard not to think these huge amounts would be more wisely spent on upgrading and extending our existing rail infrastructure to enhance freight movements, road traffic movements and not least create a commuter rail network for Christchurch, rather than a far far more expensive per kilometre light rail system, delivering very little in comparable economic, social and environmental benefits.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Christchurch commuter rail potential; One map = ten thousand words

Map updated 31 Oct 2011, alterations made for clarity and to bring in rail system between Woodend and Pegasus
Posting updated 7 November 7 2011 to clarify and expand some points.

CERA ( Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) has released a document today, about 30 pages long with lovely coloured maps, defining the areas either previously planned or proposed and now adopted under "martial law" upon which new housing in greater Christchurch can been built. The city has to relocate tens of thousands of residents away from some eastern areas followed massive damage caused by a series of over 8,000 eathquakes.

The main area map CERA has put out is too good to ignore and I have immediately seized upon it to illustrate the rail proposals that I have raised in NZ in Tranzit over the last year or two. I don't think these concepts are so odd, indeed appear to have far greater social, environmental and economic potential (city-wide) than the light rail concept. I have had a few supportive responses privately, yet two years down the track (to borrow an appropriate expression) I am still waiting to hear a single person or organisation publicly say they think these concepts should be investigated, particularly before or concurrent with the planned light rail study.

In this map above dark green represents (mainly) open farmland which is to be converted to housing subdivisions; medium green represents proposed or planned industrial or office park areas; the light green land near the airport represents land re-opened for (I believe) commercial and industrial development. The dark lines represent existing railway lines - with several links added.

Christchurch people will easily identify the existing rail corridors (a) running horizontally across the bottom of the map from Rolleston to Port Lyttelton (b) running vertically from an inverted "T intersection at Addington northwards on tracks up across the Waimakariri River to Kaiapoi then Rangiora (star at top left of map).

Rather than waste $400 million on a fanciful light rail, along an already congested road, a line that goes a mere 7.5 km and is only vaguely related to the key tasks of public transport, NZ in Tranzit advocates that the city should work towards establishing a commuter rail network supported by a vastly improved bus system. Based on similar projects elsewhere it seems much of the basics of this could be established for under $500 million (consistent with spending on rail in Wellington in the last decade) with as much again, spent across the subsequent decade, building on this foundation. The Government/KiwiRail would presumably fund a substantial portion as they have done elsewhere in NZ.

The map above illustrates three new conventional "heavy" railway lines (to be developed over 20 years) that NZ in Tranzit advocates a link between Islington and Redwood via the Airport; a spur across from Northwood/Styx Centre to Prestons; and (one day) a northern added loop across from Rangiora to Woodend and Pegasus back to Kaiapoi. A park and ride/shuttle bus terminus for commuter rail services could also be built at Heathcote or Ferrymead as a terminus serving the Sumner peninsula and some Lyttelton Harbour settlements.

Building on the success of the The Orbiter bus route and the city's ring road expressway, these proposals address the need for people to move across the city and outer areas,  as well directly in to its centre,  in a fast but relaxed manner.  Even before the earthquake only 50,000 people - about a quarter of the work-force - worked in the central area, and there is an unmet need to effectively service work zones elsewhere by public transport. 

This simple but all embracing patterns ties the larger part of Christchurch and indeed much of Canterbury directly into the city centre and almost every major employment zone in greater Christchurch. With adequate peripheral park and ride stations and linked shuttle buses and segregated busway corridors, this pattern allows for maximum work-force mobility and flexibility (Live anywhere; Work anywhere; Socialise anywhere!). At the same time it protects the city's productivity and quality of life better as oil begins its predicted climb and climate change impacts more and more upon the world economy.

Added value is offered in direct rail connections city (and province) to the Airport - rare even in many larger cities  - for air passengers, airport workers and bulk freight movement.

Another aspect with great potential is the direct link this pattern offers to "Addington City" - the combining of the Metropolitan Race Course and Whatsit's Latest Name Event Centre with a new "Lancaster Park"  build on the currently partly derelict Council owned Rugby League grounds. Promoters of this concept have raised the vision of a giant complex, well away from housing, which not only hosts major events at the threre aforementioned centres, but in essence is a village of associated sports and entertainment and hospitality venues going all the time.   Apart from television coverage, complications of accessing large sports venues because of intense congerstion and long delays are recognised as a major deterrent to attendance overseas art big stadiums leading to reduced crowds and revenue (as mentioned for example in this article from Adelaide a couple of years back). A rail system that can plug into such big crowd events - racing, rugby, cricket, concerts - as well as the Airport and the Central City life  - seems well set to  punch above its weight on weekend and evening patronage, boosting averages considerably.

A major City Central station complex, with higher density housing areas nearby, could be built in Sydenham, between Durham Street and Colombo Street overbridges. This may only involve the site itself but possibly this could recycle and strengthen and enhance the vast disused Goods Shed on site, a building that appears to have withstood the massive earthquakes well. This might be converted into a spectacular multi-level complex of cafes and franchises, with hanging gardens or full size indoor trees and native bush, and offer a Bus Exchange (transfer station role); a long distance shuttle bus and coach service point, and a regional and intercity and suburban rail hub, all in one place. Features such as stone walls and arches etc from historic buildings such as churches, to far damaged to ever be rebuild could be integrated into parts of the design or used to resurface the mundane concrete walls, in effect a living multi-dimensional architectural memorial to parts of the cityscape lost forever. 

As is obvious from the photo below (looking West of Colombo overbridge) the curvature of the main line from South to Lyttelton at this point preserves a very important free run for freight and coal trains, whilst leaving ample room for suburban and even long distance passenger platforms to built on the apron of land, if the internal platforms -  presumably still existing - are unsuitable.  Living in Sydenham or Centrtal and rail to work at the Airport, in Belfast, Rolleston or Rangiora?

Carrying high levels of passenger traffic in  both directions at peak hours is another big factor in making rail viable.

The potential is inherent for very intelligent, environmentally sound,  land use to be developed hand-in-glove with station sites and roading patterns in new subdivisions and industrial areas. A spectacular feature could be the creation of a network of broad sealed off road cycle tracks radiating out from suburban stations - if every train had some carriages with wheel on access to bicycle racks in the front area of some carriages - it would be possible to bike and rail and bike easily (no lycra needed!!) to almost every corner of Christchurch. Perhaps Christchurch could become the southern hemisphere's more sprawling and generously spaced out version of a low density green city, a "Copenhagen of the plains". An added factor - if oil prices shoots through the roof - what enormous protection this offers for maintaining a quality life-style, avoiding transport poverty or potential workers too poor to get to work sites.

Commuter rail is rare in low density cities under a million, and Wellington apart, in CANZUS is entirely linked to (mainly peak hour) services to larger cities - Newcastle or Wollongong to Sydney; Bridgeport, Connecticut to New York etc. For a city of our size and geographic footprint to undertake such an expensive option needs the most astute and balanced use of resources. The present rail network lacks enough destinations, depth of residential areas in the right places or traffic generators to be a realistic base, but adding the links proposed above can change this. The strengths of this design are passengers are likely to hopping on and off at every station, going to and from multiple destinations,  in a design that not only brings the outermost areas into the city centre but also incorporates almost every major employment zone in greater Christchurch. It allows people to get around the city - indeed around the whole metropolitan area - as well as get to and fro the city. Secondary strengths such as access to the airport (an impossible dream for many cities) and  doorstep rail access to "Addington City" events and sports complex for the whole province will ensure a broader range of off-peak usage, test match access etc significantly lifting the off-peak averages . The via airport link future proofs the city for future freight movements including potential for a top class grade separated line.  The city centre a very easily accessible hub even for those living in outer areas. but just as important - outer areas will be very accessible to a more densely populated inner city area. This to me is truly building for the future - a little project perhaps a little too big for our size city, yet not so big the city can not grow into the framework it offers. It is a freight and passenger transport system that will foster growth in every way.

Commuter rail will be accessible to such a large chunk of residents and could become major wellspring of Christchurch's central city reborn vitality and continued "liveability". Christchurch could still be a city  punching well above its weight  and size despite all the incredible devastation and tragedy the city and its residents have come through.

Auckland rail - diesel unit at Onehunga Photo Wikimedia.Com
As well as new rail cars for core services seven days a week opportunity may arise for Christchurch to purchase a large amount of redundant diesel rolling stock when Auckland's $600 million rail electrification nears completion. These could be used in peak hours, as stand by units and for conveying crowds to large events from across the city and province.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Early Studies"

NZ in Tranzit on comparing apples and bananas

"Early Studies"

As part of the Draft Central City Plan's development, early outline investigations have been taken city-wide into the system form and function, constructional and system operational implications,and economic viability of introducing a next generation light rail system at the nucleus of the city's new public transport network.

Appropriate comparisons have been sought with cties around the world of a similar size to Christchurch, including some with broadly shared objectives to stimulate economic growth and regeneration, as well as introduce fully integrated transportation systems in central cities for a host of wider social benefits."

Draft Christchurch City Council Central City Plan section on Transport p90

This sounds very fluffy to me!!

What is an "early outline investigation" pray tell?    What city does not seek "to stimulate economic growth and regeneration" ? Most of all, for me, why is the city investigating  "introducing new generation light rail " rather than investigating the public transport needs of the city as a whole as is surely the required task of council?

If this latter investigation - fair to all residents - was the case surely it would reveal a spectrum of needs and this would be expressed in a raft of policies rather than singling out one mode that covers a mere 7.5km of the city's approximate 250km of public transport routes.

"Appropriate comparisons have been sought

Why is this being done in secret and what criteria are being used? In a project that is expected to cost $406 million surely ratepayers have a right to know, now at an early stage, not least when public feedback is being invited, what these appropriate comparisons are.

Comparing one city and another is extremely difficult to do with any great precision. The best one could do,  I would imagine to achieve "appropriate comparisons" would be to work to a set a few benchmarks of comparison, to try to bring things back to a shared currency. 

By this I mean some standard factors that typically effect public transport planning and patronage might be evaluated for each city studied in turn, in most cases probably on the basis that the factor analysed is not greater than 100% more than the same factor in Christchurch.

These would include the metropolitan population of any city studied was not more than 100% that of greater Christchurch (= not more than 800,000); the population density was not more than roughly 100% that of urban greater Christchurch (= not more than 1,800 per hectare); the tourist-visitor numbers per capita were not greater than 100% than those in Christchurch each year (not mote than 18 million p.a.); the immediate funding base of ratepayer/local taxpayers was not more than 100% bigger than Christchurch; that car ownership was within range of that in New Zealand (not less than 500 cars per capita as obviously dramatically increases daily patronage from non-car owning commuters); the parking costs will be within range of those applying in Christchurch - the higher cost of central city parking has been identified as a stimulant to public transport in cities as diverse as Wellington, Melbourne and Ottawa; the income sources beyond fares provided by Governments are proportional to those in NZ  and/or are met from a similar size national or regional/national tax base -in USA and France for instance fares are only expected to meet 20% of the full service operating cost and nothing of the spread fixed costs.  Traditionally NZ cities have been much higher and in the three largest centres the current National Government policy seeks a minimum 50% farebox recovery on operating costs.

As far as I know the only cities with light rail that have referenced by any Christchurch city official, elected or in paid employment, were San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver.  Council CEO Marryat prepared a sort of journalistic overview of some urban renewal and light rail projects after the Mayor, Marryat and a city planner spent a few days in each. This was presented to the City Council meeting on June 24 2010. [search "Portland, Oregon" on the Christchurch City Council website,  Meetings, agendas and Minutes - unfortunately the appendix - a full colored report of about 20 pages itself may not open on all computers] As interesting as it is - especially the appendix - it had almost no cross referencing and certainly no comparative figures to Christchurch in areas concerned with public transport. 

All of these four cities has a metropolitan population in excess of 2 million or - roughly 5-10 times more potential light rail users per kilometre. Also as transit is funded by sales tax or fuel tax or payroll taxes across whole urban areas, as well as by grants from the State Government and national level this would suggest light rail will be provided at a hugely smaller cost per capita per kilometre. Population density (in public transport terms "how many people per bus/tram stop") in broad terms ranges from almost twice that of Christchurch (Portland) to eight times that of Christchurch (Vancouver).

This suggests light rail in our small low density city will get far less than half the patronage of these larger centres per kilometre;  receive considerably less Government funding per kilometre; and cost the taxpayer and local property taxpayer (in NZ jargon "ratepayer") several dollars more per capita per kilometre to build and operate.

Obviously where the council talks about "appropriate comparisons" they have some other study up their sleeve!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Defining the Strategic Goals of Public Transport

 NZ in Tranzit advocates moving forward with clear purpose

The debate in Christchurch about rail and light rail (buses which are always likely to be the primary mode are usually taken for granted or disparaged!) obscures the real core issue - what sort of public transport strategy is needed.

NZ in Tranzit blog sees seven key strategic goals of public transport in Christchurch, as follows;

1) To ensure ease of access to workplaces and educational centres for residents from all parts of the city, fostering a mobile, flexible and educated workforce - the economic motor without which little else can be achieved.

2) To protect resident mobility options and outer area property values in the face of coming oil price rises and increased living costs and in general to maintain and  improve social equality, prosperity and quality of life in a less favourable economic climate.

3) To directly target longer journeys to and from the city and its centre and across the city,  the journeys that both cause and suffer the most congestion, time waste, greenhouse gases, and roading costs and which will be more severely impacted upon by fuel price increases.

4) To ensure a base level of mobility for all residents and not least those with limited or no access to cars, including independent children, teenagers, the mentally and physically handicapped, retired persons on limited income and the mobile elderly - notably access to neighbourhood supermarkets, smaller shopping centres, medical and recreational facilities within a bus journey of less than 3km.

5) To offer added frequency of services to higher density inner suburb and university adjacent areas where demand is naturally higher and easier to service and ownership or use of cars is likely to be less or more easily reduced further by an effective alternative

6) To ensure ease of access of residents, visitors and tourists to major attractions, social and sporting venues and hospitality areas, including reducing congestion at large events

7) To create systems that allow ease of use, simplicity and ease in understanding and support transfers from one route to another and where services operate in an integrated, alternating pattern

Noted; A good public transport system also inherently addresses congestion and environmental issues.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A satisfying half-truth

Hamilton Transport Centre - Waikato's well integrated public transport system
surveys 1000 existing  customers and finds great satisfaction. Photos NZ in Tranzit 2010

NZ in Tranzit on bus passenger surveys

No provincial area seems to be doing public transport with greater commitment than the Waikato. Over the last few years they have levered bus up bus patronage, by several millions, particularly in Hamilton, pop 160,000.

Some years ago taking a leaf from the then successful Christchurch's bus system Environment Waikato introduced their own version of The Orbiter and also a central city circulator. "On Board"

Learnt from Christchurch and elsewhere

Leaving Canterbury behind in its wake Environment Waikato ensured there was provision not only for bus services tofro towns in its immediate metropolitan commuter reach (Te Awamutu, Huntly Raglan etc)  but also took responsibility that at least some level of public transport within - and across - the whole region was provided -  Pukekohe, Morrinsville, Coromandel, Taupo and Tokaroa included.

Likewise Hamilton took all the steps Christchurch had failed to take when Christchurch set up its own Bus Exchange - The Hamilton Transport Centre offers  immediate access to an adjacent cab rank; left luggage lockers; full cafeteria facilities ; and combines regional, nationwide and local bus services in one easy catch hub - including, timetable info on display and ticketing.

Great synergy between cabs and buses in Hamilton!

Environment Waikato continues to offer service improvements, albeit having to work with a Government less sympathetic to funding or promoting public transport.

It is not surprising perhaps that for the second year in a row that a survey of passengers has revealed 98% satisfaction with services.  It is the same sort of satisfying half truth that Environment Canterbury and probably the Christchurch City Council used to glow smugly with - I doubt that they would even dare to undertake such a survey in the current situation!

I support such surveys, indeed have responded a couple of times to being surveyed on a bus in Christchurch. I recognise they can play a valuable role, to a degree.

For example in the Waikato survey;
"The survey results indicate that 53 per cent of passengers are aged under 24 and our largest market segment is tertiary and secondary students at 40 per cent. So it is no surprise, then, that 47 per cent of passengers said they use buses because they have no other choice.''

But they are a half-truth or indeed much less - a 5 or 10% truth. Because they are all about testing the existing customer, the one on the bus...not the one who used the bus three times but found the timing useless, or the one whose custom remains only potential, never using the bus from one year to the next.

Obviously if customers like those in the Waikato are highly satisfied that means other potential customers are more likely to find the service attractive. But doesn't tell us too much in. Without a cross population survey - probably by phone - of the how often do you catch a bus type,  that also links respondents to home and work /study/shopping areas and also places them in age, education, marital status and income brackets, a more precise profile is impossible.

To foster public transport usage it is necessary to know who catches buses and who doesn't and in what areas and for what reasons. Is it public transport image, lack of access to an en route supermarket, failure to depart an industrial area at a useful and accessible time for those working nearby, that rates highest for those over 25 single or between 40-60 married? Thanks to versatility of commuters it is is easy to start seeing patterns if multiple responses are run through multiple filters and service levels, schedule patterns,  support systems, advertising and info can be more precisely targeted.

My experience as bus driver and full-time passenger, 14 years each approximately, is this is an industry that spends tens of millions per year on running services with very little attempt to develop a scientific understanding of what factors predispose bus use or not. 

An equal spread of minimum service levels is necessary, but does not prohibit attracting the next most winnable customers as a patronage building strategy.

So yeah, good on ya Waikato for offering a good bus service,  but I believe the public transport industry EVERYWHERE needs to be doing far better research than merely checking satisfaction levels of customers already on the bus.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Electric Car-Sharing in Paris, Zonkas in Christchurch

Tranzwatching Autolib in Paris, France; dreaming of Zonkas in Christchurch

Public transport is often defined relatively narrowly in people's minds, buses, trams or trains. But for people to live effectively without a car there needs to be a much broader raft of systems. Indeed this is really a major strength of combining active modes and public transport usage - one is not confined to using one type of vehicle, however inappropriate, for all trips which is pretty much the effect that occurs once one has invested heavily in owning a car.  If one lives car free but can join a car-share system, especially one as overseas with a range of vehicle options then one can hire a rough as guts (appearance) land rover for a day fishing trip; pick up mum frm the airport in a beamer, use a bicycle lane to visit friends a couple of suburbs away; take up only one seat in a bus or train in rush-hour; and get a cab home at midnight after one drink too many. A well organised and integrated public transport system will have all these options clearly accessible, on phone in or internet etc.

Curiously in a world that is always pushing consumer options, the idea of choosing transport modes by the moment, for best fit or best economy or mix of both has yet to enter public planning or thinking, so addictive is the hold of the privately owned car upon consciousness.

Recently I have been promoting a commuter rail network for Christchurch - slightly absurd for such a small city but one way of protecting corridors for now and the future. I am also aware modern busways could probably do the job better, faster and more frequently but most people can not get this in their mind and only some form of rail will woo them away from cars. My theory is if we create a basic commuter rail network, to some extent a peripheral ring with longer distant spurs, then direct fast bus services from the city can also terminate or run past suburban rail stations, This essentially would foster much greater bus use with several en route hubs eg  central city - mall - suburban rail station - outer suburb.

I am also a fan of Zonkas - well that is what I have come to call them - short for Zone Cabs.

These might be based at every major bus transfer point or suburban rail station and would be set fare cabs operating only within a declared radius (under 2.5km? - map provided). Perhaps they would be a separate stream of the taxi industry. Or perhaps they would be conventional cabs with a roof light showing Zonka Avonhead or Zonka 12 or whatever the local radial area is called.  Or maybe the passenger just asks for a Zonka fare.  Basis of fares could be per adult, say $6 with a Metrocard (and Metro subsidy to the cabby of a further $1). The basis of hire is cab driver has right to pick up multiple fares, if these are available, subject to a separate row of seats per fare group.  Ideally if only working within a 2.5 radius, Zonka drivers would get a very astute idea of getting around their patch very fast and expect to make 4-5 hub-destination trips per hour, some multiples (especially if using a van). Much of the work would be linked to picking up people who have come off buses or trains and done their supermarket shopping for the week, and now want a door to door service.

This short trip, multiple passenger,  pay per adult head system would be structured to create an costs/income ratio equivalent to conventional cabs whilst at the same time bringing down the cost of cabs as an intermediate step between bus use and conventional cabs for local uses and bus and train connections.

The theory behind the Metrocard is (a) allows ridership patterns to be monitored and responded to
(b) it essentially keeps the cheaper fare a local advantage (c) a dollar subsidy per trip - transferred in monthly aggregates to the cab owner - would increase income whilst recognising Zonkas are in part public transport and add flexibility which increases overall use of buses and trains (and to what extent can be monitored via Metrocard computerised records too!)

There may be (or not) structural reasons why this would work but I definitely think it should be on the table for investigation if we wish to create a full and sophisticated public transport system.

Actually this posting was really meant to about plug-in electric share cars in Paris but it got hi-jacked by the catchiness of the name Zonka for a concept that has long interested me!

(I believe in the marketing magic of the right name or word!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Quickly, jettison the lifeboats"

NZ in Tranzit spotting bus cuts in state of Washington and USA

It seems almost certain we - the world - have now passed peak oil, the point where it is impossible to extract more oil, or oil faster or cheaper than previously.  Production of oil, it has been predicted, will plateau for an unknown length of time before irreversibly declining and prices escalating rapidly. This plateau seems to be the case now, as shown in the graph below. The head of the world's foremost oil monitoring body, the International Energy Agency, an organisation long considered to be a rosy picture painter of oil's future, has recently stated the peak point seems to have been passed in 2005.

It is probable capitalism will prove as big a failure as communism did, though for very different reasons. Basically it is a system that relies on borrowing to build sufficient growth to make a profit to pay back the loan. When cheap energy cuts out and products get too expensive to make or sell, that loan doesn't get repaid. System collapse.

Although the USA is printing money to fake that it's boat is still afloat, in reality the amounts of money borrowed (publicly and privately) in USA and elsewhere to maintain lifestyles no longer sustainable have now climbed to unprecedented and absurd heights. Inevitably if the boat starts sinking the rich and powerful will use their advantages to dump on the poorer first.

This includes car user addicts who can be expected to try chop back public transport expenditure. It is an easy target in the internal resource wars, but perhaps one of the most ironic. At this plateau stage oil price rises are expected to remain relatively modest, a great time to be building added resilence into the transport system. If one reads US reports on a regular basis (I receive about 20 US transit linked items a day), there is quite the opposite happening, huge moves to "jettison the lifeboats" reduce spending on public transport, (in most of the USA, this was never spectacular anyway).

I include here as a sample,  a link (includes You Tube) to news of the service cuts in the State of Washington. These are  particularly poignant as the North-Western USA has does "transit" better than most US areas. Creating good public transport is bloody difficult in any car-dominated country, it is sad to see such efforts going backwards.

The city of Seattle - metropop 3.4 million - was visited by Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and two excutives in hope of finding some connection to Christchurch, one eigth Seattle's size.  Tacoma is also home to the only city  in North America below a million residents (metropolitan area) operating a light rail system. This tram system serves Tacoma (290,000) and surrounding Pierce County (approximate another 500,000 residents) and delivers just under a million passenger trips a year.

Seattle has significant investment in transit infrastructure -here University Bus Tunnel