Thursday, December 8, 2011

Canterbury regional strategy firm on not supporting country commuters

Top quality coaches with wi-fi are becoming a world trend in city-to-city services, but commuter friendly bus services are unlikely to ever connect Timaru, Ashburton, Rolleston,  Christchurch and Christchurch International Airport under present Canterbury transport strategies.   (Photo: Two door Tour bus  at  Taihape 2010.  NZ in Tranzit) 

The Canterbury Regional Land Transport Strategy 2012- 2042 has been completed. This is a policy document whuch must be formulated by every Region every few years under the Land Transport Management Act 2003 to determine provincial  transport patterns and priorities.

This strategy document put together with representation from all District authorities and other transport related stakeholders determines policy guidelines across all forms of transport and transport planning for the province. Amongst this is of course public transport and this is examined in the context of both regional needs, smaller urban centres and Christchurch City.

One submission by some one who clearly did NOT want public transport subsidised, in any way, opposed any rate payer subsidy for intercity public transport services.

The "Officer summary of submissions and hearing panel Recommendations to Regional Transport Committee" responded;

"That draft strategy envisages these services will continue to be provided on a commercial basis over the life of the strategy i.e. funded from fares and not subsidised by rates."

Phew that was a close shave!

For a minute it looked there might be an inter-city (and of course "country area to the city") strategy that could throw Ecan into responsibility of promoting more environmentally sustainable transport across the whole province.

A rich irony indeed that would have been! Environment Canterbury, in fact as well as in name!!

It is a great pity though that rabid "busism" (=buses are inferior way to travel; people who ride on buses are inferior; bus services cost more than they generate in downstream benefits) permeates the cow town mentality of the plains and infects even the urban vote in such matters.

Even viewed against other regions of New Zealand** it suggests Canterbury would be better raising ostriches than dairy cattle.

Lack of an intelligent network of commuter (local traveller) buses probably costs the province, its residents and commerce far far more than any minor saving from avoiding the relatively small annual subsidy likely to be needed (less than $10 per household?).

At present virtually all longer distant bus, shuttle, coach services radiate outwards from Christchurch in the morning and head in onwards the city at the end of the day. In contrast services from the smaller urban centres see buses heading towards Christchurch only after mid-morning.

This pattern means country commuters can not access early appointments, work or tertiary study start times in the city; it also means that independent travellers on schedules - 21 days in NZ etc - can not make an early start from these smaller centres (a 10 am-11.30 am start virtually loses half a day or even de facto loses a whole day) and travellers may tend to decide against visting them.

Lack of access to the metropolitan centre Christchurch by user friendly schedules and coach services will be a factor in losing or not gaining population and the income and spending this brings to the district. This is particularly so amongst key public transport user groups such as tertiary students, those with disabilities inhibiting mobility and the aging who become uncomfortable with driving on the busy state highway but want to access family or services in the city on a regular basis. Income from ESOL student boarders are helping pay mortgages in many Christchurch homes but only few will look at accommodation or study where there is not effective public transport support available.

Whether it is one less extra night's stay-over or choosing to retire for remaining life closer to the city, lack of public transport support takes money out of the country district and fails to bring some percentage of tourist dollar into the district. This includes local tourism - surprise, surprise - Ballantynes attract large numbers of (mainly) women shoppers to bus to Timaru after the quake; middle of the day discount return fares and other marketing devices could generate a whole "Girls Day out" revenue stream, Christchurch to Ashburton, or Ashburton to Timaru, as well as other school and interest group options (scholol holiday horse riding options etc). Good infrastructure generates commerce and social support and well being but the Canterbury transport strategy seems to consider a mish mash of mainly tourist and backpacker services, some merely vans, leaving from here and the around Christchurch, on schedules that are of little use to many locals (not least work or study regular commuters) is a sophisticated enough public transport for Canterbury

If oil goes up - and all indications are that once the predicted plateau of production moves into shortfall oil prices will escalate, those living in rural areas will start feeling the pinch most of all - a trip to pick up a new dairy unit worker; or to drop the rellies from Rotorua at Christchurch airport; to ferry the teenagers to a concert in Christchurch; or for a wife from Rakaia to work three days a week in the city will all start to become less viable. The few dollars a year per resident to subsidise a regional bus service will gurgle down the petrol tank in seconds.

It is those making the longest journeys that cause the most pollution [even if less visible], who waste the most time travelling and who will suffer the most from oil price rises.

I don't think anyone who has any familiarity with the Wairarapa can doubt for a minute, much of the small town revival of Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown and Carterton owes much to to the continuation and upgrading of commuter rail to Wellington 70-100km away. The rebirth in image as trendy or attractive places to live, the revitalisation of their commercial and hospitality sectors and other flow on benefits to local infrastructure, comes from attracting and holding young professionals who in turn share their skills and income streams in local activities.

Sadly when the Government of the day, Labour early this century, made available $31 million to upgrade the carriages and stations, park and ride facilities, schedules and feeder bus services to the Wairarapa commuter line, as well as supporting the Capital Connection from Palmerston North 160 km away, Environment Canterbury didn't have the awareness or nous to say

"Oi!! - Christchurch is as big as Wellington; and twice as many people live within our commuting range. Wot about a bit of dosh for us too?  We could do a champion luxury commuter coach service for under $5 million set up! Even do it hourly if we played our cards right...[see this past posting]

Instead our taxes help fund that $31 million plus operating subsidies and many other city-tocity and rural area to town or city operated under the auspices of regional councils, all over NZ but Canterbury.  And five years later the ostrich farmers are still at the wheel, I'm damn sure it won't be a bus though.

Rebuilt British carriages on Wairarapa line cost Canterbury Taxpayers about $4 million (pro-rata as 13% of population). 
A contracted service requiring quality bus (coach)  services offering the same or better levels of comfort across the flat fast Canterbury Plains could make commutes to Christchurch a relaxing time out or time to study and prepare business papers.

We have excellent levels of service in the greater Christchurch area, including Lincoln, Rolleston, Rangiora and Kaiapoi and Diamond Harbour - but almost no commuter friendly services beyond that immediate area, no network pattern, certain none with sufficient frequency, quality coaches and supportive infrastructure to offer sophisticated public transport access to Timaru, Ashburton, Rolleston or Christchurch  workers, business people, students, airline passengers, the variously disabled, tourists and retired persons no longer keen to drive that high speed highway.

In the Hamilton Transport Centre, hub of the suburban bus system AND regional services,  each long distance bus company is given its own rotating timetable pod  - not so easy in Christchurch, where yet again a central city bus station has been designed with no provision for long distance bus services to load or discharge passengers.

To pretend to be addressing longer journeys for the greenhouse gases they generate (a significant factor in the world's catastrophic increase in weather volatility) and working to create an integrated bus service, or be committed to the social good of the transport diasdavantaged, or attracting people out of their cars is the task dumped upon Environment Canterbury but don't expect rocket science when our Regional Land Transport Strategy does not expect any public money to be used in creating an effective inter-city commuter network (except the money we send similar services elsewhere).

**A Regional Council that impresses NZ in Tranzit -
 Bay of Plenty Regional Council and their Bay Bus spread of routes and services including the Twin City Express well timed for early start travel and to put country commuters in Tauranga before work, and home afterwards. Done well a longer distance system, which attracts tourists as well as locals, may not even need a subsidy after the first few years, as happened here.



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