Sunday, December 2, 2012

Impressive simplicity in Blue Line bus route.....

Only charter services will run red on Papanui Road when Blue Line buses (operated by Go Bus) in special livery take over Papanui Road services from tomorrow morning. Above - replacing a plethora of odd signs - simple info well delivered (except for failure to more clearly and instantly indicate central city access on what is a major tourist corridor)

Impressive simplicity in new Blue Line bus route...........

Metro Christchurch seems to have pulled at least one gem out of the rubble of cut-backs in bus services - this is the new Blue Line (or B Line) to operate between Princess Margaret Hospital and Belfast in the far north of the city, with some trips extending to Rangiora. It replaces five different routes that used to share the Colombo Street and Papanui Road corridors. Arguably (and I don't say this often!) these corridors north of Milton Street carried far too many buses in the day time, even before the earthquakes, with each bus often nudging the next and most only having a handful of passengers. On the other hand these multiple routes were only crudely integrated in off peak. They were operated without consistent or predictable spacing between services during evening and weekend services. Indeed several some services were virtually timed to run simultaneously, such as out-bound 8 and 12 services on weekends - even though they shared the same corridor for probably about 8 km (Milton Street to QEII Drive corner).

All this has now been swept aside and reconstituted as one route, the Blue Line. This is adopting best practice coming in around the world, a flow on from light rail and bus rapid transit.

The core formula  is a simplified route, a distinctively branded bus fleet specific to that route, no complicated mix of route numbers or which bus goes where, good frequency and good spread of service hours -  high visibility and as reliable and predictable as a tram line! 

As I have often campaigned in these pages "how can people buy a product they can't understand' - all the dial up and high tech "next bus" is good, but what better than a logical pattern that embeds itself in the brain, that makes remembering times a simple matter. What is easier than knowing for a large chunk of the day Monday to Saturday (and the middle of the day Sunday) Blue Line buses run in each direction every 15 minutes. Every ten minutes would be nicer and may indeed come one day when the central city begins really buzzin' again - but 15 minutes if consistent hour after hour is still good all the same.  You can check the timetable or online links or get to know the simple same every hour pattern. Or, even if you don't know the exact departure time,  or are a casual tourist, just bowl along anyway- there is a 50% chance you won't wait more than 7 minutes, a 97% [we hope!] chance you won't wait more than 15 minutes max. That is within bearable waiting time, particular when the Real Time signage is there to reassure intending passengers the bus is getting closer by the minute.

Another feature of the Blue Line is the spread of hours -  a lot of Sunday workers are going to love the new early start, that will allow them to get to work by bus in a way not previously possible unless one could use the Orbiter. Likewise Blue Line runs reasonably late into the evening including Sundays.

The Blue Line timetable format builds on on the attractive quality of Metro's new timetable info introduced a few months ago.  The design style of this timetable presentation format may look a bit like it was designed by a kiddies toy manufacturer with lots of exciting colour buttons but these systems work well for the user, ten times more effective and easy to follow than previous timetable layouts.

Of course the simplification comes with a cost - the brave new world of transfers! Services to many outer suburbs have been reduced to mere shuttle buses linking to the Blue Line or transfer points at Malls. This is forced by the cost savings and may be prove to cost a great deal of lost patronage by people who get mucked around once too often. This said, going against some of the past mediocre marketing efforts,   timetables are simple and clear.. Transfer route timetables are fully integrated with mainline bus routes to which passengers tofro the city can transfer and transfer theoretically with relatively little wait - such as in this sample here  . 
Note the that persons in these shuttle route areas are curfewed with no services after 7pm at night - apparently they will need to get cabs to and for mainline routes and transfer points if they are not young and fit enough to walk a few minutes further to a mainline or cross town route. This may be very early for after work grocery shopping  and getting back to one's home.

This said, it is an unfortunate cut back but possibly the one area of service reduction least likely to effect a large number of people, allowing for the fact that many of  those handicapped by age, mental or physical disability etc are less likely to go out by themselves (say for shopping) in the evenings, and more likely to have support people such as family members or care group if going to events.

It also recognises that a lot of people catching buses especially in the outer areas do actually have some access of sorts to vehicles  - students and teens in particular - and having regular simple and predictable patterns encourages parents or spouses to meet and drop off at busy bus points close to home, rather than cross town ferrying. I have a suspicion when fuel costs really start to rise, the addiction to car convenience will continue but in this sort of form,  that there will be far more short trips made, to mainline bus routes.

.....but keep cross-town routes in high demand areas as well

Not all areas are winners in these bus route changes and the St Albans block south of Edgeware - from Hills Road to Papanui Road - despite higher density housing than most areas - loses much service quality and frequency. One route section - the 18 St Albans route section between city and  Edgeware Road (along which in my experience about 40% of passengers used to board or get get off!) is eliminated completely.

A deviation due to replacement of earthquake damaged sewers has created a far more useful and effective MetroStar route linking much better to central St Albans high density areas, and offering access to far more  residents to jobs, schools, shopping and social facilities spread across key sections of the whole city.

Barbadoes Street  (and parallel streets such as Madras and Champion Street) one of the city's most densely populated areas  inexplicably is reduced to an hourly service (Route 44) for most of the day, yet patrons in outer areas - often nothing but cows, or sea gulls and golf balls - for several kilometres - (such as Route 60) get 15 minute or 30 minute minimum service frequency!  This seem a very, very crappy way to treat the L3 areas with lots of young working population and where over 20% of the population often don't have access to cars.

I believe that is doubles the value of keeping The MetroStar on Manchester Street [above] and Canon Street - stops which in my regular trips seem to get much better patronage than ever did those two stops bypassed on Edgeware Road (and patrons to those stops can anyway reach other stops on the new deviation in most cases just as easily).

Keeping The Orbiter on Gloucester -Stanmore is another obvious and sensible thing to do - even before the earthquake reduced housing and population, Gayhurst Road area hardly had the population or density to warrant a ten minute service, but the Linwood-Richmond area certainly does.

In the long run I believe the city needs a specialised inner city-suburb service because of the walk/wait/ride ratios involved.  When multiple routes came together as they drew closer to the city this need was met - a consistent 15 minute ONLY service is less attractive if actual journeys are shorter.  People making ten minute journeys don't want to walk 500 metres and wait 20 minutes for a bus - for  short journeys, from high density area, services have to be frequent. And should be in the democratic costing of services' cost per head delivered.  At the same time mobility of the "car less/ less car" inner city suburbs needs to addressed, allowing social movement within areas of common interests and access to social and shopping services. If the Council wants to attract inner city living it must actively promote the inner city as an accessible playground for residents.  Relying only on infrequent incoming and outgoing radial bus routes will not achieve that end for the L3 sector, if these services are non-existent, or only hourly; or if cross town or orbital movement is too far out for them to easily utilise.

An inner suburb & city orbital,  or perhaps X pattern route - one that links Hagley Park and Hospital, and Central Bus Exchange  to the  ring of new apartments, central city north east, St Albans, Richmond, Linwood-Stanmore, Waltham , Sydenham, Selwyn Street, Addington (except perhaps those in Riccarton well served by the current diverse route structure) could phase in between half hourly services on those other routes, both increasing total frequency and creating short hop transfer links and connections.

In the meantime I am lucky enough to live  within walking distance of Papanui Road, one of the lucky ones;  look forward to the same reliability on the Blue Line I have come to enjoy on the every 15 minutes day time service (and every 30 minutes evening service)  offered by Metrostar.

Colour branded buses at regular consistent frequency,  as delicious as ice cream.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Boost for Trains in South

On the basis that Canterbury represents 12% of the population and about 15% of the tax paid in New Zealand, it has always deeply disturbed this blogster that spending on rail and busways in Auckland and Wellington is so utterly grossly tilted in their favour. In fact between 20 and 30 times more, per capita, on infrastructure. At a rough estimate almost $300 million "public transport dollars" have taken out of Canterbury pockets to build rapid transit corridors and associated infrastructure in these Northern cities. Poor old Ecan was beginning to really struggle to attract commuters even before the earthquake, with its almost non-existent rapid transit support infrastructure.  Basically it is pretty much a 1950's style public transport with nice buses and a few techno nobs on it, but hardly the great environmental leader or 21st century flagship in quality public transport.

Our brilliant leadership in Ecan and the CCC (well paid because they are worth it !) in over a decade scored virtually no funding at all towards creating faster, vastly better integrated and more sophisticated public transport, and even now,  at a time of the great post quake rebuild have been given only a pittance in real terms (there will be much more pumping north than received here). Compare the cost of SUBURBAN stations in Auckland - New Lynn $160 million, Panmure $28 million, Newmarket $85 million, Swanson - serving a population of less than 10,000? - $20 million; or busway stations paid for by the then North Shore City Council four for $84 million ...and then look at Christchurch commitment to public transport - the city didn't even set enough money aside for bottom level bus and cycle lanes.

So, it was  great relief to see this headline - Boost for Trains in South -  in the NZ Herald this morning

....I must have misjudged the astute Bob, Tony and Dame Maggie!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Central Christchurch - Seen from Above

This photo is doing the rounds on Facebook, not sure of copyright status but obviously those responsible are credited., so I share it. This is our central city, Christchurch 20 months after one of the greatest ground velocity speed earthquakes ever recorded, though only a 6.3 on richter scale. All the empty spaces were once tightly packed with older brick buildings to three or four storeys that were catastrophically damaged, or  higher modern buildings to about 15 storeys (23 in one case) that suffered sufficient injury, cracking or displacement  of joints to sufficient extent they were uninsurable and have since been demolished. The two largest buildings at the top of the photo are to be demolished too. The brightly coloured roof tops belong to "Restart" a temporary shopping complex -  made out of brightly coloured shipping containers and quite stylish looking. I put this in because overseas readership of this blog is now very high and it gives overseas readers (including kiwi ex-pats)  a very good view of what a tough struggle the city faces to be viable, a struggle now being aggravated by a Government that seems to be pushing a very aggressive political agenda under the guise of aiding recovery.

FOOTNOTE (next day)  - I have just been watching footage and reading of the New York super storm damage, an estimated cost to repair damage has been made of $50 billion US.  Quite possibly that will rise but nonetheless it is food for thought on just how really huge the economic impact of the Christchurch earthquakes - with an eventual bill of somewhere between $20 and $30 billion shared between a national population of only $4 million!

Monday, October 22, 2012

"There being no scope to expand the width of the existing roads"

Delhi has one of the largest bus transport systems in India. Buses are the most popular means of transport catering to about 50% of Delhi's total transport demand. But like many other cities, they are stuck in congestion by lack of understanding of how much they can deliver in reducing all traffic if given railway like status and priority.  Photo Wikimedia Commons

Attempts to stop public transport planning by those who believe that having a car gives license to access anywhere -  the 11th Commandment ("thou shall drive and park where you damn well please") are common worldwide. One has only to look around Christchurch to realise we are in the same boat, with a huge bias in favour of car owners in all town planning (despite a bit of huff and puff and green fluff) because "we will always be a car based society" and "cars are obviously a superior form of transport" . 
Smell the busism? I think so. 

It is council policy fequently to give on-street parking maximum reverence rather than working towards designated zones specifically for short hop businesses (takeaways, convenience stores, dry cleaners etc) which allow 10  minute park lots, away from actual traffic lanes.  Instead thousands of bus passengers per year are disadvantaged.

No where in the council thinking is the concept the "bus comes first". I don't mean in the odd bus lane here and there, but in the global sense,  
As in  - "Our first priority is to ensure street and subdivision design and traffic management systems (from traffic signals to underpasses) start from this basis -  the free and unimpeded corridor for public transport to run along" , and then and only then, "Ok now let's see how we can build space for private cars as well in ways that does not compromise the bus service.". In Christchurch Bus priority is NOT a priority and it shows all the time, in the years of failure since the first attempt in 1996 to move foeward bus laning at any but a snails pace; in the resulting poorly designed, 1950s style bus level of integration, that operates despite all the added computer age toys and a relatively modern fleet. Until public transport comes first basically passengers, tax and ratepayers dump tens of millions a year into a service too fractionated and disorganised to attract great patronage [and likely to get much worse]  and which fails to even motorists help by freeing up roads from excessive cars. It is such an expensive bomb. 

But this is by no means just a NZ problem Even in cities as crowded as Delhi there are lobby groups that would rather see the whole city clogged into smoky chaos, than sensibly grant space for buses to run freely. The fantasy that roads can be ever expanded for more cars is now as entrenched in India as elsewhere by the sounds. This has been an ongoing disputed situation for as long as I have been doing this blog (or longer), though so remote from the traffic/population levels of Christchurch I have not followed it closely. Even so it is good to read an attempt to use the High Court to dump a 5.8km busway implemented in 2008 has been rubbished by the judges.

I like the commonsense of what judges Pradeep Nandrajog and Manmohan Singh had to say; 

“There being no scope to expand the width of the existing roads and the population of Delhi continuously being on rise, we see no escape from the fact that the citizens of Delhi have to, one day or the other, use public transport,” 

They said Planning always has to be for the long term, the court said, refusing to call the implementation of the BRT an irrational decision. 

While the same traffic density situation does not apply in Christchurch, the principle does. The moment priority shifts from cars to buses the passenger capacity of that stretch of road effectively triples or quadruples, from roughly 2000 commuters per hour per to over 7,000. But to put that many buses on the road effectively and ways that are not overly invasive takes years of forward planning. It needs a long term bus enhancement programme not the old knee jerk, puppet dance, cutting back of service quality planned.

Victoria Street is the principle outlet to the North and will be so, not just next week, but next year and probably in 50 or 100 years, when the city is a million people. When cities have been destroyed by fire or war or riotous mobs, such as London, Paris, Berlin etc, intelligent planners like Christopher Wren or Baron Haussmann instantly grasped here was opportunity to create wider, straighter, more intelligent street design. We had such a wonderful window of opportunity for the council to purchase an extra three and half metres of the frontage of sites of buildings at this bottleneck, to give a bus only "queue jumper lane" - forever! Instead it now appears to allow traffic coming from the north greater time to turn right towards Riccarton the actually delay time for traffic moving northwards up Victoria Street is to be increased by another half minute!! Which is even more than it sounds long term, because clearly Victoria Street will be first cab off the block as an integrated shopping/medium rise offices street and traffic on this will significantly rise, meaning longer queues and more traffic signal phases missed for buses, possibly not one but two or three extra half minutes on top of the existing 2-5 minutes on many peak hour trips. on a very short stretch of road.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Will fantasy bridge compromise future Christchurch development?

This is the artist's impression of the planned New Zealand Transport Agency Russley Road over-bridge.

NZ in Tranzit estimates the real cost to greater Christchurch could be hundreds of millions in lost economic muscle.

It is part of a limited vision of Christchurch as a off-to-one side boutique city, without giving it the commuter rail, freight rail or buways to make it truly competitive with Auckland or Wellington or to future proof outer area growth against big rises expected in oil costs.

The over-bridge above is designed to span Russley Road, rather than the opposite way (span Memorial Avenue)  the bridge will block for all time an existing opportunity to run a modern high grade rail corridor alongside Russley Road and thus under an over-bridge over Memorial Avenue and linking major new growth areas in the north with major new growth areas in the west (both with major employment zones) and linking both the north and west more effectively to city.

Regrettably despite some nice letters and one or two invitations to speak or write articles about the rail concept below, raised two or three years ago, NZ in Tranzit has never heard even a single voice raised in public supporting of the concept below.  No attempt by the media or any political parties has ever been made to raise this idea or get it properly investigated.

Yet these added rail links (the dotted lines) with their multiple advantages and the top class infrastructure needed to genuinely build a new stronger greater Christchurch would cost less than about one sixth of the total amount spent in the last decade Auckland and Wellington on commuter rail and busways AND give hugely enhanced freight movement facilities and options.

What sort of city and regional councils do we have that don't even commission a study of such a profound foundation for growth and maintaining the cohesion and central city access?  The sort of game plan needed  tie together a much bigger wider area, and west and north based Christchurch, but still keep open and thriving an oil rise-proofed central city commercial/political hub.

Dark green = planned residential areas; Light green = planned industrial/office park areas
Trains from the North (a single track) can not turn eastwards towards the central city (and sea in this map) directly, as a result of an over-bridge built in about 2005, meaning long trains need to change locomotives, but express DMU railcars only need to switch driving ends. The suggested city end rail extension (dotted line past airport) could be built entirely grade separated and entirely banked allowing disguised fencing against intrusion, allowing for speeds of 80k and above between stations or for freight trains. Peak hour commuter services from the North might be delivered by a couple of express rail cars direct and with most other trains running into the city via the Airport and Hornby - serving multiple large employment zones. Services past the city would terminate at Ferrymead (Park and Ride) rather than run to Lyttelton. This system may be far too big for Christchurch in the current but would it not be wise to build in ways that leave corridors free or only covered by temporary buildings ?  If fuel cost go through the roof trains fitted with ample cycle carrying space and a linked network of mainly off road cycleways could make Christchurch the a world leader in fast and effective (and green) public transport  in a low density, small population,  city whose greater urban area already stretches almost 30km as for Rangiora at top of photo.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Deja Vu?? The Downgrade of Christchurch Bus Services

This was a rough and ready poster made for the NZ Tramways Union campaign to stop the savage decimation of what had once been the best bus system in New Zealand -  twenty two years ago!

It was 13 years again later after this - about 2003 - before Christchurch bus system fully recovered the title of a quality bus system, back to being the best in New Zealand, years of recovering  from the massive mauling by the right-wing.

 And here we are, back again 

being screwed by the National Party and its handmaidens in the ECan junta. 

National has a clear agenda to recreate Christchurch as a trendy boutique city, but let's be clear - very much the minor player; with massive shifts in wealth from Christchurch to Auckland and Wellington where the wide boys make a faster buck. Public transport investment is hugely distorted in favour of these two cities, despite much of the nations wealth being generated elsewhere. No obvious provision or adequate funding has been made for rapid transit in Christchurch - be it busways,proper enclosed secure transfer stations,  intersections and computerised road management controls, commuter rail or that unbearable lightweight of public transport, light rail (with those pretentiously contoured aerodynamic noses ).

Christchurch city appears to be being punished and manipulated for an earthquake! This is happening despite the fact, like all New Zealanders here in Christchurch all paid  EQC insurance (inherent in rent or directly included in household insurance) for decades, specifically to cover such events. Under this subterfuge of earthquake recovery, you must eat humble pie with liquefaction sauce, the fat boys are creaming it over weaker players such as Parker-Marryatt.  Demolition of local area schools -  such an absolute key binding element in local communities and a baseline quality of life factor - as a well as the  significant downgrade of property values inherent in putting everything in one mixer, is now followed by a grossly D-Graded bus system implemented by the ECan glove puppets.

Who ever heard of a bus system attracting more patrons by adding  a journey split  and a 8 -15 minutes** waiting period at a unheated street side transfer?  A break in a relatively short journey with every chances of missing a connection and then having to wait 30-59 minutes at this stop. This is a system now to apply for probably about 40% of all journeys to the outer suburbs, for those not travelling tofro locations close to a limited number of direct bus routes ?  Except in a high frequency well integrated system (if you can't there by one route you can usually get there by another, most people living between bus routes) transfers are hugely clumsy. The very transfer system that helped lose thousands of patrons after the earthquake - a hopelessly clumsy transfer system (of two exchanges) is now being touted as the answer to getting people back on buses.

The sort of transfer system planned by Metro is a pale anemic echo of intelligent modern transport concepts but missing the key element - high frequency - less than 15 minutes on a ALL interconnecting routes and ideally services every ten minutes or less on ALL routes. Although the promos for Metro changes allude to high frequency I have yet to identify any significant route or route corridor that will actually get increased services!

ECan metro is introducing possibly the world's crudest and clumsiest transfer system, a high frequency transfer-based system - without high frequency! 

Co-ordination will be crucial as will absolute right of way for buses over variable traffic congestion and top quality secure transfer stations (with manned security) if passengers are going to have negotiate changes and wait for lengthy periods, of 15 minutes or more

Yeah right!! Where will the money come from - the Government has already made it clear that despite hundreds of millions spent on upgrading public transport in Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch will only get $100 million over three years less (I believe operating costs take about half of this).

And the "chop and change"  (chop routes in half and force passengers to change buses in the middle of their journey)  is from a transport authority that has historically run thousands of trips a year simultaneously through the same or adjacent areas - two overlapping bus services minutes apart and then nothing for the next 55 minutes! - with absolute disregard and insulting indifference to patrons.

I can't remember how many submissions and letters on this issue I made (and I am sure many others) that were ignored!! 

This new plan is a huge kick in the guts for Christchurch.

The only solution to me seems to be that Labour and the Greens need get on the same page, not least with transport policy (let me be honest, in my opinion currently full of naive fantasies such as light rail in Wellington rather than actual realistic policies!) and make sure this Government of ostentatious, "big noter" buffoons gets dumped - and then that the new Government cleans out the grossly overpaid, unelected chook house of ECan Commissars and restores the democracy the present Government has so arrogantly usurped. 

I take solace and draw strength from Winston Churchill's words "No defeat is fatal and no victory is forever". Believe in a good bus system, the present crowd could all be washed away in 24 months!

** Note; logically any transfer system needs a minimum of 8 minutes between incoming and outgoing services, or the chances of missing connections are too great. Even so a percentage of passengers will be on buses that miss the connection and will be left standing for 8 - 59 minutes across week. Add to this a half hourly service can  not please everybody (a half hourly service connecting with  buses in either direction at multiple transfer points is virtually impossible).

 Viewed across all services in the week my guesstimate is that, ALL transfer trips added together, the average time of waiting for a transfer will be 10-15 minutes longer than the same journey presently. NOTE too, that stationary waiting always seems to feel twice as long as forward movement "waiting" on a bus  (Not that anyone in ECan is very likely to know that!). 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Melbourne bus use rockets after funding increases.

First bus off the rank  .... and part of the reason for the rapid rise in Melbourne bus patronageRecently retired blogster Melbourne's Peter Parker and friends went for an early morning ride on the very first bus to run in service on the 901 Route, Smartbus, "yellow orbital route, from Melbourne airport in September 26 2010 at  6.30 am. Here photographed by Melbourne on Transit blog at a Doncaster east stop (thanks for the photo).

The image of Melbourne is commonly linked to its distinctive tramway system, a system that maintained its status and prestige enough not to drop the term" tram" for the more elusive feel-good phrase "light rail".

Trams in Melbourne carry about 182 million passengers per year, mainly in the central area and inner suburbs.  With sixteen commuter rail lines heading into central Melbourne (carrying an even greater number passengers than trams per year) carless people need inner city mobility and trams are well suited to heavier passenger loadings (literally heavier) and in many situations short trip standing passengers. 

Said to be the largest urban tramway network in the world the statistics suggest Melbourne tramway covers roughly the same distance and has a roughly similar number of vehicles as the entire urban area bus route system of Christchurch, albeit Melbourne's system carries ten times more passengers and is based at the heart of a metropolitan area with ten times greater population. Surprisingly, apart from one or two short route extensions there has been almost no effort to extend the tramway system out into the middle and outer suburbs or add new routes for many decades. 

For anyone interest in public transport the limited range of tram networks, and their close reliance on rail systems feeding into them, and the failure to extend them (not just in Melbourne but in many other systems shorter in length but in areas with equally as large or  larger metropolitan populations) should send out warning bells. If areas with two or three tmes the suburban density of Christchurch can't support trams/light rail how cost effective would they be in our small city?

Tramways are systems that work well in terms of cost benefit ratios only with high capital input (big tax payer base) and high demand usage. This ridership can only be created proportionate to population size. Only 10% of all journeys in Melbourne are taken on public transport - very low for instance compared to similar cities of similar density in Canada, such as Montreal and Toronto. But if you have 4 million people with a portion using trams that still fills a lot of tram, not so in a city one tenth the size. And despite not having trams, the 2006 Australian census shows that fewer people in Melbourne's innermost suburbs take public transport to work than in Sydney: 26.8% in inner Melbourne versus 32.8% in inner Sydney.

With 14% of all commute to work trips in greater Melbourne taken using public transport the capital of Victoria tails well behind Wellington (17%) and Sydney (20%) and most other cities of comparable size.

It is sometimes argued that light rail success is achieved at diverting money from bus routes and, often cherry picking the busiest bus route or routes to convert to rail, and switching bus services from independent through routes to truncated feeder services to the light rail terminii - logical enough perhaps, but tilting the playing field somewhat!  It is hard to say whether this has been the case in Melbourne where the tramway network pre-dates motorised bus services  but Melbourne has long had a bus service seen as below international standards. 

The majority of bus services ran only every 30 or 60 minutes - some absurdly only every two hours - and most finished before 9pm - some even earlier, and many did not run on Sundays, despite 11% of the adult population not having access to a car.  For anyone requiring transfers a 9 pm curfew, of course, becomes an 8pm curfew - they have to go home from meetings and social events when others have barely arrived!  Few adult social events, performances or meetings finish before 9pm anyway. With bus administrators imposing what almost amounts to a "no night life of any kind regime" on bus users this effectively undermines full time bus using amongst students and working age populations (worth 400-700 trips a year per passenger to any public transport system). Other inhibitions to bus use in Melbourne have been cited as overly complex and circuitous routes, and high transit fares in Melbourne by comparison with other Australian cities.

For these and other reasons Melbourne buses have been the Cinderella in the local transit network. In 2006 the state budget of that year announced that a $2.6 billion was to be spent to bring Melbourne bus services standards up higher standards, including having buses run to 9pm on 25 outer metropolitan area routes, the establishment of  two completely new routes and two new Smartbus Orbital routes and various improvements to roading structure to improve bus priority. (Sun Herald May 31 2006).

Nonetheless two years later, in 2008 a Bus Association representative, Chris Loader, was still able to point out 

"Buses are the only public transport option for around 80 per cent of Melburnians, yet buses have received only around 3 per cent of the overall funding package," Mr Loader said. "Most Melburnians will see little improvement in local public transport services. (Herald Sun December 9 2008)

And a Government funded study by Booz Allen Hamilton (international transport consultants) in the same year found; 

Melbourne’s bus weekday minimum service standards for finish times are considerably below the standard of all other Australian cities. Melbourne non-Smartbus routes have a minimum finish time of 9p.m. whilst almost all other cities have finishes between 11p.m. and midnight
---Booz and Co. Melbourne Public Transport Standards Review, August 2008.

The project was not without hiccups, one the original orbital routes was canned in budget shifts in 2008 but those developed have proved that buses can attract high patronage if services are well planned and frequent.

A new Red Orbital SmartBus route, 903,  through Box Hill and Burwood was launched in early 2009 and within a couple of months patronage had increased 37% above the previous two conventional routes it replaced. Route 903 travels from Altona in the west, through Sunshine, Essendon, Coburg, Preston, Heidelberg, Doncaster, Box Hill, Burwood, Oakleigh and Mentone, ending at Mordialloc railway station. The 903 route is whopping 86 km long, and takes four hours to travel end to end, services running every 15 minutes business days and every 30 minutes at other times. NOTE - less frequently than little old Christchurch's branded cross town services on Saturday and Sunday daytime services!

The red orbital route was followed in 2010 by a Yellow orbital service (this route was reviewed on its first trip by Melbourne on Transit  blogster Peter Parker)  and a Green orbital service which have also achieved significant success.

The addition of Sunday services on many routes previously Mon-Sat, and major investment in three semi Orbital routes, and in other frequent direct services cutting around the outer suburbs, and the more recent addition of direct bus services directly from North Melbourne Stations to the Melbourne and Monash universities, is changing the image of buses in Melbourne.

Earlier this month Melbourne newspaper The Age reported people are swapping trains for buses. Said The Age report  (NZinT bolding)

In total there were 536.8 million boardings on Melbourne's public transport system last financial year, a 3.4 per cent increase on 2011-12. But the boost in patronage is almost entirely attributable to more people taking to the city's buses, which carried a remarkable 17 million more people in 2011-12 than they did in 2010-11.

There were 123.2 million bus trips in 2011-12 - a 15.8 per cent jump on the previous year. At the same time, the number of journeys on trains dropped 3.3 per cent, from 228.9 million to 222 million. It is the first financial year in which train patronage has declined since 1993-94. Overall, patronage has grown by 53 per cent in the past eight years. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NZ in Tranzit enjoys its third birthday

It is now three years since NZ in Tranzit started. An obscure blog on an obscure subject (for most people)  it has done much better than I ever expected. Page views to-date are just below 112,000

There is a Dalai Lama quotation floating around on Facebook, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito"  (BTW I presume he means " in the room"  :-)

Well that sums it up!  Mosquitos can't change the world, they just irritate others. That is about the best one can hope for.

And perhaps a lot of buzzin' around helps show "there are options"  - that is to say the great monoliths of ECan, City Council and Metro [or public transport authorities anywhere] - the politicians and planners - don't have all the answers and indeed in the larger world of public transport are often notoriously poorly informed.

Up to about four months ago the blog had received about 50,000 page views, with kiwis about just over a third of these, the single biggest sector; yanks also about a third; assorted Canadians, Germans, lots of Latvians [I think they have a similar word to "tranzit" in their language!] and various poms and Australians forming a third third

In recent times blog readership has escalated rapidly but mainly through a massive increase in USA based readers, rising proportionately much faster than kiwis.  As I support better public transport everywhere if I can play even a small part in that process in the USA, well whoopee!

I imagine many of these are people keen to find out more about busways and bus rapid transit. This is probably linked to the hundreds of kilometres of bus rapid transit lanes (and it often doesn't amount to much more than lanes!) proposed, planned or already built or being built in high density areas such as Oakland, California; Hartford, Connecticut; Washington DC (Montgomery County); Chicago; Atlanta; New York,; Nashville and even some of the more" transit progressive" smaller (Christchurch size) cities such Eugene Colorado and Maddison Ohio.

However outside a dozen very big cities public transport in the USA doesn't have the social status, political support or funding levels it gets in her other sister countries  (the old "settler colonies") such as Australia, New Zealand or Canada.

And no disrespect to US readers; being a mosquito in the USA is not my real interest.

So it is the 32,544 page views from people based in New Zealand that counts for me. Realising of course many of these have been no more than a glance and an - "oops, wrong place" situation it will still leave enough genuine readers in 36 months to make it feel  it is all worthwhile. Yet you do a get a sort of reasonable idea of what moves people, even when comments and written feedback is minuscule. The huge concern that is being felt about what Metro is planning in Christchurch - a chop and change transfer system based on insufficiently frequent connecting services and a long record of indifference to co-ordination and integration between routes - is obviously evidenced by the unusual aspect of a NZ in Tranzit posting on this subject rising in six weeks to the second most viewed NZ in Tranzit post of all time. This DESPITE this being a local issue and not being busway related!

I see that Daniel Bowen has just stepped down as President from the Passenger Transport Users' Association in Melbourne, which has over a thousand members but - it (like so many organisations) only about a dozen of these are really active. I imagine in Christchurch without the larger concentration of car less people natural in a large city, a similar organisation might get 72 paid up members and perhaps 3 or 4 disparately motivated really active members. As a public pressure group it would have minus-mosquito power. And none of the freedom or erratic power of the unexpected, the pithy, or humorous of a an individualistic blog, with a quirky flavour, some odd-ball ideas for sure but also enough knowledge, nous and research to occasionally hit the mark or shift opinion and have genuine influence.

Blogging is a weird form of journalism, almost underground and unseen, more suited to a mole ... or a rabbit  .....only briefly emerging  from underground...but it goes places no other newsmedia could or would bother.
The ability to see what countries readership is coming from (though not on each specific posting) and the amount of page views per item - continuously updated - and the fact that it is a magazine format yet never grows old (I still get comments on articles written three years ago) gives it some unique advantages. If printed out all the blog postings would probably create a 1000 page book! Although I have never shied from sharing some of the strangeness of living in a city that suffered major earthquake devastation  it is interesting to see that specific or strongly earthquake postings (or pages) do not pull any significant extra readership at all. In contrast a posting about some of the factors that go into making bus stops work (surely the ultimate dry subject) has been continuous and all time best seller!

What is in the newspapers or television is more or less news and opinions shared by all. But the depth of news or opinion's in newspapers rarely rises above the superficial. We are a society steadily moving towards "snacking" on tiny knowledge bytes - and that can be very dangerous when most fields need much deeper reading to even begin to interpret what is going on. As with a newspaper columnist writing a blog is (and should be) highly personal, quirky, a particular slant on things, but ideally backed by some special knowledge or reading, It cuts the cake a different way, exposes the unseen or not yet thought about, it is can turn the rubber mould inside out and see a completely different story. It is esoteric knowledge that will mean most to those involved in that field of activity, and can like the Dalai Lama's mosquito upset the body (politic) enough to have some small influence far beyond its size - much more I have found that submissions made to reviews, of which I have made many over the years without ever seeing a single positive response (nor to most other submissions - by the time it is out for "consultation"  usually a project is 98% signed, sealed and delivered).
Added influence particularly as I send out invitations to various council or community groups around Christchurch and NZ (just once or twice a year, don't want to bomb people) to read the occasional posting relevant to some issue these groups are involved with, sometimes factually refuting nonsense. As underground media, nobody can be sure who around the board room table is reading it!

However the larger goal - to get people thinking more about public transport, and more grounded in reality,  and to raise alternatives and options, and awareness of comparable projects and costs elsewhere, is probably the greatest role NZ in Tranzit can play. Its is my tiny, tiny, contribution to fighting the rapidly escalating  devastation of global climate change and the spiritual impoverishment implicit in too many cars, not enough walking, talking and not enough  real community street life. People watch Shortland St or Coro or whatever as a substitute for the life they are not living. Turn off the TV and get on a bus, it is still out there, human life in all its awesome diversity.

Think global; act local.

Thanks for your readership and to those few who participate or send letters of occasional support (more comments and letters and debate most welcome)....and yes, the mask is flung aside, three years down the track, in truth  not a bird, never a bird,  not a mosquito, but ....but ... still the same old-  same old, of three years ago - dwatted wabbit!! He pops up everywhere!

The elusive blogster only once ever photographed, in 1968 - so suave -  cool - so blue - and not likely to go away in a hurry, though now disguised with a much larger waistline! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Motorists you are welcome to your cars but the bus goes first.

Two buses waiting to get a gap into traffic - on a stretch of road used by multiple routes and hundreds of bus services every week yet blocked by provision of three car park spaces, in an area of  multiple carparks. Photo NZ in Tranzit

Yesterday I had a wee bus orgie - went up to Northlands (in a long slow moving queue, barely less congested than a weekday and this at about 2.30pm), did some shopping and waiting for a bus back down along came a Comet. As I sometimes do, I though what the heck, let's just go bussing for an hour or two  and see what is happening out in the world. I ended up doing the Comet to Hornby then Metrostar to Halswell then back to Papanui Road. I  recommend bussing like this as a nice way to do nothing in particular or just need to space out a bit to let your unconscious come to terms with whatever you are not ready to face. Of course it is never entirely a neutral activity for an old buspotter like me, there are always heaps of things to see and questions raised in terms of public transport.

The first thing is that bloody long queue - everybody knows Saturday and Sunday traffic can be just as congested as weekday queue, albeit less predictable in pattern. It is a bit hard in those circumstances to have  bus lanes activated but I do believe there a number of places around Christchurch where the twin councils, ECan and CCC, should be looking at permanent bus lanes. One is between Hawthorne Street and Blighs Road on Papanui Road - where they are building that stylish new three storey retirement apartments complex, up past the police station and Phone Exchange building. In peak hours this would just be part of the continuous run of bus laned road along the west side of Papanui Road. 

On evenings and weekends if full timed (or 7am - 7pm 7days a week,  bus laned)  it would offer roughly the same effect as a stent place in someone's arteries, guaranteed to keep the flow open. By adapting the traffic signal at the junction of Blighs Road with Papanui to have greater intelligence, outside peak hours week days this would be able to read if there was a bus waiting in that lane (or even within 100 metres of the traffic signal ) and allow the bus/buses a 10 second advantage to move off ahead of the queue and regain the centre lane or to move across into the bus stop. This will effect thousands of people but very few of them residents or motorists. Presumably to get a permit for this extension of the retirement village, there is ample on-site visitor parking (yeah right), and this is backed up by -  de facto - visitor parking on various side streets or parking on the other side of the road bring available. Removing parking on the west side of Papanui Road effects very few private residents and  it also avoids the likelihood of visitors to this new retirement complex slowing, looking for a front door parking space, or trying to back into same space etc, on a road already too busy to need more congestion. A seven day a week bus lane all day is a sensible by-pass of one of the most congested (most likely to be banked up) sections of Papanui Road.

It benefits most thousands of people are off peak passengers in buses, and those further afield on other stops, who rely upon consistent bus times to make transfers tofro these multiple buses coming up Papanui Road. 

Not a huge project but just one of many gains I believe that can be made if we stop thinking, as child might, of putting a toy bus on a toy roading system, and starting thinking "Think Rail - Build Bus" - get people used to the idea public transport has its domain, its place to stand in the world, its status, it has its its de facto tubes along which it flows.

A bit further on we strike the problem I have raised before - the silliness of letting two or three car parking spaces (right beside a substantial network of back alley car parking areas) control the road space used by thousands of bus users. As above in the photo of two buses waiting to get into the traffic queue. 

Ironically when I went to take this photo which is the same two cars but looking back the other way, after the buses had gone  .........

.....  from the same point, I could also see this virtually empty adjacent car park. Below it is reflected in the window of Metro's post quake public office which is in the same car parking zone.

I believe the  stop outside the convenience store beside the Mobile service Station should be moved forward outside the very busy KiwiBank and Post centre, with yellow lines or bus lanes and a widened road then right up through the Langdons Road traffic signals to Northlands main stop. Again a relative short stretch - this time involving some investment in infrastructure but again part of a 7/24 open passage. 

And - while we are on the subject of permanent bus lanes another high density location I would make permanent bus lane is where Milton Street enters Colombo St. The Council/City Care already appears to own the land currently being to store the multiple trucks that carry cones, barriers, signage for manifold ever shifting post-quake road, water and sewage repairs. I believe about four metres in width should be shaved off the side to create a permanent bus lane with a permanently open bus only left turn feeding onto a permanent bus lane up Colombo St towards Brougham St. It could probably be achieved merely by converting the flax bushes [in the photo below] into a hedge or ornamental shrubs with a more narrow footprint. This design might also need a curving island with shrubs or trellis type screen to separate Colombo Street northbound lanes from the bus lane and  buses as they swing around the corner - I think otherwise the unwary might get a bit disconcerted, see a large moving vehicle out of the corner of the eye racing towards them when the lights are otherwise in the cars favour. Non-buses would still turn left when lights favour them in their own lanes. The rest of the road - along Colombo Street is already no stopping or bus lane. With bus priority signals along Milton Street (which is anyway likely to be favoured over Strickland St and over Selwyn Street in signal phasing) and a "Give Way to Exiting buses" light where Simeon St feeds on to Milton Street this gives a more or less guaranteed straight run through from Barrington Mall to Brougham Street, irrespective of traffic queues. 

Working from choke points such as this - "hot spots" - and inserting bus stents to keep the flow always open to me is the logical way to slowly but steadily create consistent reliable bus services, that can run very close to same time every trip (with fast loading Metrocards a big factor too) and therefore a mosaic pattern of interconnected services can be created. At the moment the bus in the photo may have taken only 2 minutes or it may have taken 6 minutes to get from Barrington Mall to Sydenham Park the point  if traffic signals and the stop-start for passengers and the traffic queues vary so much - including Saturday and Sunday traffic 

At a deeper level, much more than just minor pieces of infrastructure - these permanent sections of bus lane are also a statement in the political or philosophical sense.  

If we want equality bus services, we must built bus pathways with all the strength and status of a prestige system - they don't always need to be in direct or significant competition with cars - but they do need to say, as with a tram or train line, the bus goes first. 

Motorists you are welcome to your cars but the bus goes first. That's just a fact of life.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Timaru goes into Orbit, a great concept for other smaller urban centres too?

Local urban bus services should be a national government priority in towns the population of Gore, Southland or larger according to NZ in Tranzit. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Plans to replace some bus routes in Timaru with an Orbital route bus are now well advanced, after suffering setback due the diversion of energies forced by earthquakes further north. It has been announced this service could be launched as soon as January. 

The concept of  "circular" route certainly wasn't invented by Metro (ECan),  which also runs the Timaru buses, but was adopted fairly early in the piece,starting in 1999 in Christchurch and has proved a great success, as have similar routes since established elsewhere, even in very large cities.

Like trams or trains, the distinctive branded buses, the regularity of services (though obviously not every ten minutes in a smaller city) and the multiple passenger generating facilities served gives "The Orbiter" style routes a definable and reassuring presence which allows even non-bus using residents some sense of confidence in access and sense of ownership pride in a city's public transport.

The sad thing is that our Government is prepared to pump hundreds of millions of dollars  into motorways and commuter trains for bigger cities and yet offers no support at all for core bus services for the residents of smaller urban centres.

NZ in Tranzit believes any Government should have a baseline strategy of delivering - indeed requiring -  a local bus service in all towns above 10,000 people, to ensure that people with disabilities (physical, mental, language or medical condition), children and teenagers, working spouses (where the partner takes the car), tourists and visitors and - not least - the increasing proportion of the population that is retired,  have access to "independence" transport. That is to say they are not reliant on parents (for kids) or friends or family or dial up the day before support services and do not have to pay more expensive cab fares or Driving Miss Daisy (however excellent the local service) every time they want to make an independent journey. It is degrading not to be able to go when one wants to go or dependent on others, even in situations, such as after an argument or with a person not well liked when it is extremely humiliating to have to ask support "unnaturally". Lack of Government commitment to baseline accessible independent mobility no doubts locks many thousands of older or disabled residents into less than desirable situations of being dependent in ways they do not wish to be, a horrible way to spend one's latter years. Lack of public transport can also add the cost of a second car for many families, where it is only really needed for one spouse (usually the wife) to get to work, whereas that same money less bus fares could be freed up for better things.

A similar principle to that the Orbiter as planned for Timaru, operating 7am - 6pm Monday-Friday and 8am - 5pm Saturday  could apply with a "S" shape or figure "8" shape route, adapted to local conditions running through the town centre and arms curving around to incorporate all major residental areas, hospitals, rest homes retirement villages, high schools, tourist accommodation sectors, major attractions, supermarkets, medical centres, and employment zones. Attention in the planning should be given too to keeping route arms reasonably homogeneous in social composition and to investigating whether any existing school bus run can be  integrated or replaced by the regular public service, or an extension of it at the appropriate time, otherwise offering services at a consistent time each hour between 9 am and 3pm.

Even, at bare minimum, if the parents of the 80,000 country children catching fully funded, free, country school buses were asked to pay an annual fee of $60  (ie about a month's bus/train fare for many city school kids) that would return about $4.5 million, more than enough I would imagine to cover most of a generous farebox subsidy to the 20 or so towns 10,000 -  20,000 in New Zealand eligible, and some support and admin costs. In Te Wai Pounamu four more centres would get assisted bus services, Ashburton, Greymouth, Oamaru and Gore** - the first three in particular have quite extended "suburbs" which spread well away from the town centre. Blenheim is already doing an attractive job (sandwiched between school bus runs it seems) with two orbital routes  but would also be eligible for comparable funding, requiring services operate over a more useful spectrum of time.

Of course it is not really just a "throw away subsidy", because a bright attractive distinctive regular circular bus service, at least hourly in each direction, would stimulate all sorts of flow ons including attracting retired or mobile disabled persons to live or stay in that town; foreign students (whose boarding fees help pay many a mortgage in the cities); help developers sell ownership flats in outer areas; assist tertiary activities of all sorts; encourage tourists without vehicles to stay and spend overnight;  and reduce retaining staff difficulties (particular teenage and part-time workers) at various employment locations. Not least it would return some of the transport tax dollars taken out of country areas to feed city growth and the cost-benefit ratio is more than likely to exceed many other transport projects. Probably local cab drivers would take a bit of an early hit - most likely less part-time work - but I think in the long run this would be replaced by greater "cab in an emergency" or "cab back from the supermarket" (now my daughter no longer needs to pick me up for that trip etc, as more people developed lives independent of  private transport. By way of a personal example I probably only catch cabs in Christchurch 5-6 times a year - but if I chose to own a car instead of relying on buses I imagine I would never catch any.

In the case of Ashburton, it may even be possible a tender to run an early morning service from Methven (to connect to Timaru-Christchurch commuter services as previously advocated) which could then service local industrial areas, before turning at 9.30 am into a suburban circuit including far flung Tinwald, and operating through to about 6.30 pm when, after connecting with an outbound commuter bus from Christchurch it returns to Methven. This is an example of an integrated service (which may even partly replace a fully subsidised contracted school run) which could be operated by a local bus company with a couple of buses to a distinctive livery (albeit signage could be covered/removable over for the bus not currently used, to do contract work) and possibly employing a couple of genial old semi retired drivers doing the bulk of the work.

Sorted!! Ahem.  Amazing how easy it is to sort these things out sitting at a key board! Really.

Core public transport service is an issue of small town viability, image and prosperity, study and work attractiveness. And is an issue of freedom of mobility, dignity and independence for all town residents. Government needs to get on that bus.

**One thing Core District Council does do well (apart from oversize brown trout) is supply an integrated  timetable for ALL bus services tofro Gore. - a public service no council in Christchurch seems willing or able to do, despite past submissions on this issue. Hardly a sophisticated tourist set up for a major city trying to woo tourists, nor a high level of commitment to encouraging people away from car use Canterbury.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Metro policy for blind bus users lacks vision

Saturday 15 September Update; 

Top marks to Metro for rebutting any nonsense that it does not advocate signalling buses, and for doing so rapidly too, and for not trying to further fluff this admittedly difficult issue

The news item linked above -a media statement from Metro the day after the NZ in Tranzit posting below (and title above, less the words now removed "and honesty") above renders much of the "news" aspect of the following item below irrelevant. However the principle that passengers need to flag down buses remain - and I am sure this is so also in the various countries overseas where many readers of this blog live - as does the need to find ways to deal with the issue of sight impaired access to buses.

Blind users of Christchurch buses don't need to have the wool pulled over their eyes, but that is what Metro seems to be trying to do.

According to a recent article in The Mainland Press it has been confirmed "flagging down buses is not Environment Canterbury (ECan) policy"

If this was actually true our public transport system in Christchurch would be in the hands of buffoons!

No urban bus system in the world could run a competent on-time service if it pulled over for every Tom, Dick and Harriet standing or walking in the vicinity of a bus stop or sitting on the seat of a bus shelter.

Bus driver's always have to read the situation, passengers always have to make some indication, however slight the body language, that they wish to catch that particular bus. It might be standing up from the bus shelter seat, it might be stepping forward or walking towards the bus stop pole, it might be catching the eye of the driver; best of all (for road safety) is a clear arm signal, raising the arm. 

It is hard to believe ECan management and that of some local bus companies is so out of touch with practical bus driving reality and practical road safety that they suggest there is no need to flag down buses. 

Often bus driver's unable to get a clear reading will slow in traffic hoping to catch the person's eye (they may be day dreaming or distracted) rather than pull in if uncertain. This is sensible, firstly because it takes time, secondly because  if traffic is heavy it takes even more time getting back into the traffic flow, thirdly because - if the person at the stop is not catching the bus - it can make the driver feel foolish, as if he or she misread the situation (ie lacks competent bus driver skills). This said there will always occasional misreads. Or let's be frank - there are also multiple thoughtless bozos in the the public who stand right beside a bus sign, either not waiting  for a bus or waiting for a different one - who make no effort to step back or signal the driver that they do NOT require that bus. They stand there staring right at the driver allowing the bus to pull in and open its doors. And sometimes they still  stand there. saying nothing even then.

No driver can get too embarrassed with the occasional misread; you can't get it right every time, and if in real doubt the driver will probably opt to check it out unless already under stress and running late.  But I imagine what passengers would think if the driver of their bus stopped for a non-passenger two or three times in one one trip! Which could easily be the case if drivers were forced to stop for every person within proximity of a  bus stop even though no attempt was made to indicate a bus was wanted - indeed why bother inidicating in that culture, keep on chatting to the bus stops. But if signals need to be made then obviously a clear, unequivocal raised arm or hand is by far the most preferable.

This does not resolve the issue for those who are blind, a category which includes mostly people with grossly impaired sight but who can see some degree of movement. light or peripheral vision, but insufficient to read bus destinations. In the case of busy roads and route corridors, used by multiple routes (the last place bus drivers want to pull over needlessly!) blind people can not discern which bus is the right one, or sometimes even know that the bus is approaching until too late, making no indication they want that bus. There have been regular cases of blind people being left behind.

Ecan has held a meeting with the Royal Blind Institute apparently to reassure blind bus users they will not need to flag down buses.

According to the Mainland Press "There never was an ECan policy regarding flagging down buses , so we are not sure how this situation has happened .." said a spokes woman for ECan.

In the first instance there has never been a [specifically written] policy because indicating you want to catch a bus, or a specific bus, is so intrinsic to the whole nature of public transport it doesn't need to be written - it is lunatic to even think that passengers don't need to indicate they want that bus, and illogical not to ask that they indicate clearly. It is international, it is human nature.

Secondly to say Metro never has had a policy is a load of bullshit anyway - here is a bit of signage off the Metrostar route - signage published by Metro itself!!

So really Metro's policy of trying to look good for the disadvantaged is a half-arsed situation essentially unworkable and undermining good bus catching practice and smooth consistent running of bus services.

To suggest this flaky "policy"will solve the problem is naive in extreme or just trying to dodge a hard question by pulling the wool over the eyes of the blind and their advocates.

I don't think they were too fooled. To quote the Mainland Press again " Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind orientation and mobility instructor Carina Duke said while she was pleased that the flagging issue was resolved she had reservations about driver training and communication issues". Personally I don't think that can ever be resolved cleanly, there are far too many variations in driver temperament; split second decision making; road safety; blind behaviour; situational variation (by the thousands) to get a good clean strategy.

Rather what seems to me to be needed is a raft of complementary strategies -  by the public health department; by bus manufacturers; by  bus operating authorities and by bus drivers.

In particular I suggest a protocol for blind of  asking anybody at the stop for support. The Mainland Press quotes one blind person saying how awkward it was asking total strangers to flag down buses for them - yes, it no doubt is, but maybe that is also the part if blind reality. Lots of people can't do things without asking for help in life, it is hardly restricted to the blind and disabled. However if there are no other people at the stop or the blind person does not want to ask for help, they take the optional protocol of standing right beside or under the Bus Stop sign, holding their blind cane up perhaps, vertically grasped around the middle, so it does not protrude outwards, or backwards into the pedestrian area and extending the arm holding the vertical red and white cane for any approaching bus. This immediately alerts drivers that this person blind and can not tell if the bus they are waving is the correct one. This said, most blind people can access the time, so the likelihood in most cases, apart from one or two corridors at peak times, is that this will be the specific bus required.

I wonder whether any experimentation has been done using lights in canes - cyclists nowadays have some very bright flashing lights, often highly visible even in the daytime even though fairly tiny in size. It would seem to me to design canes with the red bands of inbuilt flashing lights or a light at the tip, that can be switched on for situations like this would make a huge amount of sense. Surely this technology exists already?

Bus authorities can do a lot to help by putting out a protocol sticker on every bus shelter, saying (something like) "Please assist sight disabled to signal their bus if needed". A second interesting technological concept - a good one internationally - would be to get a distinctive bus approaching sound signal. This is not the conventional bus horn for blasting motorists, but a separate distinctive penetrating (though not overly loud or painful) "passenger alert: (hey you wake up, do you want the bus?) noise. I think of the funny noise Skype makes on computers, as an example. This distinctive noise may become very important as bus fleets move to fully electric buses, not wishing to repeat the olden times nick-name of trams "silent death".

If every bus in the world had the same sound signal, to be used judiciously (charter buses might also use to warn groups that the bus will depart in a couple of minutes) then many situations involving the sight disabled could be remedied straight away. On certain routes or scheduled trips buses would have a compulsory signal [small sign on lamp-post] when approaching certain stops, just as trains often have "Sound Whistle" signs track-side. And the stops themselves could have a textured ground waiting bay - even a leaner - where the blind person is high profile but safe and can easily move to the bus door when the vehicle stops.

An option is for buses to have bright coloured lights, just little ones, in colour codes for different routes. This was common practice with many trams years ago when a lot of people were not able to read (Blue-Red-Green means Smithville; Green-Red-Green means Brownstown,  etc). Modern technology could deliver far more powerful mini lights visible in day time, even to some of those with less clear vision.

Another way that public transport authorities could support the blind is identifying particular stops where blind persons catch buses regularly  - mostly near institutes, shared houses or workshops for the blind. These could be compulsory stops for bus drivers at all relevant times. This is consistent delay, even if only 30 seconds, that can be factored into timetables, so does not have the needless stop interruptive effect.

Lastly back to the good old driver. I think he or she can read all that. If a bus driver can tell by the nearest nod of a head or even the tensing of a body that it is highly likely the person  50 metres away -  is going to catch a bus, I am sure a blind person standing in the right location holding a cane - better still with a flasher indicating - is going to be readable.

These are just a few options; a couple more below.  To say that Metro has resolved the situation is just nonsense. It needs far more investment of time, energy and funding than a few fluffy words

And God forbid that those who never catch or drive bus impose their naive policies that will send Christchurch public transport reeling backwards into a a situation of e anything goes and and culture of not bothering to clearly signal buses - long run that won't help the blind or regular passengers.

Further Reading -  from Melbourne 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Giving Urban Buses the Technology They Need

"I have come to realise many of the best bus route options can not be built with current technology and town planning principles." 

Bus routes often need to follow arterial routes and can often only access or cross these routes at major intersections with traffic lights and congestion. David Welch argues that many other routes could better by-pass congestion and serve a larger population base more effectively if buses could enter or cross arterial roads by a system requiring a minimal pause in the arterial flow, with this access limited to buses. 

The following idea has been sent to the Minister of Transport, Julie Genter who in theory, anyway, should be keen on giving public transport the green light!

REHASH - This item first published 9/6/2012

I spend a lot of my life working out possible bus routes.  It is a rather odd habit seeing as I am not a bus planner. Indeed I not even a very logical thinker, which can add considerably to the task. But, as they say, we take for granted the talents God gives us and instead spend our lives doing what we are less capable of doing - the challenge of mastering the impossible. Irresistible!

Planning bus routes is a compelling and frustrating hobby for me. How do you get a service that can only go in two directions (ie linear movement) and only go so many times an hour to meet the huge range of needs of potential users spread across a non-linear location. And join up all the key generators (facilities which attract a lot of people coming and going) and work and study zones, in a pattern with relevant arrival and departure times at all of these, and allow for changes across the time of day or week, and yet offer as simple as possible a schedule, consistent enough to be easily remembered. To this must be added problems associated with congestion; or resistance to bus lanes along commercial and retail corridors; and not "over bombing" a quiet residential street with too many buses per hour; and avoiding unless there is a very good reason not to, "one dead side" roads (routes alongside open land or large parks, golf courses etc); and interacting with other routes so people can transfer if needed with worrying about either too long a wait or too short a transfer time, or having to cross large areas of busy road goes on and on. 

Planning bus routes, even as a hobby or matter of interest is no easy task - of this I am very aware even if the frustration of waiting for poorly timed and inconsiderately scheduled buses often makes me hyper critical of others planning.

But one result of hours of dalliance with maps of Christchurch covered in felt pen lines (I'm sure that at least 10% of all Metro maps printed end up in boxes in my home!!) is that I have come to realise many of the best bus route options can not be built with current technology and town planning principles. 

All over Christchurch (and I imagine most other CANZUS* cities) are a large residential areas surrounded by typical longer straight(ish) busy corridor roads, often with a limited number of "easy" access points. 

In other words to funnel traffic, so it doesn't encroach too much on all residential areas, only certain entrance and exit roads typically have traffic controls or signals. Trying to use other exit points, especially if turning right (left in USA etc) across two lanes of busy traffic is hopelessly slow and stressful, and that indeed is the intention of planners. The aim is to discouraging traffic from using this route, especially at peak hours, to create less interruption to the corridor traffic.

Fair enough. But it does create problems for bus routes through those areas, because they too often have to share the same corridor roads and the same congested access points which have the necessary Stop, Give Way or traffic signal support. 

Building bus priority, exclusive lights and lanes is one possibility but this often takes a lane away from motorists, slowing their journey or, as many "access points" are suburban shopping centres, lanes are in direct conflict with the immediate parking in front of shops associated with small service retail blocks. 

I have come to believe where planners do not want to erect a full traffic signal system, likely to encourage too much conventional traffic including trucks through the area (especially in peak hours where they may be trying to avoid queues at nearby traffic signals) an alternative option is to create a "bus only can go right " traffic management structure. This is particularly relevant to "T" intersections, a side road entering a busy main road. Here is an example below -

This is all very well in principle but how to stop traffic on the main road?  

My theory is just as trains have a distinctive signal with red and silver stripes and red flashing lights so too should buses, but not being quite such a danger to life and limb these could be a bit more low key and tailor made for the bus situation. I reiterate the opening picture; 

One; a distinctive striped pole (larger than the norm in circumference and height) that can be seen from some distance and in particular fairly easily by vehicles approaching further back in a queue.

Pole probably to be stripes of dark colour, possibly dark green or green and yellow - whatever, a colour code that is designed to be always identified with bus infrastructure. Possibly they could have inbuilt static lights, just a little bright green or similar light, always on inserted in the post itself above vandal level.

Two; a permanent Give Way triangle with underneath a permanent, always readable sign such as;  [triangle] To Exiting Buses  and a dot and dash line across the lane, a stopping point if necessary but not so definitive as to confuse motorists when lights are not operative.

Three; Electrical illumination (triggered by the bus first entering the bus gate) of the words Give Way, and above that two powerful yellow lights that flash up and down in an urgent "tik-tak, tik tak" fashion, the light appearing to jump back and forward between them ..and impossible not to see. 

To me this a tremendous win-win-win concept. 

Firstly it makes possible a much simpler and more effective uses of buses, being able to spread services across suburbs but not so tied to having to come back to a particular access/egress point, which often "corrupts" the most effective route option. Spread across a city hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars per year extra in operating costs (fuel, labour, lost time, reduced patronage) can be the result, of less than optimum route pattern tied to running via to the only accessible point to cross over or join a busy corridor. The proposed technology allows buses easy access in and out of areas and feeder roads, usually a central stem of a large residential area

Secondly; it reduces the number of situations where public authorities have no choice but to bus lane a very busy intersection, which unless extra land and property frontages can be purchased typically means competing with motorists, taking lanes previously used by private vehicles and lengthening the queues on lanes remaining to these motorists, this in turn creating political backlash.

Thirdly it barely interrupts traffic flow - if the signs are distinctive and can be seen above other vehicles, I would imagine very rapidly a protocol would develop that as soon as the lights started flashing, even if traffic is moving relatively fast, cars would slow sufficiently (without actually needing to stop or at least not need stop more than momentarily ) for the bus to take the 5-6 seconds or whatever needed to turn right and enter the traffic flow, as simple and painless as that. Because the flashing lights are visible back 750 metres or more, following traffic will typically adjust its speed to allow for the brief hiatus ahead. 

Let us remember even on a busy road intersected by a ten minute service or two or three routes using the same exit gate it is unlikely traffic will be held up for more than a minute or two in total in any hour - but what a huge difference to buses. 

Fourthly the same technology can operate even when there is no conventional road. Often there are route patterns and locations where purchase of two or three properties and conversion to a pleasant little park with hedges offering privacy, cycle and pedestrian lanes, and a smooth surface us lane, would greatly enhance speed of access tofro some areas, a "cut through" that bypasses a nearby congested area, particularly for express buses. 

The biggest problem here is often re-entering busy traffic lanes  - again our distinctive quasi rail like signals come into play. Ti Tak, Tik tak

Fifthly - despite the large striped poles this system is relatively unobtrusive (buses don't even need to spend much time idling at the intersection to the annoyance of nearby residents or premises) and barely effects motorists and yet, it hugely increases the status of buses as a public transport system comparable to rail and a system to be taken seriously, an image that seems likely to attract greater patronage. 

If NZ Transport Agency was to fund a trial of this concept at several locations they could discover all the pitfalls and precise distances and signal times and other requirements needed to make this concept truly effective. My presumption it is that it will only be truly effective and safe on longer straight roads, so that traffic queues in both directions for 500 metres backj can see the distinctive tic-tac flashing light and naturally start slowing. Because slowing avoids stopping - the time needed buses for exiting is so short - that only the first few cars will need to stop, or almost so.

This could add millions of dollars in saved kilometres, better, closer and faster public transport access to all city residents, with more passengers attracted, and better adherence to timetables, this in turn allowing more effective transfer networks etc for bus services through out New Zealand. 

The protocols and rules could be embedded in the national Road Code, they are not that different than for approaching roadworks with yellow flashing lights, or negotiating a conventional Give Way road control. Emergency services protocols or technology [flashing lights switch to red/sign switches to Stop?] could also be incorporated 

 All for a relatively cheap set of infrastructure.

* CANZUS = Canada; Australia;New Zealand; USA