Monday, May 28, 2012

Cranes in the sky

Ballet in the sky! It is hardly Shanghai but then again these cranes are not building (yet) they are helping to lower bits and pieces from multiple high-rises assessed unsafe as after the ferocious earthquake in Feb 2011

Christchurch - a city that is really pumping!

 A different sort of beauty to the previous post; pure muscle and pumping power, dozens of such vehicles, keep a significant our city portion of pumpin', whether water, waste water or sewage.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Christchurch - Still Beautiful in so many ways!

 Elmwood Park In Heaton Street on the Metrostar bus route

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Creating core service patterns for Christchurch bus services

Whiteleigh Ave. near Tower Junction. In a local authority supported bus system where the two cars in the foreground are turning would become a permanent bus only/bus queue jumper lane (the traffic island reduced accordingly) with an inside cycle lane. The footpath would be moved three metres sideways and a new left turning lane for cars would be cut into the over generous grass berm. Bus passengers here are waiting - as hundreds of thousands on this route do each year - for a Council committed to bus services!

But should the Metro seek to create a fully integrated system first and then look for the blockages Council so needs to address?  NZ in Tranzit gets right to the core of 21st century public transport !

I believe Metro and company are doing a revamp of city bus services.

Actually from what I gather they are downsizing services due to reduced income [consequence of the earthquake] and to a Government committed to "cost efficiency" in public and school transport [except for their rural voters!].

There is quite a lot of slack in the Metro system, potential to tighten things up, reduce mileage or even routes.

Changes in the last few years have been a mixed bag, with some attractive additions but also rather odd, lengthy routes running services through areas of minimal or no virtually residents - such as 60 Parklands, a 15 minute frequency service operating over 3 km of paddocks! I can't imagine the new system can tolerate too much of this sort of nonsense, but it is a big worry for those of us who depend upon or chose to use buses as our primary form of transport.

Most of all I worry the changes will be planned on a route by route basis, as now with only casual or indifferent commitment to creating a system wide network - one that is so sophisticated it is twice as simple as the current bus system is to use!

I absolutely believe (and experience every day in use) that it is not possible to plan quality bus services in isolation from each other. 

Yet Christchurch with its technologically advanced bus system and flat radial layout has more perhaps than just about any city on this planet has the potential to shift from a system part-integrated/part conflicting linear route patterns and overly radial orientated into fully integrated "go anywhere'core services.

I believe the city needs to operate a core level of service - same pattern every hour with buses alternating (shared route corridors with services evenly spaced) and criss-crossing with other routes in ways that facilitate transfers and increase travel direction options. Also inherent in such a system, options for getting to the same destination by different ways, inherently reducing waiting time, increasing frequency, mobility and journey speed. This does not effect any other, additional services, that may or may not operate, for example leaving High Schools after 3pm, but term times only, or seasonal extra November-March buses to beaches etc, except perhaps these are shown in timetables with a "bus plus" sign eg 3.10+ to indicate they are additional/conditions apply - not core, don't apply every hour, nor usually at all times.

I call this system which can be marketed as a packaged concept NICERide [the NICE stands for Network Integrated and Co-ordination Enhancement... but this said  it is not relevant for people to know or remember this!]. I suggest several core facets needed to operate a consistent core pattern concept, mostly drawn from my own experience as a bus driver and bus user spanning decades.

Core patterns start at 9 am each day. Never earlier. Peak hour services are orientated towards arriving at work places and the central city before 7.30 am, 8.00 a,m, 8.30 am etc (which is why buses come in waves) and are also far more frequent; trying to create a system wide integration at these times really would be a nightmare, though some areas of integration might be achieved. Before 9am most travellers are regular commuters and typically will identify specific transfers they need to make. Plenty of specific options but no system wide simplified pattern, - NICERide starts at 9am, every day.

And in contrast on Saturday and Sunday only some routes need to start at 6 am - usually linked to industrial purposes. Before 9am weekend services vary too  much. In all likelihood some services will operate to the same "minutes past the hour" every hour pattern they do during NICERide operating times, but a base-line is that the system as a whole - the network wide pattern known as NICERide  does not operate before 9am.

NICERide (or whatever name) I suggest could work with two core, system wide patterns, covering most hours of operation. For example;

Core Pattern A "Busy Day". 9am - 7pm Monday to Saturday;  
Core Pattern B "Eve & Sun" Monday to Saturday 7pm to 11pm  and Sunday 9 am - 9 pm.

This might vary from city to city but 7pm is a convenient time because there are usually always an excess of peak hour buses returning to the city centre, ensuring maintenance of a frequency pattern - possibly actually more than this time of the evening warrants, but simplicity sells.

During each of these patterns ALL included routes would operate to a pattern that was the same each hour with-in whatever pattern A or B applied. If you can catch a Metrostar from Clyde Road to Main South Road at 3.10 pm on a Thursday (and transfer to a Rolleston bound bus at 3.19 pm).  You  know you can do at this, at the same minutes past the hour every hour Monday to Saturday 9am - 7pm. You know you can supermarket shop comfortably - every hour Monday Saturday 9am -7pm - in the 45 minute gap between one  out-bound route and the next one that gets you closer to home. Or you know as long as you leave home at 17 minutes past the hour, and walk the five minutes to the stop, you will always get a bus to town, 6 days a week 9am until 7pm. You can plan your life around a consistent reliable bus service. And of course, not only does the bus past your door stick to the same minutes past each hour, it crosses three other routes in an equally predictable pattern, in most cases designed to allow transfers with adequate but not too long waiting time at key locations.

If you use buses a lot, as teenagers and students and some full time bus users do, in a matter of weeks you will know all sorts of "pathways" to get all sorts of places. Instead of a single route you will have a fistful of familiar pathways taking me in every direction. In fact a simple APP on a phone could connect dots for you until I remembered. A similar pattern  though less frequent would operate in evenings and weekends.

Sounds simple. And so it should be - for bus users.

In reality to make buses run on the same time every hour is actually very complex and involves dozens of behind the scene strategies and tricks. A primary one is getting away from this anal, 19th century railways concept of services within 3 minutes if time shown. I strongly believe (after over 20 years of full time bus use, in several lots) as long as the service is reliable "buses depart within 5 minutes of time shown (never before time shown)" is more than adequate, and allows for much more operating flexibility and information simplicity of departure times.

Bus priority is another key factor, buses can not run to consistent times (and "clean" transfers are difficult) in a city which consistently fails to adequately support bus services with appropriate infrastructure.
A new protocol of cutting in/cutting out of service is needed, allowing for instance a substitute Orbiter (flashing "Added service" for the first 5km on destination blinds), and for services running very late to show, for example, "Barrington only - Full Service Follows"  to be added or removed and get back on time - study and research of passenger patterns, would allow busy routes, key points of minimum passenger disruption to interpose adjustments to maintain service times. This also relies upon a centralised control and monitoring system. RealTime plasma signs can also deliver messages, including previously planned responses or offers of alternative suggestions for situations of delay. MetroCard pre-pay enclosed platform areas at Christchurch's transfer stations (ha ha ) and very busy stops with express buses that load at both doors, or assist buses (bus plus) running immediately ahead of core services on busy trips are amongst the many other devices.

All this said,  I say go for a CORE network system and worry about tidying up the transfers afterwards. This delivers benefits across most the day and most hours of service, constant study and fine tuning and scientific traffic planning, intelligent traffic lights and added full or part time bus lanes or bus only corridors, can be fed into support a pattern as needed.

On the surface a core pattern seems most inflexible and expensive, but I think this largely illusion. Most routes already run at at least 30 minute intervals and many at 15 minute intervals - why not invest a few thousand hours of planning to create a fully integrated pattern. It saves hours of subsequent piecemeal planning (a five yearly review apart) and can ensure minimum waste, maximum use of drivers hours and optimum benefit lunch breaks, toilet access; minimum driver changeover disruption. And trial services, specialised services - such as to industrial areas - and additional services (such as an added late bus Fridays and Saturdays) can all be (a) marketed as stand alone/not the standard pattern/in this case applying only at times specifically shown, listed as "bus plus" eg 3.45+    (b) threaded into the pattern to maximum use
(c) removed if unsuccessful without any impact on the guaranteed core pattern.

There is actually MORE flexibility to adjust services or spontaneously adjust services around a core safe and reliable structure. Even football match specials can be fed through key transfer points (and predictable interactive patterns) in a user friendly way.

In reality to get this whole project started would probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of research and planning time - and Metro marketing would need to learn how to really market bus services effectively.

In reality, our city led by a "visionary" Mayor prepared to waste hundreds of millions on a single line of (along the actual street for goodness sake!!) of light rail along the cities busiest road, is unlikely to to provide the "roll up our sleeves" and get organised leadership to implement something so sophisticated.

Indeed does anyone at all in our civic leadership or planning systems  recognise we have the geographic footprint, the modern bus system and most of the experience and modern technology to create the world's most advanced mosaic pattern, multi-direction fully integrated small city bus system. 

If we want to. 

Below one example (amongst many possible) of designing and marketing buses to run in an integrated manner. This one I designed  for a submission to Metro on proposed eastside route changes in 2003. Despite the extreme frequency, typical of an integrated system, based on 12 years experience as a bus driver I calculated it would need to increase services/kilometres/drivers employed  etc by less than 10% over and above the then system, but virtually double access from most areas to most key locations. 

SB= SeaBird - name I suggested for a cross town service, filling more or less the same role as  Metrostar was to subsequently fill). Code of three letters, first letter is the pathway to from this area towards city or university;  P= via The Palms; E= via Eastgate; D = via Dallington Bridge;  second letter is primary destination either  X - Bus Exchange or  U - Canterbury University; third letter is terminus point in city (as applied then) h = Public Hospital; p= Polytech (now more commonly called CPIT). 

 Each of these times and the return journey (as would appear on the reverse side of " maptable")  as well as reduced version for  the evening and Sunday timetables, could of course be reduced to location specific Metrocard size timetable s or (9 years later!)  a cell phone APP. 

The pattern here is based on a 20 minute headway which only really works effectively in (a) a fully integrated system (b) when not operating with other services on a 15/30 minute headway pattern. 

I suspect it was a little lost on Metro planners who sole contributions to "improving" Eastside routes was to cut out the 41 Route completely and shift the last leg of another route one block. (after I stirred a bit in the newspaper about the farce of calling these changes improvements, Bryan Jenkins, then ECan CEO announced they were implementing the Metrostar, route 6 months in advance of the planned schedule -perhaps the only time in my many years of transit campaigning I may have had any significant impact on the rhinoceros hide of local body politics! ) .  

The day to day demands of Metro admin, and planning it appears continue to ensure all reform is piecemeal, and mostly "dis-integrated" and very much designed in the style of last century. Or worse.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Using our nodal in Opawa?

The house on the left here is for sale. About time.  I have mentally being buying it for about three or four years.

This area is a neck of roading between Opawa Road and the Brougham Expressway, the traffic lights of which are clearly visible. It has large islands of grass and full grown trees, which should not be lost.

Seen in its less sylvan guise, a smoggy morning, the photo below shows morning traffic. This is  looking in the same direction as above but this photo is taken from back about 100. metres. Note trucks crossing on expressway, a very busy road likely to get more so with the opening of the Souther Motorway extension.

Or here seen below, from another angle, with a not uncommon queueing - often the stalled tail back from vehicles waiting on Ensors Road to cross Brougham Street Expressway stretches back through the very middle of this roundabout on Opawa Road, next block back. It is also a very tight roundabout, not conducive to smooth flow.  All in all it seems to me not a good design.

My theory is that this bit of Ensors Road should be widened and the traffic lights at Brougham Street be linked to another set of traffic lights. These would be at the above intersection on Opawa Road, the signals replacing this awkward roundabout. If council bought this property it will greatly facilitate a better transport management strategy, in place for now and protecting mobility in a future city grown much denser and busier. 

Helping cars? 

Damn, you guessed it; I am not really interested in buying or living in this house myself; nor in making life easier for cars!! Its a sneaky bus spotter plot afoot here. Same old same old, bloody bus stuff. But I do love the win-win-win strategy of sneaking quality bus infrastructure with a lollipop to keep motorists and cyclists happy.


In the world of fantasy the City Council plans to build nine bus transfer stations. This sort of bullshit has been on the books for years now but no obvious effort was ever really made,  even in the years before the first big earthquake. 

The location of these bus transfer stations will probably be at major bus route junctions in most cases associated with malls. It will be a huge advance for the city for every transfer station immediately multiples the directions one can travel;  options for getting to the city (often also other locations) by more than one route from the same stop; ease of transferring between routes (with RealTime listings of next buses); speed and frequency of movements across the city. They also offer suburban gathering and departure points for special services, such as to schools, industrial links, or big event buses.  

I "read" transfer stations as more than five bus routes inter-acting, including at least one cross town service, and a direct link to the airport or external transport sources and one bus access from that point to the university. 

However this is still on a fairly primitive level of integrated bus routing. Imagine if you will, every motorist driving around the city was not permitted to cut directly across areas in the shortest most effective way but was always required to drive their car via one or more of ONLY nine hub points. 

And this junction of Ensors Road and Opawa Road above is a classic example. This is where services tofro Woolston, Heathcote, Lyttelton and (via ferry) Diamond Harbour and Church Bay  intersect with "The Orbiter" and potentially other future routes. 

I know that these routes intersect and exactly how  because I have switched from one route to the other on multiple occasions, day and night, and had all the dubious joys of transferring (and often not the only one) when stops are about 400 metres apart. Amongst these getting soaked (unnecessarily??) ...walking in quite deep snow ...or running for a Lyttelton bus half way down Opawa Road because incoming Orbiter was delayed; seeing a mostly empty evening bus see me but race past, lady arrogance (whose wages I pay) at the wheel; or in contrast other good natured Lyttelton drivers pulling over at a safe spot short of the actual stop; some Orbiter drivers, well used to people transferring for Lyttelton,  stopping at the roundabout itself and saying "jump off quick and watch for cyclists" [coming up the inside of a bus] - probably illegally but at least a mite more caring than the indifferent performance of council bureaucracy on passenger support.

Ensors/Opawa is a good connecting point, a switch point from east-west to north-south [very roughly]. The Orbiter offers a ten minute service along one axis [it is always valuable if service in at least one direction is frequent]and a straight forward journey to fro the settlements of the harbour basin and the Heathcote valley, and the rapidly growing Woolston/Hillsborough industrial area and revamped escalating upmarket Garlands Road recreational and commercial zone, or Sydenham and the city in the other. 

It is a good connecting point but a very poor connection, because people have to jump through hoops to make the switch. 

Lyttelton harbour basin residents or workers (from or to the Port), industrial areas near Woolston, alternative schools in St Martins, or Linwood workers for Sydenham etc etc will never have anything but a D grade bus access, if every bugger has to run 400 metres at the change point. 

Will the policy of nine transfer stations improve this? Nope!

Under the system of nine major transfer stations my guess is the nearest transfer stations would be at Barrington or Eastgate - both miles away from this point. What on earth would be gained by such a large deviation to make a transfer?  

What a waste of time, and all because someone couldn't be bothered joining up the dots properly. 

D-Graded bus services because Council in the Parker years failed so miserably to secure the minuscule amounts of land (in the larger picture) to crank Christchurch bus system into the 21st century, let opportunity after opportunity be built out, lost forever

We are largely stuck with little but the suburb-to-city-centre system, even though three quarters of the city's worker and student population don't even work or study at the centre - the classic outdated 20th century concept of all services to the centre rather than integrated mosaic route patterns

Instead why don't we use our nodal ?

I identify about 20 other "Nodal Points" around the city, these not being fully fledged bus transfer stations but important enough, that should be developed as lower services level "Transfer Nodes" (two to three route intersection, RealTime rolling screen list, platform, traffic management and safety features and a larger than normal waiting area).

If the house in the photo above was purchased by the Council (before a two storey block of flats forever entrenches the Ensors Road bottleneck!) widening the road only about five to ten metres in total, a bit from either side (but keeping those beautiful trees) would allow enhanced through passage for private motorists AND Bike lanes, ready to take the extra traffic likely as the extension of the Southern Motorway ensures peak hour congestive minimum movement on Brougham Expressway. Something for the motorists.  AND - most important - bus lanes with island separated bus platform stops, with a waisted pedestrian-safe crossing area.Ironically most of the same property above, purchased could be re-surveyed and on-sold for housing on a slightly smaller section or purposely developed by the council in a way that blocks out any significant effect from buses. So little land is needed to create a bus lane, yet the capacity is virtually infinite, in contrast to roads of cars and trucks (well about 7000 passengers an hour...far beyond any likely requirements of this corner before 2099!).

The current roundabout  island could be - indeed have queued there with my work vehicle many times at 4.30pm should be -  replaced by intelligent traffic lights. These would greatly assist smooth bus movements and ensure longer cars queues no longer block or gridlock Opawa Road traffic and clear the very busy Brougham Expressway intersection and adjoining railway crossing. 

If a bus transfer node was on this corner an Outbound Lyttelton [including services to Rapaki and Diamond Harbour ferry] buses would operate as now, with the current stop moved 200 metres south - built in as a short bus lane and stop on the Opawa Road frontage with traffic light priority when moving off; in other words little real change. However city-bound buses would swing right at the suggested traffic lights, into the Ensors Rd transfer node, bus bay. They would then  load or discharge at the transfer node move off (on widened road) and turn left at the lights into Brougham Street straight through towards Sydenham, the next bus stop at Wilsons Road (as current). Orbiter buses would traverse as now, albeit in separate bus only lanes.

With such a "node" in place a long needed "business day southern link, from Ferrymead via Garlands Road to this node point then across Sydenham (by-passing Central Station) via Wordworth Street, Disraeli Street, Addington, Tower Junction etc could then be fed (or feed off) The Orbiter and 28 Route at this point. 

This "transfer node" location is still a very attractive park-like area, despite modern traffic queues.  Even with bus islands and a larger stylish roof-over shelter, and curbed a traffic channel, there is no reason this needs to be changed, large green areas and trees retained on the south side and enhanced landscaping with sun exposure on the north side of the road corridor.  

One other thing, sometimes missed in bus infrastructure plans (as it was by me in the world's most comprehensive analysis of bus stops); choosing pleasant sites or making bus stops attractive, scenic, pleasant places to stand or sit and wait is also a very significant way of up grading bus services.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Key Government downgrades small city bus service funding

Saturday morning in Raglan - backpackers, younger teenagers and children, and elderly - the sort of comprehensive quality public transport social services in smaller centres likely to be shafted by the Key Government's public transport policies. Photo; NZ in Tranzit 2010

NZ Transport Agency has told regionally operated bus systems outside the main centres the Government funding contribution towards their social services will not increase for three years.

Needless to say with inflation and escalation in oil costs this represents not so much as a levelling out of funding as a significant cutback in Government support for smaller cities.

recent article in The Southland Times;   "Council's dream of better bus service kneecapped as funds cut" quotes the Invercargill City Council senior traffic management officer Eddie Cook as saying -

"The NZ Transport Agency's decision not to increase funding to the council meant if the number of bus routes was not reduced, then ratepayers would have to pay extra in the long term", he said.  

The de facto cuts have substantially reduced new Invercargill bus services planned, including an innovative plan to create several orbital routes. Currently services carry 370,000 passenger trips per year. 

Not mentioned  is that the Key Government move basically reduces the inherent value of a SuperGold Card for retired people in smaller centres, many any way cheated of adequate  transport for all the taxes they paid in their lifetime. 

In the same Southland Times article; "Acting chief executive [of NZTA] Stephen Town said it was being upfront with councils that there was no additional funding for new off-peak public transport services in smaller centres. The focus for public transport investment was congestion relief in large urban areas, where it was needed most to help grow the country's economy".

There is of course a very direct source of funding for bus services in our many smaller cities and country towns  - asking the 120,000 or so parents* of children catching country school buses to front up and pay their share of children's transport costs, just like every other parent**. 

No one expects a real cost per actual kilometre but it is clearly ludicrous that hundreds of thousands of city parents must pay to get their children to school, including many city suburbs without convenient high schools such as Halswell or North-East suburbs in Christchurch while country parents pay absolutely nothing.

There is no moral case for free transport for some kids and not others.

Currently country school buses cost the country around a massive $160 million a year to transport about 80,000 children*. To give some context this is three quarters of the $200 million taxpayer share of subsidising operating costs for ALL other public transport services across New Zealand.

This figure includes the taxpayer share of operating rail and buses in Auckland and Wellington and bus services in about fifteen other centres, in rough terms the Government quarter share of public transport income (the other income; the largest source, fares, nationally just under 50% and city or regional rates, usually about 25%).

A standard country school bus fare (regardless of distance), roughly equivalent to children's fares in main centres, say $2.50 per day, applied in the school bus runs would generate over $50 million per year. This is even allowing for added operation costs, such as computer chip cards (or dare I say it, far too sensible and easy to maintain,  a simple old fashion multi-trip concession "punch-hole" card which the child writes their name upon  and the school sells at small commission).

This frees up taxpayer money to upgrade public transport available for all, hundreds of thousands of rail and bus users nationwide, but especially improving the school bus services themselves and local and urban bus services in multiple smaller cities and larger provincial towns.

Studies have shown overall average income in rural areas is higher than cities (not counting de facto resource access such cheaper rents, land for gardens,chooks,home kill etc). Even more repulsive to most fair-minded New Zealanders is that the average dairy farmer is paying less tax than a couple on the pensionAnd unlike Australia  New Zealand  farmers pay no capital gains tax - de facto in most cases creating a huge untaxed superannuation retirement bonus to complement Government superannuation. What farmer would not invest in value adding technology etc, aiming  for added tax write offs and his or her run annual accounts as near to ostensible loss as possible in these circumstances? 

Sure, there are also some rural poor - but specific social welfare systems are in place to subsidise parenting costs for the extremely disadvantaged - it is not the role of bus systems to be a welfare agency!

Why are the two million or so people (all taxpayers, in one way or other) in New Zealand living outside the three main centres, and in most cases still living in urban centres, subsidising Auckland and Wellington public transport and country school buses for rural parents fo hugely?

Why is middle New Zealand (almost half the population)  getting so little by way of quality public transport services for their own centres while a tiny sector get this huge freebie?

And what cost benefits can accrue to their local commerce and tourism and ability to attract and hold residents if only token or no services at all operate? Drift to the cities leads eventually to loss of land value and downgrading of services.

Far from cutting funding to to city and town bus services, most notably at the expense of the mentally and physically disabled, the retired, those on benefits and parents or older children working part-time, the Government should be working to create a bottom line infrastructure to minimise transport poverty and reduce the humiliations of transport dependency on others in all centres - or connected urban settlements - with a population of over 5000. 

As suggested in previous NZ in Tranzit  blogs, funding should be adequate for an attractively branded  hourly service (and in centres over 10,000 population, half hourly service) in a circuit or "S" or "8" route embracing most of the town's and smaller city's residential areas and main commercial, educational, medical, recreation and tourist facilities in user friendly ways to different social sectors.  

Service operations need to be 7am - 6pm weekdays and Saturdays, sufficient to allow a range or work and socially related trips. Anything less is (a) unlikely to be attractive (b) to infrequent to lift above the transport poverty bottom-line (c) will not attract work and study attending commuters.

It is ludicrous to think services running erratic times, only every two hours or only middle of the day or not linked to schools, hospitals etc can be deemed effective transport - they are a mere tokenism, a piece of patronising crap, lacking adequate Government backing and professional support in design. 

It seems to NZ in Tranzit that the Key Government policy on public transport borders on the insulting and derisive and largely based on ignoring the huge damage rising fuel costs will do to those on lower and fixed incomes. 

It also ignores the important role a modern frequent and sophisticated bus system can play - even on a small scale - in upholding the quality of life and commercial, tourist and social vitality of smaller centres.

NZ in Tranzit says - Municipal authorities through-out New Zealand must not let the many recent improvements to public transport in smaller centres be eroded by a Government that sees easy pickings in bullying down a dispersed and largely voiceless electorate of thousands of public transport users and transit dependent persons. 

NZ needs a nationwide strategy to create or upgrade urban bus services in all towns over 5000, to meet consistent criteria in providing an effective, frequent and attractive mobility for all sectors. 

* Extremely ballpark figures!! - I am presuming here a percentage of children only have one present-parent or some families have more than one child catching a school bus.

** Property values, rates and rents typically go up, town or country in relationship to the degree of  proximity to schools and local service hubs - where kids can walk or ride bikes to school an inherent "child transport" cost is still being paid; those further a field in outlying areas faced reduced costs yet get totally subsidised school transport!

*** Extremely ballpark figures, possibly a bit out of date, the Department of Education suggests current School bus figures have [mysteriously] dropped a bit -  but relevant enough for readers to get the ghist