Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Back to the future better for Christchurch Metro?

This blog posting's opening act! Split Enz at the Nambassa Festival in 1979  Montage thanks to Wikimedia Commons  

.............I believe that Metro will just have to bite the bullet and go back to strategies used in Christchurch in the past....I call it the "Split Enz" strategy

If Christchurch bus system is as broke as it is claimed  and transfers must replace direct services I  can see no value in the awkward and clumsy Metro strategies being pursued.

Transfers should add value (an extra option) not reduce value. Transfers should provide short cuts reducing travel time, not grossly increasing travel time and insecurity about missing connections. Transfers work best on the outermost legs of  longer stem route journeys, or serving specialised locations - such as, say,  Logistics Drive - near the Airport where passengers appreciate the extra service, recognising it would not be viable as an around the clock service.

In particular, I believe the transfer system proposed,  is totally unsuited to a city like Christchurch with relatively short journey times. Travel less than 5 minutes, from the Central Bus Exchange to Sydenham Park,  and  then all hills passengers have to clamber out of the bus and into another to get to Westmorland or even to Barrington.For f----s sake!!

Metro also seems determined to repeat the mistake of the original Bus Exchange planners, which even by their own projections of expected passenger growth would be too small in a matter of only a few years. And it was. If Metro did indeed get back to its previous 17 million passenger trips per year, or indeed the 30 million of Metro's fantastic dreams  then how on earth would such a clumsy system cope? With peak oil likely to move out of the fluctuation period into a more steady upward price increase soon, huge patronage increases could virtually happen over night.

There is no way that a system that is now so poor, that it is hacking hell out of multiple through routes to save money,  and a city council so hopelessly dragging the chain on bus infrastructure  is suddenly going to start building five or six quality transfer stations simultaneously !

If the Metro multiple transfer system was really expected to succeed, one would expect see 100-300 passengers coming off buses coming from Burnside,  waiting at this key transfer stop (for buses to the city)  between 7 am - 9am each each business day morning . Yeah right.

I believe that Metro will just have to bite the bullet and go back to strategies used in Christchurch in the past and still often used by other metropolitan bus systems, of  the more frequent main arterial routes splitting into two or more termini when they reach the less densely populated outer suburbs (for instance a 15 minute headway service to an outer hub point and then continuing in an alternating pattern as 30 minute service, to each route arm there after etc. Or 30 minute evening services to a hub and then offering only hourly links to the two outermost  terminii.

In Christchurch, historically,this pattern became overly complicated with the complex interactions of two northern trunk routes, Papanui Road and Cranford Street, and four shared terminii!  

Page from CTB driver's route map book c1984 - complicated even for those driving!

I wonder if this confusing complexity discredited this system perhaps more than it deserved. Simplicity sells.

Kept to one trunk with its own more or less unique single route corridor and no more than two terminii points at each end, and marketed clearly it seems a logical and cost-effective resource use for a radial city. 

By branching out as the area served  by buses grows wider,  coverage is expansive but the democracy of greater residential density and far more passenger traffic generators towards the centre and case for greater frequency at the core is acknowledged. It is a good system for a city whose budget no longer allows their transit authority to run endless part filled buses on overlapping routes simultaneously!  These routes can also be entwined with cross town routes or serve cross radial functions in their tail ends.

I call it the "Split Enz"  strategy (jeez that's a real kiwi spelling!)

An example that springs to mind is the current 21 Ilam-Mount Pleasant service. This route should work much harder and get a more frequent trunk route service frequency, in my mind. It ties together (or could do even more so) many key areas, transfer points, and facilities. As a 15 minute service it would tie North Linwood areas to city and Eastgate, and tie Eastern areas to new workplaces springing up in Ferrymead and Addington areas, and tie Ilam and Riccarton to the vast new swath of office parks around Lincoln Road. And not least tie all route side areas to the city centre, public hospital, Addington sports/shows area and the University. A big hitter, along with 5 and 3 routes, 21 would be the other muscle on the east-west traverse. 

With Split Enz at both Enz making it a far greater winner! 

I'd make this a 15 minute service, at least in peak hours but aiming to move to this frequency all day, and link it through Addington, the fastest growing and most congested new work, sports and events recreation area in Christchurch.  Travelling past the hospital 21 would go down Hagley Avenue (bus laned from Hagley High School to Harman Street) then up past Tower Junction to Westfield  (all of Whiteleigh Avenue to Blenheim Road bus laned) and then bring it along Maxfield Street at back of Riccarton Mall, even without facilities the only realistic area for an bus transfer station, and then back onto Riccarton Road to the University and Ilam Shops (the hub point where the route divides)  One trip goes past teacher's college as now, to Russley and then Avonhead Mall terminus; every other trip takes over the present 23 route role but loop over to Memorial Avenue past Burnside High etc also terminating at Avonhead Mall. 

Note the wide area serviced but also four potential transfer points in this area - the University, Ilam Shops; Avonhead Mall, Memorial Avenue - all places where routes interact in an aligned or easily accessible way 

Ideally all these services as well as The Comet and the Route 3 Avonhead [to Airport] service will all work in a synchronised pattern, but even when they don't or don't 100%, with four  choices of transfers/multiple access to city etc points, many cycling or car drop-off passengers can find the service that best suit - most precisely suits - their need for both time and route. It is all about creating options - that is what good public transport does! Note also the convenience of tendering these two routes (21 and 3) with their multiple terminii together to one contracting bus operator. Note the simplicity and the ease with which with buses can be swapped  from one route to the other, between passenger services, maximising savings, minimising dead time and building in driver swaps outside running times, driver meal and toilet opportunities.

A very rough and ready map with an exaggerated trunk line and its four branches - NZ in Tranzit believes reverting to older concepts of twin terminii will be far more fruitful than running the thinner outer arms, above, as completely separate services requiring transfers.

At the other end, eastern end of this trunk route end I see all services going to Ferrymead via a well aligned with other services transfer stop at Eastgate and then via Woolston Village (St John Street). All go to Ferrymead but only half of these go up Mount Pleasant; every other trip as a general rule travels through Heathcote and the gondola to Lyttelton (and, for heavens sake, the Diamond Harbour Ferry terminal!).

This to me there is a huge world of difference to the proposed transfers. Four different terminus points and end routes but no disconcerting, confusing and interruptive transfers. 

None of the discomfort of breaking the pleasant reverie, or the engrossing novel or morning newspaper, or IPad type game etc, which for many people is one of the great pleasures of bus travel, time in one's own inner space, uninterrupted.   The rule of thumb in overseas transit operations, I have read,  is every transfer needed will typically will lose about 20% of passengers, people who stop using a service  - hardly a recipe for growth if the same happens here. 

And hub points, such as those at Ferrymead and Ilam Shops that represent a drop off point for those whose spouse or parent etc have a car, "Oh damn we've missed the service from up on Mount Pleasant - I'll run you down to Ferrymead" . Because the core services are alternating to a simple memorable pattern, every body is wise to the options and familiar with the core trunk route. 

But wait there is more. During the middle of the day services may alternate in a consistent pattern, but early in the morning, at peak hours or evenings and weekends, flexibility exists. Perhaps one arm goes to an industrial area, this may be favoured on outbound trips in the morning, or inbound evening trips but then get minimal services after 7pm. Or extra trips are woven into to the pattern to address the special needs of one terminii, needs that are not relevant to the other terminus. 

For instance, the last inbound bus on Saturday night on Route 21 as suggested above, would logically leave Lyttelton rather than Mount Pleasant, carrying people from the theatres and bars, as they revive, and Gondola (right through to the motels and the University area). There is room to maintain a consistent pattern but also tailor added or specific variations to suit special needs of different terminii. 

I believe if there are to be cutbacks in the (arguably over-extended) Christchurch route network then frequent services will also have to work harder, maintain frequency but sometimes cover slightly larger routes to offer a greater catchment access. 

A frequent service is a fast service - people will tolerate an extra three or four minutes deviation - if it is relatively straight running - if the bus is running every 15 or 10 minutes, because waiting time [all time between services] which is often longer than travel time,  is so much less. 

I believe the strategy of frequent trunk hub-city-hub, with split enz route extensions at reduced  frequency to the trunk is vastly superior to the proposed "trunk and transfer" strategy suggested. It could even be applied to cross town routes such as "Metrostar' for example, approaching New Brighton by two different directions, "turn about", maybe after Avondale Bridge, or after QEII

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