Monday, July 16, 2012

Metro Misusing Useful Concept - Undermining Bus Status

Those who have put together the Draft Regional Public Transport Plan 2012 no doubt drove to the meeting and drove home. When they go to the supermarket they will drive there, on Saturday night when they go out for a meal, they will drive there. On Sunday they will not wait in the freezing cold rain because they have promised to visit their elderly mother. On Monday morning they will not need to catch three different buses, and be at a bus stop at 6.30 am just to guarantee(almost) being at work by 8.00 am.

Because no one, no one, who depended on public transport to get about would ever design such a diabolical recipe for delays, long waits, cumbersome journeys doubling back on routes already travelled, sitting in buses waiting for a connection, tedious twist and turn journeys, anxiety and missed connections, fear of oneself or one's teenage children being stranded for an hour at night in some other bullying teenagers "territory", fear of being late for work yet again and losing jobs or personal mana.

No. The people voting for this system will think "Yes there will be resistance at first, this a new concept we are introducing to Christchurch, it has worked well overseas, they will just have to get used to it." (aren't we clever innovators, visionaries!). Others will say "Too many buses were coming into the city centre. this is better use of them". It is a half truth - and as such helps fluff the issue  and confuse opposition. As so common  in public transport planning generalisations are usually of minimal value, so much is situation specific.

The basic concept being applied by Metro - and I don't know if this is willingly or with great personal dismay and misgivings by the actual planners and administrative staff who have to accept God's word from above - is used around the world and can be highly successful. Because one route can't do everything, routes essentially run to suburban hub points, where multiple other routes run off in different directions, including to other hubs.

In big cities where services run every five minutes, or in worse case off-peak scenarios, every 15 minutes it allows for very fast movement in every direction. There's almost no waiting and that is the important thing.

In other circumstances - where the amount of time saved is insignificant or it adds to journey time in a situation where there are other options it will not be popular. Transferring from one vehicle to another is cumbersome and most people avoid it - I remember reading a Melbourne transit administrator saying when they ran feeder buses to a commuter railway station, if that same feeder bus continued into town by another route, the transit authority had found many of the passengers didn't bother transferring but just continued into the city, even if took slightly longer. One of the great luxuries of bus travel is to snuggle down into one's inner space, in limbo from the normal call's upon one's time - transfers can also interrupt or destroy one of bussing's greatest attractions. Another piece of information I read years ago, but whose source I didn't file on the computer and I can't now find - one of the guideline manuals for public transit administrators from overseas - said as a rule of thumb any journey involving transfers (or changing to one involving transfers) typically will lose about 20% of patronage, people who find other ways to travel, use a car instead etc

These people who drive to meetings in cars to decide how others travel by bus should also be aware of what waiting time time is - for scheduling criteria this is determined as 50% of the period of time between services on any particular route. This concept assumes if you have 100 people who decide to make a journey within a time period, the preferred time of departure will average out across that that whole period. Of course at peak hours, where most  people are travelling to be somewhere on the hour or half hour we can assume that will have a couple of peaks, be less pronounced. Indeed every hour probably has a small degree of peaking for journeys arriving at major people hubs just before "the hour".

A bus service operating every 15 minutes has a seven and half minute waiting time. If you have a route that takes 25 minutes to traverse, then typical journey time will be 25 + 7 minutes + walking to and from the stop time. It makes it very hard to be competitive, but still you can get most places in Christchurch in an hour all added up, and still arrive at work ten minutes early, for a coffee if you are lucky. But the waiting time for a half hourly service lifts that to 25 + 15 [plus walking] = 40 minutes. Forget the coffee! - indeed arrival time at work may be too close to chance it, you could end up being five or ten minutes late any-time you struck an overly slow driver or traffic congestion caused a bus to miss several lights. In that case so you are forced to catch an earlier bus on this half hourly schedule and the waiting time for an hourly service is 25+30 [plus walking] taking bus journey time up into the realms between one hour and 10 minutes and  one and half hours. Or twice a day - in worst case scenario 3 hours a day.

This is bottom line stuff, how quality of services is measured; the Metro proposal is to have low quality services to large areas of Christchurch.

... and this is before adding any time that will be spent (or lost) waiting for a transfer bus.

Metro or the joint ECan-Councils committee has taken a concept from big cities overseas that works well for frequent and reliable services and is misusing this in a situation where many of the service will only be hourly - some even only hourly in peak hours. 

And Metro hubbing these services at  busy malls where there is neither sufficient roading, bus lanes and clear passage, shelter or facilities or cross road safety, or immediate facilities for toilets [because bus passengers needing to go just can't drive off to the nearest toilet, and this can be very hard on the elderly or younger children in particular].

When a system is used badly it gives that system a bad name, it gives buses a bad name. Bus based public transit systems are on a huge rise in usage and status and service quality all over the world because they are finally getting the investment and dedicated planning skills and segregated roading space so long denied them.
Although 80% of world public transport is by bus, very rarely do these systems get a fraction of the investment of rail and light rail, yet they are by far the most effective, flexible, and economic operation to operate.

What Metro (or a faceless planning committee) is doing is applying good technology in an inept and poorly understood way, likely to reduce patronage, grossly imposing upon the life quality and time space of bus users,  and likely to do enormous damage to the image and effectiveness of bus systems in Christchurch for decades.

1 comment:

  1. Recently Wellington finally reviewed it's bus service. Unfortunately the consultant they chose to lead the review is also a fan of interchanging to "improve" bus services. The original review proposal is well explained on Wellingtonista ( It was estimated that the number of passengers required to interchange would have to increase from 3% to 13% (and up to 30% in some areas). It also changed a number of routes currently supported by trolley buses.

    Luckily, the public reacted (prompted by a couple of concerned councillors) holding public meetings and sending in over 6,000 submissions (more than any other consultation by the GWRC). It now appears the major changes originally proposed have been quietly shelved going by the fact that the review report is no longer on the official web site (