Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Addiction to "one size suits all" - is it too expensive for Christchurch buses?

A specific function service operating in Sydney - one of 200 routes in that city.  Photo per Wikimedia Commons

Metro is making some very big shifts in strategic direction and this blogster's instinct is they are moving too fast and destroying what has been, almost in panic mode; not hallmarks of good planning.

Public transport planning has many tricks up its sleeve but Metro are betting the house almost entirely on the call of one hand of cards - and without too many obvious aces in that hand.. Again never a wise policy with complex infrastructure changes.

NZ in Tranzit questions how much analysis has been made of structural concepts that underpin Metro planning of the last decade, and continue to effect the new proposals.

Simply Does it.  Or does it?

I have long admired the relative simplicity of Metro's route structure. In this strategy,  followed for over a decade at least, every route is the same route, doesn't matter whether peak hour Thursday at 5.15pm or 8.30 am Sunday morning. It goes the same way every time.

Compare for instance the intense complexity of Auckland's bus route structure.

Phew!! Simplicity. I have always though it a good policy for a small city - particularly if we can afford it.  But it is relatively unusual.

Environment Canterbury has about 40 bus route and one ferry route in greater Christchurch and Timaru ; Wellington Regional Council serving an area with only a slightly larger population has about 90 bus, rail, ferry and cable car routes in total; Melbourne has 200 routes;  Sydney has 300 bus routes the Golden Arrow bus operation in Capetown (population the size of Auckland) has 900 bus routes !  

Almost every other city in the world has a hierarchy of services and operates a range of special routes or services supplementary to their main all purpose routes.

The principle divisions appear to be  routes from the city through the suburbs that run six or seven days a week all operating hours; circular and branded cross town services; and specific shuttles, links, feeder buses to stations (bus or rail); routes that run only or mostly in the peak hours - usually direct links to industrial and office park areas (or sometimes to Universities, in term time only), mostly only five days a week. In this latter category are regional express buses or commuter trains and special worker buses to high employment zones, and buses that bypass congested areas, there main purpose being just to shift people efficiently from one hub point/transfer station to another. In the evenings some bigger cities evening special services or after midnight buses (as Redbus did for some years in Christchurch) or to big sports and entertainment events. 

It takes a big city to run too many of these because bitzer services typically need a large population to provide sufficient patrons to warrant such links. And regardless of all the variations larger more frequent routes and routes with branded services, such as The Orbiter or The Metrostar in Christchurch  will always be the big carriers.  

But it seems to me takes a very rich city to run virtually NO supplementary routes at all, as has been the case in Christchurch for the last decade!

As I said, I have previously thought it the super simple, one route fits all occasions to be a  good strategy for for a small city. But there is genuine problem of over-bussing on some corridors and creating under-filled buses, and generating public backlash and then a contempt for the effectiveness of buses which undermines funding at a political level too. Christchurch has (had prior to quakes) a good bus system around the clock so to speak but attracted only a very dismal portion of "peak hour commuters using public transport"  (less than half that of similar size/similar demographic footprint stand alone cities such as Canberra, Victoria and Halifax in Canada, and only quarter Wellington's commuter share*). 

It certainly makes me wonder if that "one size suits all only "policy has been taken far too far.

The effect is to run buses through dead areas or to and from places of low demand in the weekends and evenings (and the operating costs do not get less just because there is less traffic or passengers) OR even worse NOT have adequate commuter routes and links through industrial areas OR to be running through route bus services that do not warrant the frequency of service at both ends of the route OR have buses running through open country and low density areas because they offer a faster connection between locations in peak hours that is not even relevant the other two thirds of operating time.

Public transport usage is going to be fairly closely linked to population density and to factors such as the greater number of car-less people typically living or staying (as tourists, overseas students or visitors) closer to the heart of a city and the much larger amount of movement in these areas in evenings. 

If the same service regularity applies from city to outermost suburb, the inner areas risked being underbussed (or not having higher frequency services tailored to their needs and a frequency level that will attract sufficient  patronage) and the outer areas being overbussed (at least in terms of cost effective use of funds).

Overbussed or underbussed - the end result is blunderbussed! 

Instead or well targeted strategy to meet the needs of a range of situations or population sectors we end up with a shotgun scatter approach, that it is hoped might meet the needs of at least some potential passengers.

Why for instance is Metro proposing to drag the "120 Burnside-Barrington" route down from Westfield, through parts of Addington, industrial Sydenham etc  completely by-passing direct access to city for an enormous swathe of Bryndwr and Burnside residents in the North-west and by passing the central city access for a lesser portion of Addington, Selwyn shops (ex shops) area and Spreydon and Barrington area in the South.

This to me seems a really twisted, the one size suits all policy now being extended  (distorted) to shifting buses away from the city. One size suits all but the suit fits no one properly! It confuses different roles, mall access; city centre access, new L3 (higher density) area services; and peak hour industrial/office park services AND doesn't do any of them justice!

Much realistic would be to create a bus route I have already nick named in my head the "The SoMo Rider" - a peak hour industrial/office park/retail staff  (mainly) service from Woolston roundabout that runs via Rutherford St, Garlands Road and Opawa Road, linking with No 3 Sumner-Riccarton; Lyttelton and Orbiter routes; then running via Shakespeare Road and Wordsworth Street to central Sydenham continuing perhaps via Orbell Street and Disraeli Street and Harman Street to Lincoln Road then up Whiteleigh Avenue and Clarence Street to the bus mall (yeah right) on Maxwell Street at the back of Westfield. This traverses these key industrial areas in a manner that links to work start hours at the key zones up 6am to 10am then resumes again at 12 pm (to cover lunch movements and part time workers - 23% of our working population) and goes through to 6pm. Comparatively speaking it does the job needed - connecting to multiple services along the way - and its cheap. Two or three bus drivers on broken shifts, Monday to Friday, meal break time not needing cover, none of this expensive nonsense of running with one passenger to 9pm at night,  or all through the day on Sundays etc.

There may be need for services to higher density residential areas  in some areas, on or near parts of this route,  but tasks are not confused. This is a dedicated worker service designed to be cost effective. Far from being cheaper the same service all hours is (a) wasting money off peak (b) as with the proposed 20 route to only the west side of Sydenham, not covering enough territory or enough transfer points to other routes, to be effective. And if it doesn't work it is easy to withdraw without effecting the whole route structure.

No other city of comparable population and demographics to Christchurch has such a poor record of attracting peak hour commuters and this record looks likely to get much worse, if journeys are made more difficult.

Why Metro is making such drastic cuts in service frequency and cutting direct access to the city completely for such large areas, and yet not running the sorts of effective and low cost additional link services that other cities do? 

This is a question that should be asked

NZ in Tranzit believes if savings have to be made;

Main trunk routes (including the Metrostar and The Comet) should have a 15/30 minute frequency in the core trunk, and two outer area arms running at half this frequency 30/60, these absorbing much of the role of lesser used routes in outer areas. 

(a) to reduce over-bussing in corridors like Riccarton Road 
(b) to avoid the necessity for transfers 
(c) to create a knowable high frequency core service to a hub in the general area for kiss and ride or "second best" (longer walk) options 
(d) to increase the options for transfers when two high frequency routes interact (in an integrated scheduling) 8 possible direct routes across the city become available.

Frequent service routes should be made to work harder - if we as a city are a bit poorer some routes may need to cover a bit more ground, straight running but be bit more embracing, to bring frequent services within access to a wider catchment of the city and void the need for existing secondary routes. Sample The Orbiter added loop via Wairakei Road and Farrington Avenue and then Harewood  Rd to incorporate Bishopdale and its interactive transfer stop with The Comet and other routed or shuttle services to the airport employment zone.

Frequent services should interact with other frequent services, and not necessarily just at congested mall zones.  In the Northwest for instance useful secondary transfer hubs could operate from Avonhead Mall and Bishopdale Mall, mediating services across the whole north-west, airport and associated airport zones, and these hubs themselves linked to larger hubs Ilam and Westfield; and Northlands. The primary transfer structure should be based around the interaction of services operating every 15 minutes or less, at very least in peak hours.

Possibilities of transfer should be manifold but mainly as options not necessities. Noted - when two higher frequency services with split ends cross, 8 possible direct routes intersect! In particular specialised short high, frequency in peak hours,  spurs  linked to The Orbiter should be considered.

Long winding routes traversing multiple intersections and congested areas, and operating only hourly, should not be viewed as suitable to carry major transfer functions, particularly for peak hour worker/student arrival time linked passenger traffic. Any service on these would be better at 30 minute frequency within a short time band 9am - 1 pm for example aimed at Granny Shoppers and young mothers, Mon-Sat.

The bulk of cross town traffic from these areas should be met by The Orbiter; The Metrostar and extending The Comet route northwards (from Bishopdale via Highstead Road and Northcote Road) and eastwards (via Papanui Road and Innes Road...ideally via Mays Rd and Rutland St if traffic controls were possible - across to Briggs Road and Marshlands Rd and The Palms. This is also part of a general strategy to get direct (one bus) links from all the major mall hubs to the airport, for both travellers and workers.

As well as the general existing criteria of a bus service within 500 metres of 95%  residents, a more specific criteria of direct access to the city centre should be obtainable within, say, 600 metres, to 95% of all residents between 7 am and 7pm at night six days a week and Sundays from 9am -7pm

The coming influx of 40,000 workers and their families, many immigrants from countries with long histories of higher public transport use, and the failure of oil production to rise above its five year plateau in production suggest very soon public transport usage -including  those travelling to a vigorously rebuilding and restarting central city - is likely to rocket.

 Government must be approached for financial and technical assistance to avoid the implosion of the current bus system into a set of shambolic fractured journeys relying on a high level of transfer efficiency quite impossible without more frequent services and major added investment in supportive infrastructure

This approach also reflects the gross and distorted under-funding of public transport in comparison to Auckland and Wellington over the last decade.

Roading controls that allow buses access to otherwise difficult intersections are of particular importance, as without these all routes are always forced to operate through congested chokepoints. These latter intersections will be very expensive to bus lane, if possible at all, and likely to narrow car lanes adding to congestion,  whilst buses anyway forced to use these intersections are often missing opportunity to service the main body of larger residential pockets.

The ridiculously slow pace of bus laning should be moved up, with an accent of laning of certain hotspots first - notably Lincoln Road at Addington and Barrington Street -Whiteleigh Avenue;and the northbound lane heading into the bus stops at Northlands, and probably access points to the Main North Road at Northcote Road and Blighs Road, and at Aldwins Road approaching Eastgate.

Service departure times should be dropped from "The Orbiter" 3pm - to 6pm and replaced with the simple message "services depart every ten minutes" with on the ground timekeepers ensuring buses don't bunch up and create 20 or 30 minute delays, completely undermining many transfer options. (En route staff room and driver change-over point needed)

[Slightly re-edited February 2018]

1 comment:

  1. What do you think of the proposal for Wairakei Road to split the number 9 route into two routes 109 and 17 with both sections going to Papanui?

    I can see the merit of giving easy access to Papanui without the need to change buses, but the trade off is the outer part of Wairakei Rd loses direct access to the city. But then is that really where most people want to travel now?