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.