Official free image
The small Canadian city of Gatineau - across the river from Ottawa but with a separate administration and public transport system is only weeks away from opening a 17km long segregated busway, built utilising the land of a disused railway line.
Gatineau has an impressive record in transit - among the first cities to introduce bus lanes 43 years ago - and punches way above its weight on various stats - see article below (an edited version of a posting made on this blog in 2010). Most recently it bus system, STO, has been trialing wi-fi on 3 buses.
For a You Tube promo about the Gartineau busway, Rapibus, click here
[ Reprinted from NZ in Tranzit May 2010 , edited]
According to The Ottawa Citizen [May 1, 2010] Gatineau's transit company has bought the rail line between the Prince of Wales rail bridge and Montée Paiement to build a busway. The article goes onto say .... "but its plans should hearten Ottawa transit advocates who still hope to see commuter trains cross the Ottawa River.Spokeswoman Céline Gauthier said the Société de transport de l'Outaouais [STO] will pay Chemins de fer Québec-Gatineau Inc. $2.5 million for the 15-kilometre disused rail line. The STO plans to remove the track on land to complete a 12-station $233.5-million bus transitway by fall 2011. But Gauthier said the STO will rebuild the rail line next to the Gatineau busway when the road is completed, in case the line is needed in the future. The STO will own the line through the Société de transport ferroviaire de Gatineau (Gatineau Railway Company)."
Gatineau is one of the cities our Mayoral team - or rather qualified transport planners - would have been wise to have visited. It is much closer to Christchurch in size (actually smaller in size) but doing public transport very successfully by Canadian standards. Canadian transit anyway carries approximately twice as many passengers per head of capita than the USA.
Urban growth associated with Ottawa, the national capital of Canada, created much new housing across the Ottawa River in the second half of the 20th century, with much of the development spreading away from the traditional centre of this area, the small city of Hull. On January 1, 1975, the municipalities of Gatineau, Pointe-Gatineau, Touraine, Templeton and Templeton-Ouest and Templeton-Est were merged to form the City of Gatineau in an effort to improve municipal services and coordinate urban growth. Gatineau is now a city of over quarter of a million residents, with most of the housing appearing - from satellite image at Google earth - to be similar in nature and density to Christchurch's suburbs, single unit, in "caulflower" street pattern curving road subdivisions. City of Ottawa statistics show  that 43,000 people head to Ottawa from Gatineau each morning, while 17,000 travel in the opposite direction. I have been unable to ascertain how many of these use public transport.
Ridership on public transportation for the area, which had been provided by the private sector, had gradually decreased from 11 million in 1956 to a tiny 2.5 million passenger trips per year in 1971. The story of the rebuilding of public transport systems in Gatineau is impressive. The first bus lanes were introduced in 1971 forty years ahead of Christchurch and with many other innovations since, its ridership has consistently grown. The public transit system in Gatineau is possibly the most successful of any of the, public transport systems in CANZUS**. The STO bus network of Gatineau today serves 262,000 residents - only two thirds of greater Christchurch's population size and carries (figures updated - 2012) 20.2 million passengers per year.
Peak hour patronage at 14.5% of all commuter journeys by any method (2006 figures) exceed those of any city in the USA except New York and are ahead of Vancouver (about 8 times the size).
This proportion of all peak hour journeys is also ahead of those in Calgary and Edmonton, cities which have made substantial investment in light rail. An additional interesting factor is the proportion of peak hour commuters using transit in the greater Ottawa area rises dramatically amongst the younger age group which does not suggest buses are seen as uncool or an outdated mode.
There are of course some added situation specific factors involved in Gatineau's success, as there usually are in most situations. This crafting to the situation makes blanket calls such as "we need rail" sound rather foolish to anyone with any with the slightest understanding of public transport which must be finely tuned in every aspect, to every specific situation, to deliver (a) quality service to consumers (b) cost-effective use of resources, (including in my opinion realistic amortized costs of infrastructure across 25 years).
It is never easy to do public transport well in a car addicted society and Gatineau has several obvious advantages. For a start it is very near a capital city - always a great generator of white collar commuters, along with tertiary students probably proportionately the largest single user group of public transport in CANZUS cities; it's connection to Ottawa has bottlenecks around a relatively small number of Bridges (the Ottawa River is deep and wide and expensive to bridge); the Canadian Government has deliberately decentralised growth by building several major Government department high rise office blocks in Gatineau giving two way peak flow traffic.
Yet all said and done, STO is a separate bus system, from Ottawas and cross river traffic of passengers is carried by routes from both bus services, clearly most trips are internal, within Gatineau.
By comparison Christchurch kudos are gained from a good spread of routes, and service frequency [a bit munted now !!] , extent of operating hours, real time and smart card technology, and operating a clean modern bus fleet. Unfortunately it also blinds everyone to the fact that Christchurch is doing "mass transit" very badly!! [and this was true well before the earthquakes] . By this I mean really tackling peak hour commuter travel, which appears to be about 70% of public transport patronage in many comparable systems.
Christchurch as city must look to what is real and effective and plan for the future irrespective of the current (creepy) Government. Governments come and go, Christchurch must hold to the long vision. Even on reduced budget a vision can hold the line. Studying Gatineau seems a good start!
Potential Busway corridor in Christchurch ignored
**CANZUS - the nearest demographic match to Christchurch smaller cities of Canada, Australia, NZ and the USA. There are 120 cities between 200,000 and 500,000 in these four countries, though the 19 in CANZ - not including the USA - are probably the best match to NZ except in funding levels, Canada and Australia being much richer countries on per capita GDP and with more progressive policies.