Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bus ridership going up and up - double deckers in Wellington and Auckland

photo ex NewstalkZB website coz there ain't many other good images available. thanks.

Increases in bus patronage on the Northern busway and in Wellington on some routes has led to the planned introduction of modern 80-seater double-decker buses. 

In Auckland New Zealand Bus Ltd has been trialling double decker buses on the northern busway since March this year, using an 86 seater tandem axle Scania built for operator Ritchies, in Malaysia.

Patronage on the Northern Express is over double that expected when the $284 million busway was opened (in its current length) in 2008. **

Now Wellington will also see these super modern double deckers on their streets. Early this year Mana Coach services, the largest bus service provider on the Kapiti Coast, trialled a bus with a frame bolted on the roof, to double deck specifications, to see whether shop roofs, over-head bridges or similar would be a hazard to operating double buses on some of their busier routes. Apart from a few untrimmed trees these proved no hazard and the company is now working out the exact specifications of the double deckers - which will also be operated by companion company Newlands Coachlines.

Brian Souter who owns Alexander Dennis Limited , the UK bus building company, has about a quarter share in these two Wellington bus companies (as well as owning Howick and Eastern Bus company in Auckland) so it is little surprise the basic model will be an ADL Enviro 500, as shown in this promo photo supplied to the DomPost ( love the Mana logo with its strong nod to Maori rafter patterns)

A quick dive into the Past

Back in 1905 (when I first started driving buses.....ha!! ...yeah, yeah, yeah grandad) Lawrence Birks, the former assistant tramway engineer of Sydney's tramway system hired to establish a tramway in Christchurch, advised the newly formed Christchurch Tramway Board against double decker electric trams - on his Sydney experiences, they were too slow to load. And that was in the days when they had conductors to sell the tickets or help the elderly etc aboard.

In the event only three motorised double decker trams were ever put in service in Christchurch and after a fatal accident in 1918 which was partly attributed to the double deck motor car's instability, they had the top (open) decks removed, though many of the older trailers had open upper decks. 

This loading time aspect is something I still wonder about 110 years later - given their longstanding prevalence and recent revival in London, and given the way double deckers are being used in many different places in the world nowadays. Do they only suit certain routes? I would hate to see Christchurch lose the wonderfully short dwell time that has been achieved since Christchurch Metrocards were introduced. There is a huge difference in the quality of bus travel when buses can swoop into a stop,  load half a dozen passengers in 20 seconds, and then on their way [at most stops]. The introduction of Christchurch's  MetroCard cut dwell time 70%.

In Christchurch it may be possible to see double deckers one day being used between Belfast and Princess Margaret on the Blueline, even Selwyn Star services to Rolleston, for example, but one suspects they would be a huge hassle, even slightly dangerous, to drive tofro Rangiora the gale force nor-west winds that are not uncommon in Canterbury. 

I was told by a driver I chatted to one day that too many low bridges and strong side winds and wind resistance has been a major factor in deterring Ritchies' InterCity from implementing further double deck coach services in the Te Wai Pounamu.  This was said a few years back when I travelled top-deck the whole way from Christchurch to Invercargill in one day on a Ritchies' InterCity Coach. Even a hardened bus spotter like myself, thought "this is going to be a tough call! Sitting on a bus (coach) for all day - hell, I probably won't be able to straighten my back by the time we get to the end". 

In fact it was quite the opposite, magnificent view, beautiful smooth airbag suspension and seats so comfortable that by the time I got to Invercargill I actually felt more refreshed, almost as if I'd had a massage. The only problem - as in many coaches - was the air conditioning was too damn cool, coats stayed on. It is surprising that AC buses and coaches don't have some sort of gauge linked to the dashboard.

Anyway  that's by the way.  I would imagine the earth quake damaged road surfaces on many Christchurch roads (including some arterial roads awaiting new sewers etc)  are far too full of uneven undulations, pot holes, sink holes etc to make for comfortable travel on a double deck bus, so if the city does get them (as previously considered) I suspect it may be a year or two away yet. Or should I allow ten years?

In the meantime our Christchurch's "newest double deck public transport vehicle" is also one of our oldest - - the beautifully restored No 26 tram - with its graceful top deck back in business -  at the Tramway Historical Society based at Ferrymead Park. Check out the before and after photos on this site. Amazing

** Indeed if I may be cynical, I note Northern Express ridership per annum has now overtaken patronage numbers on The Orbiter in Christchurch! This service was getting over 2 million passenger trips per year prior to the earthquakes - despite poorly integrated stops or few transfer friendly times (evenings, weekends) And despite a huge lack of significant infrastructure support from  National Government (which cut funding needed for the - already long overdue - Orbiter bus lanes in 2009!) 


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