Sunday, November 16, 2014

Revamped bus system essentially a booby prize from Government

"As any form of rapid transit needs clear conduits - unimpeded flow across many kilometres - it inevitably involves identification of routes years in advance"

Environment Canterbury is about to launch a revamp of Christchurch buses.

Essentially it is a bus system designed by the Government not the two Councils in Christchurch.

Government policy has effectively dictated that public transport is low priority in Christchurch, that a conventional bus system is good enough for New Zealand's third (grade) city and, despite the ever growing congestion, that rapid transit (i.e on exclusive corridors)  is not even on the books. In fact bus services to some areas are being removed to comply with Government demands of meeting a farebox recovery of 50%.

This over-riding of the city's future needs has only been possible because the huge vacuum in effective leadership in public transport issues that Christchurch has suffered across the last decade.

Had we had a "Len Brown" type leadership and had we had  established game-plan for public transport in Christchurch it would not have been possible for such a simple takeover of public transport to take place in Christchurch.

It need hardly be said ECan itself is totally compromised and makes no public criticism of the Government.

Other cities around the world have sought significant ways to address congestion and pollution and quality journey times for transit users.  This is true for our "transit sister cities" - in Auckland, Wellington and all the Australia and Canadian cities of comparable size or bigger than Christchurch.

These cities have done this by planning, building or upgrading of rapid transit systems; variously commuter  rail, or light rail or busways, Christchurch's inept leadership has done nothing but introduce a few bus lanes (and then about a third of these came through Transit NZ!) that only work in peak hours and, most bizarrely,do not exist in the most congested areas.

The post quake rebuild central city bus lanes on Tuam and Manchester Street will speed buses in the central area but do not connect to any effective cross city conduits - it will still be a hugely long, tiresome and unnecessarily slow (slower each year) journey to Rolleston and Rangiora etc.

In Christchurch nothing but a few pipe dreams of light rail (hugely inappropriate) and  basically useless ball-park figure investigations of commuter rail on existing tracks only has ever been done to address the long term issues of getting across the city to outer areas (and between outer areas).

Bizarrely neither of the council's involved in Christchurch public transport  has ever initiated a serious professional study of bus rapid transit in the wider sense - a busway network - now a thirty year old technology that is cost effective for smaller cities and is described by international transport consultants (for all modes and infrastructure) Parsons Brinckerhoff as the "fastest growing mode in public transport history"  
All this inaction, year after year after year, despite the fact that rapid transit systems of any kind  can not be planned, funded or built in a year or two, in the piecemeal style of public transit planning typical in Christchurch. Auckland has only now completed its step-by-step programme of implementing rapid transit commuter systems planned back as far as 1995.

As any form of rapid transit needs clear conduits - unimpeded flow across many kilometres - it inevitably involves identification of routes years in advance. This can mean purchase of targeted properties  or Notice of Requirement for needed properties, as well residential and industrial roading and infrastructure design that can be supported by, and foster use of, future rapid transit.

If one seriously looks at rapid transit in Christchurch there is only a relatively few number of places these rail or busway systems could be implemented to effectively service large and extended length population catchments AND also address major traffic generators such as the city centre, employment zones, university, airport etc.

None of these have been publicly identified or protected and several are already seriously compromised

The governing authorities of public transport  have opted instead for cutting back routes to a basic structure which leaves thousands without easy bus access.  And settling for repainting buses on the four crosstown major routes.Each major route a distinctive colour with a guaranteed peak hour frequency.  Don't get me wrong - I think there is much to recommend this strategy - make things simple is always effective in public transport.  As with repainting a house to sell it, it is an attractive way of making a little money go a long way.

And we get a new bus station in the city which will no doubt stimulate patronage (though let's be honest the preoccupation with landmark bus stations is mainly a car owner concept of improving public transport). If you want to get people out of cars you need a fully integrated multi-directional mosaic bus system, with all main route corridors faster and easier than car travel.

The new central bus station in the city is to be welcomed but - excuse me - I can't figure out where articulated buses will go - the most basic and cost-effective element in any rapid mass transit bus system !

But all this all really a booby prize forced upon an unresistant Christchurch because it lacks an effective integrated mass transport plan, the backbones of which are rapid transit corridors.

And today the city is no closer to getting an effective mass mover than it was 20 years ago.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lack of Rapid Transit plan leaves Christchurch vulnerable

Despite attractive new Metro marketing and an impressive new post quake central bus station being built Christchurch continues to blither around in the appalling incompetence which has long marked public transport planning in this city.

Yep - Christchurch still misses the bus, train and everything else!

Any city worth its salt must look at making public transport work effectively, and the core of planning is a "rapid transit plan". This is the technology and land use to attract and move large numbers of commuters quickly from home areas to major employment zones.

Auckland's whole multi-billion public transport system is based around a rapid transit plan put together in 1995. They worked out where they needed to go and a step by step plan to get there. This consisted of four rail corridors (including a de facto loop around the central isthmus) and a segregated busway up the North side of the Harbour. Over the last 20 years Auckland's confident approach has won significant funding at every step, quite a lot coming Canterbury fuel tax dollars.

Likewise Wellington had identified how to upgrade its rapid transit network by the beginning of this century (almost 15 years ago) and identified it needed to upgrade its suburban rail network, including new carriages, stations and trackwork through to the Wairarapa; and double tracking and electrifying the Kapiti Line north as far as Waikane. Again year by year these goals won funding and were achieved. About $700 million of work done, much of it Government funded and also quite a lot of it coming from Canterbury fuel tax dollars .

Christchurch? I've been watching since I  purchased my first computer back about 1995 (virtually 20 years) and the only thing even remotely comparable to a mass rapid transit plan I've seen was a plan in 2003 to put part-time, part-way bus lanes on nine routes.

It a minimalist policy which the various city authorities anyway proved incapable of achieving or even getting part done before the incoming National government withdrew (the tiny) funding in 2009. Within  six weeks of the Government cutting their cycleway and bus lane funding in Christchurch from $4.5 million to $1,5 million, transport minister Joyce gave a cheque of $88 million to Wellington Regional Council for a second and final payment of the new Matangi electric units! Not a squeak from our insipid leaders!

The aim of mass rapid transit is to create conduits where public transport vehicles do not have to compete with other vehicles.

Another aim is to address longer journeys where these conduits allow for genuinely competitive journey times with private cars, and which address the longer commuting journeys which cause and suffer the greatest pollution and congestion.

Being a keen fan of public transport I have tried for many years to get public authorities in Christchurch to follow best practise concepts, used all over the world, of basing our public transport around a core rapid transit plan. This is like a skeleton around which all other public transport  and active transport planning is built. Every single written or spoken submission, or approach to a civic leader or political candidate has been rejected, even when I have merely requested that concepts be investigated.

Once I was told by a very arrogant woman chairing an Ecan committee, patronising words to the effect "Don't you worry [your silly little head?], we are protecting our rapid transit corridors" . It is absurd as the city has never identified its rapid transit corridors!

These do not necessarily follow existing rail or main road corridors, because often the greatest through flow advantage - and the least disruption and political resistance in the building or in operation of such a corridor is precisely away from existing networks. The key is to link major housing, commercial and industrial areas - delivering people to key traffic generators - whilst simultaneously by-passing or minimising interaction with existing congestion.

For example it is quite clear that it is not possible to built mass rapid transit on Riccarton Road.

In the first case it is a major (car) traffic corridor, so any significant permanent and full-time tram lines or bus lanes, will further impede normal traffic. In the second place it is lined by shops and clumps of take-way outlets all of which rely upon motorised traffic and will resist bitterly by all owners. Thirdly it is intersected at Clyde Road, and Clarence Road by two very busy complex intersections, where giving buses (travelling several different ways) priority every time  - a minimum requirement of rapid transit - is quite out of the question. Fourthly Riccarton Road has a very large rental housing/professional apartment/ university student flatting sector to the south - key transport users - but half of this is out of easy walking bus access, and by contrast correspondingly little by way of bus user catchment to the north side of the road.

How can public transport bring huge numbers of people through Riccarton heading for the city AND also directly to Riccarton (notably Westfield) AND to an effective exchange point to head north and south to Addington etc, without stopping for other traffic?

This is a busway corridor crossing many minor side streets and threading between houses (on a hedged and treed landscaped bus, cycle and pedestrian corridor ) in a way that buses can be given total or very high priority at every intersection crossed,  between Mandeville Street and Wharenui Road. This by-passes Riccartion Road congestion but not Riccarton itself - giving best option access to the Mall at Matipo Street and again Rotheram Street (main suburban bus exchange) while directly servicing and helping to grow a huge potential commuter market in the block between Riccarton Road and Blenheim Road.

It requires the purchase of perhaps 15 properties (the line shown here is only indicative) mostly run-down old houses used as student flats which will soon be demolished for apartment blocks. This potential straight through  corridor will be almost certainly be lost within the next few years.

A radical suggestion here is to split Middleton Park in two - the football fields there realigned but also given embankments with a shelter trees - and take a tar sealed busway through the middle of these embankments with safe pedestrian crossings included. This allows (a) very deep penetration of an area poorly serviced by immediate public transport (b) linking a future obvious busway under the motorway and under the railway - cut and fill tunnels costing less than $30 million all up - from  the south-west via Annex Road to join up at Middleton Road,  straight from to Riccarton and city, to be factored in for the future. (c) an exclusive corridor that can later if deemed necessary be converted to light rail - indeed taking straight under the railway line and  Deans Avenue and a corner of Hagley Park (the 50 year plan!) .

Instead we have yet again as in 1996, and in 2007, the pathetic farce of pin -in-the-map planning at Riccarton Road as Ecan and the Council and the local retailers and Mall management fight over which in the worst place they can put a bus station!!

And of course with Gerry's jackboot on the throat of Christchurch our fuel taxes are sent to Auckland !

Saturday, September 13, 2014

$100 million rail plan for Christchurch - nonsense

Labour and Greens are pushing for a $100 million dollar rail plan for Christchurch .

I can't believe these guys don't do enough research to know this is nonsense, you don't get quality safe public transport over the distances involved, city to Rangiora and city to Rolleston  - at that sort of price. The idea of using the ramshackle, tired, third hand diesel units  of Auckland commuter rail  as the primary rolling stock is a particularly poor joke.

Auckland has spent/is spending billions of dollars on commuter rail - Wellington has spent around $700 million on upgrading the rail system in the area - mostly specifically on the commuter rail system (including $188 million just on the Matangi electric units) - get real ! $100 million won't buy shit.

Or rather it will.

Why not believe in Canterbury and create realistic policies with grunt???  Christchurch deserves - just on a pro-rata basis alone - spending of at least $300 million worth of quality rail development.

All this should be based on the principle bike & rail and rail & bus anywhere !

The only sensible use of rail in Christchurch is as shown on the map below (taking the gratuitous spur to Prestons out of the equation). The primary need is to identify the corridors needed and secure future right of purchase, not to run inferior jack-up services

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bus plan - a city going nowhere fast!

Ramped access, door level loading, full veranda shelter, on busway system in Mexico 

Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury are planning a new Riccarton Super Stop to reduce travel times on the city’s busiest bus route

I have campaigned for 36 years to get decent public transport.  I still vomit when I see such nonsensical bullshit as this..

Super stop?? As far as I can see this is just a bus shelter with a slightly enclosed bay - very much like the semi-enclosed bus shelters that used to be outside the public hospital or in The Square when I first arrived in Christchurch in 1970. Except more glass.  Back to the 1950s??

...reduced travel times - ....come on !! How does creating a often crowded bus stop on a busy arterial "increase travel times" in any significant way. 

What utter nonsense  All the genuinely fast bus services in the world nowadays are being built on exclusive busways, not pissing around in the odd hope of saving 30 seconds ( if lucky!!)

I am going to use a really offensive term (to me too) here.  I don't think I am a racist (or not more than anyone can't help being a bit at times) and but when I look a the level of public transport in Christchurch,  I think this just  "bus services for niggers"  

Please be clear here; I am not talking about skin colour here but the sort of despicable arrogant attitudes that once ruled in South Africa or the Bible belt states in the south of the USA, where funding of public facilities constantly shortchanged one sector of the population

In other words "who cares how pathetic and outdated in style and concept the services and facilities are   - they are only bus users!!". It comes through in almost everything the Government, the city authorities and regional bus administrations do, in Christchurch as in many other cities. Most of what passes for public transport is actual just "tokenism". How can we pretend to address this issue, whilst not really changing anything.

Years of being treated liked n------- (yuk word )  by various public authorities, all levels trying to avoid commitment to effective modern transport,  have left most bus users ridiculously grateful for the clumsy shambles currently passing as an efficient bus service, because the buses look modern and have a few technological lollies to hide the real lack of vision and commitment. 

It is the old theory if you kick a dog often enough it will be eternally grateful that one time a week you pat it.

Yet what intelligent 12 year old child could not look at the technology we have on tap to day and say why not create a bus system where the buses hardly ever stop for anything but passengers, where most major bus corridors have exclusive roads, or (fulltime) exclusive space on roads; where a few dozen properties are bought to create a super effective interactive grid (at about 20% the cost of the equivalent in light rail!); where all core service buses run to the same pattern and same times all day and always interact in the same pattern 9am-7pm Mon Sat and another pattern evenings and Sundays. Basically get anywhere within the city, anytime, and often faster than by car and usually so in peak hours..

Sounds impossible ??- Not so. Rather it would need much deep thought on how buses serve key functions ( malls etc) without entrapment in heavy traffic; it would require buses being given exclusive road space and priority access through traffic lights  (less than 5% of the total asphalted road space in the city - and why not 5% of people use buses!!) ; it would probably require the purchase of about 50 properties, here and there, to create some "stents" - bus, cycle and pedestrian congestion  bypasses ; it would require the building of four or five underpasses or overpasses exclusive to buses and active modes. It would include a whole set of interwoven support strategies and integrated computer listings to ensure buses run on time (within 5 minutes of time shown)  every time. It would mean Hornby to city centre; Belfast to City Centre etc in 20 minutes journey time, whether at 8.15 am rush hour or 1.15 am at night - hugely uniting the city and making the city centre fantastically lively - literally a hub rather than a doughnut. 

However these are the easy bits to get - they just take good planning, cunning strategies (I can name a dozen)  and good technology - what we have never had in Christchurch is a single person in public office who has the guts and nous to get up and say we are going to build the most reliable, fast and effective integrated bus system of any small city in the world. No half measures (we might even study bus systems that are working well overseas!!)

Wouldn't it be better to stop wasting millions subsidising outdated concepts and ridiculously low patronage and actually get some return for all that public money?

What is the point of a wizzo 2020 bus exchange in the city centre when the actual journey times and (in most respects) journey quality  are barely improved on 50 years ago - indeed in many cases worse?

Instead we are fed this ridiculous double speak about "super stops" and (magically) "reducing travel times" merely  by building a shabby characterless c-grade class waiting shed.

"good enough for...".  I won't bother repeating the word. But the heart weeps. Such an opportunity lost. 

Nothing changes, year after year, same old crap.

Exclusive bus corridor in South Hampshire UK - buses will never win the battle with cars and interruptions on busy congested roads and maintaining rush hour speeds of 50 km per hour even through built up areas can only happen with "stents" hugh congestion location by-pass corridors exclusive to buses.  A corridor such as this could be built relatively easily through the actual bus user BUSY part of Riccarton from Mandeville Street to Wharenui Road, completely by passing queues and having bus priority at lights (for the 20 seconds it needs for a  single bus to cross an intersection).   

Friday, January 24, 2014

Strategy could boost Canterbury provincial bus services significantly

Unlike regional councils in other areas ECan takes no responsibility for supporting or enhancing regional public transport systems, or addressing the environmental issue that it is the longest car journeys that do the most damage in global atmospheric conditions. There is no effective region wide commuter system at all, and no effective Riccarton bus interchange (for cross town links) that incorporates long distance services - as is obvious from the Intercity coach drop-off point above!

NOTE This blog was originally posted on January 29 2010; it upgraded and amended, with all photos added January 24  2014

A couple of months back I suggested that Environment Canterbury had created reasonably effective services to some parts of the greater Christchurch metropolitan area (Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Lincoln etc) but seemed to pay no regard to regional services. 

Over 30 million Government dollars have been funnelled into Wellington's regional rail links to the Wairarapa (pro-rata the equivalent of about $4.25 million ex Canterbury road taxes),

Environment Waikato has created a network of services to its region (and unlike Ecan features links to privately owned and long distance bus services in its region on its website site). Likewise Bay of Plenty (a Rotorua-Tauranga bi-directional commuter service was so successful the operator,  let-go the annual $50,000 subsidy)

In contrast the road between Christchurch and Ashburton is one of the busiest in the South Island, and yet there is no user friendly commuter link between the Timaru district (42,000 residents) and the Ashburton District (26,000 residents) and Christchurch city and Christchurch Airport. 

The arguments I presented in favour of this, and the potential to create a luxury coach service operated by Metro (and tendered out to a private operator) are in the archived entry "Timaru to Christchurch - in three steps"  

Recently I came across my own calculations of how such a service might look, if two coaches ran from Timaru early morning to Christchurch; back mid-morning to Timaru [which also allows driver changes, vehicle replacement for maintenance etc]; back to Christchurch early afternoon; and then evening commuter trips from Christchurch back to Timaru. 

An obvious rider to this (or rather lots of riders, literally!) is that the majority of the regular - in some cases daily - commuters would most likely be be those joining the service between Ashburton and Christchurch. Commuters the further south the location the bus comes from would more and more likely be "irregular" or casual. These might include those catching early morning flights from CIAL - the biggest and most obvious market (?) given the high cost of storing cars in Christchurch. Other travelers might be attending business or business training courses or medical appointments or visiting friends or those in Christchurch hospital; or students and workers returning to Christchurch after visiting family in Timaru overnight or over the weekend. 

But the middle of the day services through mid-Canterbury areas would also offer internal travel to and from rural areas and Ashburton, and ditto Temuka and Timaru, for shoppers, elderly, kids and teenagers etc. Obvious possibility exists to link to these north-south Metro bus services smaller shuttle van services to and from Geraldine  and ditto tofro Methven, creating a comprehensive network, when integrated with existing long distance bus operations.  

It does not seem a huge Ecan rate would need to be introduced to float such a system - divided between Christchurch, Ashburton, Timaru urban areas, and a smaller rate for all rural areas, it is hard to see this costing much more than a few dollars per household, in return for a service that will save thousands of needless car journeys each year. 

Almost all locals stand to benefit at some time, for instance saving journeys to drop off or pick up friends or relatives from Christchurch International Airport. 

Below - a little crooked - I compared the current service levels (top chart) with what could be if a Metro organised service was strategically inserted, timed to run between existing patterns as well as offer completely new early morning city-bound/evening homebound trips (bottom chart).
I have not bothered to include my (equally effective) charts for southbound services but based on current bus services, these are entirely feasible, with the Metro evening commuter services departing Christchurch at 4.15 pm and 5.15 pm.  

It is often commented that as a concept Canterbury barely exists any longer, there's just Christchurch and the land beyond (shades of New Zealand as an adjunct to Auckland!) It may seem minor but I think  it is an important statement about the integrity of a province, that cohesive, reliable and frequent public transport services link all parts of the province. [click on charts to get full size/complete image]

How Canterbury could have eight services per working day between Timaru and Christchurch - a level of integrated service that truly starts to challenge car use as always the better option.

Please Note - existing operator names and times are included as an academic exercise and do not infer in any they support concepts put forward here.  

Note (2014)  that some departure times may be altered but four years later ECan still hasn't created a quality provincial commuter link such as those offered elsewhere.

Existing patterns* (see comment above) ...look good until closely examined

Suggested alternative, including franchised discount for Metrocard and two XP Metro commuter buses making two return trips a day.

*Error Here;  re 1.50pm  XP Metro service from Timaru - timing points add 30 minutes, actual arrival ChCh 4.35pm

Above, working from existing running times for other services (and allowing for added morning congestion in Christchurch) the blogster adds two Metro Express buses - two trips from Timaru to Christchurch early morning; two return to Timaru mid-morning; two return to Christchurch early afternoon; two services back to Timaru late afternoon (after schools and work).  

The same lack of quality access, across the day or at times that suit full and part-time workers, and students and city appointments is evident in the reverse flow pattern Christchurch - Timaru. 

Having two dedicated Metro buses covering two return trips tofro Christchurch from Timaru each working day AND negotiating with relevant existing long distance operators to accept Metrocard, and special fare structure (i.e. for resident Metrocard users only, within Canterbury only)  and alteration of afternoon departure times 15 minutes later) could give a VERY attractive frequent pattern of services from Christchurch via Christchurch airport.  

Based on the times above Southbound services to Timaru could depart at 8am 9am 10 am 11 am and at 2.15 pm, 3.15 pm, 4.15pm, 5.15pm and 5.45pm. 

One suggested entry/exit  route for Christchurch is (from Hornby) - Russley Road; Airport;Orchard Road; Wairakei Road, Rossall Street, Carlton Mill Road, Park Terrace, Gloucester Street to bus exchange. This links lifestyle blocks and rural communities to Rolleston Izone; Hornby; the international airport; high tech industrial areas, university (high frequency Orbiter transfer) several private schools; arts centre, public hospital and city council HQ. 

People that are likely to commute regularly over longer distances to maintain rural life-styles are also more likely than most to work in the higher paid professions (eg air industries, computer tech, tertiary teaching, medicine, public authorities ) or be saving on the teenager's boarding school fees;  or saving on travel and parking costs/stress  if travelling to airport or public hospital. This route serves everyone but recognises many of the key potential user groups, needed to win a core frequent user group.

We are talking about a very user-friendly public transport backbone serving Canterbury that is every bit competitive with the five services a day that $31 million investment in rail delivers the much smaller population of the  Wairarapa.  

A pity that it is still beyond the organisational capacity of an organisation fictitiously called Environment ??? Canterbury??? . 

Three seats across the aisle, fold down trays, e-leather seats - where long distance travel is heading - and all for a fraction of running costs of rail.  Photo first appeared in  RedCoach (USA) promotional material

Below e-leather seats and fold down cup holder on Wellington's Airport Flyer service - NZ in Tranzit