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