NICERide - The Concept

NOTE This is an ongoing page - last updated Monday 30th August

The above is part of a submission I made to the 2003 Metro review of bus services to the Eastern suburbs. It took the existing running times of routes and replaced all 15 minute services and 30 minute services with one basic model.  Every route (except 5 Southshore because it was relatively busy but isolated from other routes) in this concept ran at 20 minute headways. However as you can see by the map all the busier corridors and key locations typically had two or more routes, between them offering a service to the city or Eastgate/The Palms, or New Brighton (or some mix of these), every ten minutes in many cases. For instance services from Queenspark, presently  every 15 minutes, became a ten minute service to the city - half via current route [now called Route 7] , half via Mairehau Road and Burwood Hospital and Dallington. Only every second service (every 20 minutes) runs to The Palms but Queenspark residents got a 10 minute direct service to the city, and access for some to Burwood Hospital as a workplace. Conversely people around Burwood Road and Tumara Park got access to the another local school, library, shopping centre and community centre at Parklands currently not available.

If readers read the simple code [below] and put themselves down at any lettered spot on the map above and try getting to the city or The Palms or Eastgate shopping malls, they will find this pattern offers a vastly more consistent, evenly spread,  frequent and easy to use system than the current mish mash of routes clashing and duplicating each other, with uneven and lengthy gaps between services, with patterns changing several times a day and some areas getting no service or no connection to other parts of their own local community..

Note well - These buses interconnect by virtue of good design of routes and schedules but -  as now -  they do not wait for each other or depend in any way upon each other's movements [in my experience from my bus driving years a diabolical system, clumsy beyond belief!].  Passengers making transfers - as now - need to identify there is a sufficent gap between the different services involved, or bear the risk. What this system offered was the virtual elimination of services running to the same points or locations duplicating each other or running so close together in time it made transferring hopelessly risky.

The nature of this integrated system is that it gives a more evenly spread across each hour frequency to all areas. A corollary of this is I believe bus systems tend to over-favour arterial corridors which do have more passsenger generating activity but not to the point those routes  (such as Papanui Road or Riccarton Road in Christchurch) should have 100-1000% more bus services than other routes!!. A structured system like this ensures a buses do run every few minutes on major corridors, and do so in more even spread across the hour.  But it also frees up buses to give greater frequency through other areas, between arterial roads.

Overall the system represented in the map-table above offered a MORE FREQUENT suburb to city service; MORE TRAVEL DIRECTIONS and MORE COMMUNITY ACCESS to a greater spread of local community facilities [in example above Parklands, Burwood Hospital, QEII Pool]; MORE TRANSFER OPTIONS including multiple in some cases multiple options "further down the line" (passenger may be able to transfer at point A to service x, or transfer at point B, to service Y  to arrive at same location - and seeing this by simply scanning a map-table like that above can then choose time and route option that best suits them).

In a modern cosmopolitan world of consumer choice, where people expect many options, when they go shopping, go to the movies, go out for a meal, choose clothing or choose a new car. It seems to me it is urgent that public transport systems - especially in lower density cities with less routes and less frequent services - move away from this very old fashion 19th century sort of thinking based overly much around linear routes (one bus departure every 30 minutes and you must catch this bus only!!) and move more towards what I call mosaic services. These are based on routes and services forming consistent patterns running through every area, allowing every resident about two or three choices (depending in some cases on proximity to junctions and corridors shared by two or more routes  and in other cases on which direction they walk from their starting location and sometimes also whether in that moment they are prepared to walk a little further OR travel in an opposite direction to transfer at an easily identified point,as in map-table above, in order to get an earlier transfer from a different point).  

Mosaic systems are all about options and about  marketing services in a way that passengers can instantly and simultaneously see all options. From this they construct their journey. They are not restricted to "one route to suit all".

If this sounds fanciful and one imagines the first bus company to try it going broke it must be remembered that - paradoxically - this system in no way eliminates or removes the existing linear route system. If people live close to a single route, and only use that one route nothing changes except as in the example above those currently on half hourly routes would have a 50% increase  and a relatively small number of those living adjacent to 15 minute route, not traversed at that point by any other route,  might have a 25% reduction in frequency back to only every 20 minutes This does not in anyway remove the existing one route system, or take away a service for residents for whom one specific route is all they ever use or need. Indeed in a sophisticated system the sort of route structure (and timing) shown above could also be integrated with Express services and Bus Rapid Transit corridors.


I called this the Eastern Integrated Network - although it would be very hard to integrate one section of the city only - basically to float the idea to the local public transport agencies that a more frequent, more multi-directional, more transfer friendly system could be achieved by using current resources in a more scientific integrated way.

Allowing for the reduction in the number of buses then used [in 2003] for 15 minute headway routes and the increase of the number of buses needed on the 30 minute headway routes to make all routes 20 minute headway services I calculated it would take about a 10-15% increase in the number of buses and driver required. (These sorts of things depend a lot upon how routes are tendered in sets and how schedules are organised as much as operating times)

What sort of  growth in bus use would occur is unknown but any system increasing service to all ALL residential areas from every 30 minutes to every 20 minutes; and increasing most busy corridors and key location departure times from every 15 minutes to every 10 minutes, and increasing the range of directional movement and transfer options  I imagine would be extremely popular! A ten minute service is the holy grail of bus users, fairly rarely found in cities of our demographic nature under a million population!

Essentially this pattern offered  a service departure every 20 minutes within 500 metres walk to EVERY resident on the eastside. AND (wait...but you won't have to wait long!!... there's more ) a service tofro the city every ten minutes within relatively easy walking distance to probably over half of all residents, or accessible to most residents by a bit extra walking or being dropped off by car.

The code box not shown [the other half of the original map got a bit water damaged]  but is basically coded (sample E-Xh etc) as follows;  E via Eastgate;  P via The Palms;  D via Dallington and - after the hyphen  - X to Bus Exchange (CBD) Xh -then to Public Hospital; Xp = then to Polytech [note; most of these were city-suburb routes at the time but are now through-routes].  To read the timetable scan down first column on left, then next column over etc giving sequential departure times each hour - to read just one particular route scan sideways on that route for the 20 minute pattern. Very fast, very simple - the key info most people want departure times short and sharp - they either know the journey time, can work it out or ring, text or internet it or it doesn't matter anyway. A more sophisticated map might colour code the departure times (the actual numbers on minutes past the hour eg 10 30 50  in each column of each route, the three buses departing 20 minute apart each hour on each specific route (or add an A, B, or C in superscript) so that looking at the blue numbers leaving Wainoni via route 40, in a flash one can see what time the blue numbered trips from Wainoni arrive in the CBD or at the public hospital.

For local readers - a note about the route numbers 42 (became 84 New Brighton via Avondale) 43 (became 83 New Brighton via Burwood); 41 which used to run to the Palms then Liggins Street enclave, I suggested in this submission run from The Palms, dogleg through the lower Kingsford Street area and down, via Avondale Bridge and the Avondale area to New Brighton, instead 41 was deleted completely  leaving the Kingsford Street enclave with no immediate bus service whatsoever;
49 is now 45 and runs via The Palms, there is no longer any direct connection from Eastgate or any other suburbs south of the Avon to QEII Pool and Stadium complex (as minimal as it anyway was, the 49 stop being almost a kilometre from QEII). This facility was built where it was to benefit eastside residents and averages 19, 000 visitors a week (across all activities) and the car park is full 14 hours a day seven days a week! Metro can't offer a service??  
SB = The SeaBird the name I suggested for what a service similar to what is now the Metrostar, with visions of two tone blue (abstract sea below/sky above) bus livery and a giant wheeling abstract seagull in an over-window wrap towards the rear sides of the bus. At that time what became the Metrostar was still being planned. 

The integrated idea has been with me since I was a bus driver in the 1980s and always felt annoyed -  with so few services per hour (particularly evenings and weekends)  to see other buses also heading into the city on other routes that partly overlapped with mine, travelling at exactly the same time. This absurd pattern seems to have got worse and worse with Metro planning, notwithstanding isolated areas of integrated bus services. It is my belief/experience from comments that as well as subjecting loyal  or bus dependent persons patrons to totally unnecessary long waits, this sort of duplication does incredible damage to the status and credibility of bus services, bringing them into contempt and discouraging thousands of people from using buses, as well .  

The concepts here have evolved through many years of pondering - I enclose the pattern above because it conveys the essence of integration and one of the main component parts - in an integrated system A MAP IS THE TIMETABLE [or at least one hugely useful version of the timetable].


The amount of information coveyed in a very simple format above is huge - and makes utter mockery of the old 19th century style paper format route timetables currently being given out as the primary paper format timetables. It is possible at a glance to see all options departing your area (not just one route) and the sequence of different services coming through common departure zone; it is possible to work out by relatively simple deduction what time your bus arrives anywhere en route and arrival time in the city; it is possible to see what transfer options exist and the relative safety in terms the amount of time between the two services connecting; it is possible, for the keen, young or astute traveller, to see all mobility options, constructing an alternate journey - even travelling in reverse direction to normal, having realised this opposite service crosses with another at safe spacing in time, that will allow the passenger to transfer and arrive at their sought destination sooner than, say, waiting 18 minutes for the next single route service; it is possible at a glance for a parent to say to a teenager "No I won't give you a ride into the city, but I will give you a ride across to the XYG route, I see there is a bus due in six minutes, hop in".

It is possible to convert all this info (and return journeys) into business card size location specific timetables - not only putting a timetable potentially in every purse or wallet but codifying key departure time information into a format so simple it becomes imbedded in people's minds. As "the trip"  -  each particular journey at each particular time - is the ultimately the product being sold (rather than just the service in general) this very targetted marketing. 

The old linear route timetables have their place but let's face it very few people use the through route information (want to know what time the bus arrives at some terminus on the other side of town) and anyone using a bus route more than two or three times knows the approximate journey time of their regular trip - the key information passengers want four times out of five is what time does the bus depart. The large fold out timetables, hopeless in wind or rain, with much surplus information in fonts so small they can't be read in half light or at all by some older people, and require passengers to open and scan across upto five timetables for each multi-route stop, are hopelessly clumsy in practice.

More than this, the fact they are still the separate linear through route timetables  primary paper format marketing tool reflects a dated perception of public transport as a set of linear routes, rather than a holistic pattern.  

From the mosaic of the map above  almost any journey anywhere eastside can be constructed in a few seconds (obviously the return journey map timetable would be on the flip side). This includes seeing multiple options to arrive at the same point faster by different transfer combinations.


Nowadays I call this system's funny how the mind works.  I thought of the name NICERide weeks before it came to me out of the blue what all the letters, especially the "C"  in NICE logically stands for; Network Integration and Co-ordination Enhancement.....that is routes and infrastructure created as a holistic integrated design; schedules and departures in a co-ordinated pattern!

I now believe all core services in our city should run to two distinct patterns;

 (a) between 9am and 6pm Mon-Sat
(b) between 6pm and 11pm Mon-Sat and 9am - 9pm Sunday.

Note here the words core services  - this means there are constant underlying patterns citywide that run the same every hour according to whether pattern (a) or (b) applies.

This does not mean additional services do not run, after school. or evening rush hour, or perhaps extra services on some routes Saturday  or means these added services are always exactly that, an overlay, the core pattern itself does not change.

This means a mosaic pattern for ease of transfer and creating predictable departures every time, every hour either (a) or (b). The base "currency" unit of the operating times could be either 20 minutes (as above) or every 15 minutes (and units of eg 30 minutes or 60 minutes ) but preferably not both 15 and 20   - they don't mix well and create erratic patterns and duplicate (or near enough) one departure time every hour,  however you shift around time patterns. 

NICERide is the name of THE INTEGRATED PATTERN on some routes might operate at x and y minutes past the hour all day, and this includes those starting before 9am or those continuing after 11pm at night, but this route specific pattern is not itself NICERide. The NICERide concept only applies when the whole system is working as a consistent network pattern. When NICERide applies, it is a guarantee buses will all flow in a pattern, or as suggested here, pattern (a) or pattern (b).

Noted too that seven days a week, NICERide does not come into operation until  9am. This recognises firstly that on working days bus services have to be focussed on work start times 7.00 am. 7.30 am, 8.00 am, 8.30 am, and 9 am - which is why bus services come in waves and if you miss your bus, unless it is a very busy route, there is probably not another bus immediately (damn!).

Noted too, that NICERide does not operate before 9am on Saturday and Sunday (and public holidays). The reason -  typically services before 9am can vary - earlier starts for major arterial routes or for bus routes that include weekend industries, after 7am more usual for quieter residential areas. Also journey times when there are few cars on the road will usually be considerably less, which would further confuse the pattern. There is no point applying a pattern which allocates 22 minutes per trip across the day to the same service at 7 am on a Saturday morning when it typically only takes a bus 16 minutes. There is nothing more irritating to passengers (or neighbours to bus stops) than en route services sitting idling at an intermediate timing point for 3-5 minutes because the bus is running ahead of time!  

This variation in journey time at different times of day is one of the major logistical problems to work with when appying a "one size fits all" pattern. Because of lesser congestion and reduced amount of stopping for less patrons the amount of running time needed between city and suburb reduces outside busier periods. Whilst this is primarily and mostly dealt with by the operating time parameters of (a) or (b) and starting after 9am it will remain a problem, more on some routes than others even within patterns.

As current, rather "too precious",  fiddly, adjustments are  sometimes used in bus service timetabling eg Saturday afternoon services departing outer suburb X  as follows 2.30pm 3.00pm  3.28pm  3.58pm  4.26pm and 4.56pm, 5.25 and 5.55pm - essentially the same trip - arriving in the city at the same time - but advertised in an irritating way that is sure to confuse!!  My reaction when I see this on timetables here and there around the world is, for goodness sake, get a life!! The reality is that if you catch buses there will always be several minutes play in whether a bus is on time or up to 5 minutes late. To a point it means nothing, no more than whether a car journey to the city or airport takes you 11 minutes or 14 minutes (whose counting?) or the added three minutes people can often spend looking for a car park or walking three blocks from the place they found to park the car. This anal obsession with a precise "down-to-the-exact-minute" time is not normal in motorists, why do bus planners think passengers are so obsessed? Are planners and administrators constantly harassed by one or two unrealistic, righteous souls, and then like all feedback driven systems over-oil the squeaky elements? NICERide suggests swapping precision for consistency, for even spread of services and for a more rugged reliability.


The key factor is reliability and that the bus always arrives within a maximum variance of five minutes of departure time shown.  (Not quite achievable but that is the goal!). In NICERide these variances are treated generically by statements on  timetables, Firstly in general; NICERide states this position. "Services depart within five minutes after the time shown" of course adding the rider which all transport systems inevitably include "We regret on ocassions that accidents or traffic congestion and other factors beyond our control may cause delays". The aim of transit operators using a NICERide system would be to get that time as close to the written timetable, but at least 95% of trips within the five minute banding. To me, as a full time bus user, that's good enough. Most the time I don't even notice whether a bus is spot on time or three or five minutes later, does anyone else? 

A big factor in this might be a subtle but significant shift in public transport user technology - Real Time signage or text and dial up systems that track how far away the next bus is.  For most of last century catching buses was fraught with a certain anxiety - has the bus already gone ? Why is it taking so long? When will it arrive? There's an old saying "A watched pot never boils" and as long as people are consciously waiting, time can seem to go very slowly, painfully slowly. It is my experience when a person is not sure how far away the bus (or tram, train etc) is from arrival, this constant looking down the road/track aggravates the sense of delay. With Real Time this has significantly changed - one pushes a button on a machine, or looks at the electronic signage etc, or texts up and sees the next bus is 8 minutes away. Ok every adult has a rough idea of what eight minutes is - no point worrying about it the bus won't come any faster (certainly nothing to worry about for five minutes) so all that tension dissolves, sit down and day dream, read a book or chat with others at the stop. Not worrying about "when" the bus is going to arrive actually seems to greatly reduce waiting time. Eight minutes, for instance, can go relatively fast.

Another factor is, I would say,  most good bus drivers themselves evaluate traffic and journey time according to known conditions and slightly modify their departure times and speed to avoid running ahead of time - it is part of professional commitment to service quality. This "five minute rule" allows bus driver's schedules to be set slightly tighter than realistic to ensure buses can run through multiple timed locations (such as on the map-table above) without having to worry about (a) running ahead of time (absolute no-no!!) and only having to check the specific time, as now at key timing points.

As a full time bus user I would rather wait an extra five minutes for a service from point A that I know always runs at 08 and 48 past the hour "daytime" and 42 minutes past the hour "evenings and Sunday" than have - as now upto a dozen different supposedly "exact" times according to what hour and day of the week it is, and which would take considerable effort to memorize correctly, if at all possible!!  Although Christchurch's Metro is up with the world leaders in dial up and real time "next trip" information systems nothing actually beats the instancy of having local departure times inbedded in the brain! At one's fingertips. That would be a huge marketing success.

Indeed regular bus users - particularly teenagers and uni students (who soon become bus savvy adults!!) would no doubt develop memorised pathways to friend places etc much in the manner that Aborigines used songlines to map the vast outback - "Here's how to get to my place Fritz, catch the 22 @ 09 from Redwood, get off at Northlands, catch The Orbiter @ 20 get off at Innes, catch the 46 inbound @ 33 at Innes and get off outside my gate, at 36 past the hour - see ya then!" (works everytime with pattern B)

Just as NICERide is a holistic system, so too is the scheduling - it is not about getting times that are perfectly precise but rarely met exactly -  but about getting high levels of confidence in the reliability and constant even spread of flow system wide, and knowing every hour there are predictable and constant patterns, even if it might be upto five minutes later than time shown. Underlying this rather non-specific promise of a generally good service, I'd like to think bus systems should still struggle for their own standards, to be secretly perfect as possible!

NICERide in PUBLIC TRANSPORT IMPLEMENTATIONI see administrative headaches and planning costs in the changeover period but don't see a big long-term problem with significant added operating costs for Metro in a NICERide system;  it is more or less  the same number of services as are currently running just in a better and simpler fashion - indeed the fact that added peak hour services are separate in a sense is presumably a huge financial advantage. These additional services can be added in, adjusted or removed without undermining the core system pattern. I think there is a huge value in structuring and marketing public transport in this stratafied way - core services same every hour; added services applying where shown Solid reliability and room for creative flare!.

Some examples;

A service which departs the city as 07 and 37 past the hour, every hour, pattern (a), could have peak services added  to make this a service with 15 minute headways afternoon peak periods, such as between 4pm and 6pm  viz.  4.07 4.22. 4.37 4.52  5.07 etc.  This again offers a timetable facet that can be imbedded...if  07 and 37 are the well known core times, most passengers can quickly calculate the added times (whats 07 and 15 etc). 

Or if necessary to fit in with other rosters, or bus loading space within the central bus exchange, these non core times could be off kilter 4.07  4.18  4.37 4.48 etc  - unlike the present system such variance does not undermine the integrity and consistency of the core pattern. And these added services can be altered or indeed completely removed if not successful without altering the core service.

Another example;  added non-core services could run to a specific beach suburb  Saturdays and Sundays between 10 am and 4pm November-March ONLY - threaded through the existing 30 minute pattern to give in effect 15 minute summer beach access - all clearly and logically identified on timetables as a summer only service. (Underlining, or use of bold on timtables etc could always be used to define non-core services, the better to distinguish them, add or drop them). By creating a clearly defined two tier system - core patterns/added services everybody still knows if you want to go to the mall, the core times, times x and y,  are the ones that cross with the transfer point services J and Q, ...not the underlined [or whatever] times.  

Or another example;  During the period between Christmas and New Year when many businesses and larger employer organisations are closed big savings can be made [and more operations staff get longer Christmas breaks] by running core services for pattern (a) only. Or core services and only one or two clearly identified supplementary services rather than the normal full range of core and aded services.

Big event services? Artfully threaded through existing NICERide route and timetable pattern to ensure buses depart key locations/multiple route transfer points at the optimum time to gurantee passengers can transfer tofro other routes with maximum security and minimum wait.

(Noted; If the system runs to an integrated pattern, adding services will usually cause some duplication - but not as now at the expense of a reliable spread across the hour)

In all of these above examples actual schedules for drivers can be integrated, one driver switching from core to added service and back;  or they can be separate - one set of core drivers, one set of part-time "additional trips" drivers etc

To me as an ex bus driver and full time bus user far from being too rigid, the NICERide concept offers MORE flexibility, both in the specific moment,  and across longer periods of time when transit demand may shift and services need to decreased or increased.

Nor are NICERide core times themselves set in concrete - ideally they are so beautifully crafted they will last for years but maybe not, just as now a route review might alter a route or shift a departure time pattern, albeit it alters connectivity in one part or other of the system, perhaps enhancing a more important function at cost to a lesser used function - as now.

For the consumer "the core thing is the core thing"...the always guaranteed core frequency, the guaranteed even spread of services across the hour , the always guaranteed core transfer pattern, the always guaranteed multi-directional, community facilities linking core service at predictable and known times.

In seven years I been unable to find any politicians, administrators or planners in Christchurch interested in the NICERide concepts. I feel sad because this seems perfectly suited to Christchurch's flat terrain; to our relatively tight network and relatively frequent bus service;  and the evolutionary rebirth stage our bus system is at. It could make Christchurch a world leader in small city 21st century public transport, a hugely exciting proiect based not on high capital outlay or the big note glamour project but more effective resource use, super green and super cost effective.

Now that this blog is getting several hundred readers a week, including about 45% from outside New Zealand  (mainly US, UK, Canada and Australia) it is my I hope other small cities may find in the inspiration here, even if Christchurch can not.