After almost twenty years in operation oddly bearing the name CANTERBURY (a fairly large area of land, a province of 550,00 people) and ENVIRONMENT (ie let's protect our environment - including encouraging use of public transport) our regional council does not appear to have ever sought or obtained a single penny from Government to create and enhance regional transport links across the province, depite over 70,000 people in those areas beyond the city's immediate metropolitan reach.
During the last decade the Greater Wellington Regional Council levered up $31 million dollars of funding to upgrade the Wairarapa commuter rail line tofro Masterton (100 km) and its stations and to refurbish former British carriages to enhance commuter comfort. As far as I know, and I've followed this for many years, Canterbury never sought or received a single penny to build regional commuter links.
Instead we had all those wan voices in the wind, including politicians mumbling,about rail or future rail, always fantasizing. Simple research - looking around the world to similar places for a start - would show the cost benefits of rail or light rail in almost the Canterbury situation will be Zilch, negative, a huge amount of money to move very few people but paid for by all. Yet it such cloudy "wouldn't it be nice, Berlin can do it why can't we" thinking has cost Canterbury hundreds of millions of dollars. Firstly taxes sent north to subsidise hugely expensive schemes in Auckland and Wellington; secondly cost tens of millions that Garry Moore, Bob Parker, Sir Kerry Burke and other community leaders should have levered to upgrade OUR province's transport technology and infrastructure. The funding here should be for infrastructure for systems that ARE well suited to Canterbury - bus, busways, bus rapid transit, regional commuter coaches and LIGHT BUS.
The opportunity was lost to lever up, say, $200,000 (ie an absolutely minute percentile of the $2 billion or so being spent up north on commuter rail and busways) to fund a quality commuter coach service linking commuters from South Canterbury and Timaru/Ashburton to Christchurch, and within this rural links tofro multiple points between these centres. Such a concept has has never been raised as far as I know at any City, Regional or District Council level. Yet this modest amount - or something fairly close, I would imagine, would easily seed fund a contracted luxury coach service of two services, twice a day in each direction, and pay for attractive, quality, shelters at about 10 points en route, and create adequate tarsealed stopping aprons at other points.
This amount wouldn't pay for the cost of purchasing coaches - it doesn't have to, they come supplied with all criteria met (reading lights, leg room and Wi Fi access minimum!) by which ever bus operating firm wins the tender - one of the many ways bus systems are more flexible for public transport than rail. Indeed a North Island coachline used subsidies to build an effective bus service between Rotorua and Tauranga (arriving in time for work, note!) so well it has recently announced it will forgo the $50,000 subsidy and operate purely as a commercial service (but thanks for the seed funding that made this possible etc).
Inter city travel by coaches, from casual observation of one both catches NZ long distance buses and reads alot of transit info online, seems to on the rise in many western countries, as new standards offer a better ride and more direct services than many railways. Buses generally appear to more highly regarded by younger people than older ones, who are more likely to bring the baggage of yesterday's old dunger buses into their thinking, no one more so than well paid politicians, planners and administrators who rarely travel on buses. in smaller cities. In contrast younger people remember only the relatively fast and clean modern bus systems.
Underlying this failure to see the superior value of a coach service to the vague and expensive dreams of rail is a much deeper and widespread problem. Not just ECan board members but the whole society and indeed world in general devalues the bus as a technology.
Just as we took years to recognise racism, and sexism, it is time we as a society owned up to blatant busism!!
According to the premier world federation of public transport bodies the UITP 80% of public transport patronage is carried on buses. Buses are like "mum" they do all the picking up and get taken for granted and are never seen as glamorous, yet really they are the toughest and most versatile of work horses, the mainstay transport of thousands of city systems and billions of people the world over. There is a general sense buses are ok for the mundane but in most ways too klutsy,clumsy, slow etc. Consequently historically not much is expected of them, minimum amount has spent on infrastructure (such as segregated lanes or underpasses etc) that is necesary to give them the same advantages as rail. Centralised control systems similar to railways are rare.
All eyes go to rail and light rail, yet capacity typical of that needed in Christchurch, can be delivered faster, and more frequently by modern buses, at a fraction of the cost. Modern articulated buses such as the four axle bus of Bayes Coachlines [below] near Auckland can carry 100 passengers and overseas four axle buses can carry up to 193 passengers. Flat Christchurch with no need for sharp corners or hill sections on most routes well suits busway corridors, probably more than most cities.
Possibly New Zealand's only four axle bus so far, built by Kiwi Bus Builders for Bayes Coachlines, based north of Auckland (photo NZ Omnibus Society, thanks to Richard Bayes). By building bus lanes (with shorter stops) instead of busways Christchurch may be precluding use of the articulated buses, if oil prices or other factors place pressure on capacity.
Consequently Environment Canterbury can run a bus service that is frequent, regular, clean bright and modern and has many of the new technologies and quite often people say "What a good bus service" the sort of equivalent of yesterday's gross racism, "What a clever darkie/spic/paddy etc " (or "That is very well done for a woman"!). It is busism!! They make patronising comments or grateful comments because they don't expect much from buses. So very few people, even in transport circles and certainly not in politcal office, comprehend that a system like Christchurch Metro is grossly underperforming, way below its real potental and designed in ways that are far from cost effective per passenger kilometre. Few people have got as far as joining all the dots, in part because they can not see buses, can not register that modern buses and associated technologies have changed and open entirely new possibilities.
Most of the bits are there but the awareness and political will to put them together is missing.
Light rail is really just a rebranding of what used to be called trams, a word that grew dowdy as trams became ramshackle and too long in the tooth (but too expensive to replace). Everybody loves "light rail" and most of this is based on spin. So I say let's move beyond this inappropriate 19th century technology, only really viable in large high density cities over relatively short route lengths (the third biggest tramway system in the world, Melbourne is only about the size of Christchurch's bus route system and covers only a portion of the actual city, with a poor bus service for many areas). Let's pull the same spin make-over stunt, because buses too or even more so are going through incredible technical development, not least quick reload battery systems that can deliver 200 horse power or more grunt and be recharged in 30 minutes.
At the moment only 24% of new buses being produced are electric and most of these will be hybrids, but this proportion is expected to double in the next decades or so. I suspect from all the indications I read that by then most new buses will be fully electric with no overhead wires. Unite this with all the potential strategies and technologies available or forseeable and we have (spin dat wheel marketing man!) - LIGHT BUS systems.
LIGHT BUS NETWORK systems will allow buses to run on time even in peak hours, including the necessary road space (Lane supported) and priority flow systems to maintain core consistent schedules along common corridors. services will run through common corridors and adjacent areas, or criss-cross, at common location in a city wide mosaic of systematically time spaced patterns (Integrated schedules). The benefits of this will be routes that not only run A to B but in a total route pattern that offers hop on hop off transfers, at multiple points, "get anywhere from anywhere with minimal waiting time" (Grid routed). The effect of a fully integrated, always reliable, core operating pattern will be to de facto increase frequency of access to all areas, as well as adding patronage, fostering a (High frequency) system. Light bus fully utilises and incorporate the benefits of GPS, and other new technologies, monitoring and adjusting bus speeds, electronically identifying transfer patterns and mediating them through centralised computer, phasing in or out extra buses as needed. As well technological advances is constantly refining passenger comfort and services (Tech Smart) to offer top quality transit systems. All this spells only one thing - L-I-G-H-T bus network.
A Light Bus Network will vastly superior to light rail in almost every aspect and every situation. Certainly outside denser cities or countries, it will be able to deliver close to big city transit frequency and multi-directional travel and superior comfort and immiediacy of access to home and destination, across a whole smaller city for less than the cost of one 20km stretch of light rail.
When we put together the quick loading time of low floor kneeling buses, accessible by all ages, wheelchairs, prams, semi-crippled, elderly and frail; and with Super Gold Cards and smart card remote field i.d. systems (such as Metrocard); and with the faster, smoother, acceleration and deceleration of modern buses; joined with the building of separate lanes, entirely busway corridors, queue jumper lanes, traffic signals that favour buses, underpasses and trenches; and work with GPS and centralised tracking of buses, real time signage and adjustable flow strategies properly applied; and modern smaller low emission or electric no emission motors able to power articulated or double decker buses with ease (and dozens of smaller technical innovations to complex to list here) when we put all these togther in the right way the "good bus service" of Christchurch Metro (before the earthquake and Ecan's unimpressive response) would look primitive, childlike, often insulting to passengers.
What a great pity that instead of building a billion dollar light rail route serving only one small section of the oppulation (but paid for by all); instead of looking backwards in time to the clumsy limitations of a fixed route system, what a pity that we the people of Christchurch don't set out to create the world's first small city fully integrated light bus system.
And when regional coaches travel into Christchurch stop at the Ilam Uni Transfer station, on the way into the city, every passenger knows there will be a buses every 8 minutes in the rush hour to work zones at the Airport, Sheffield Park, Northlands, and every 15 minutes to Parkhouse Road, Birmingham Drive, Addington. They KNOW because buses run on time and the run in consistent easy to remember pattern, back up by support systems.
Get over "busism" - in Light Bus Network combination modern buses offer public transport around small cities (and large) of unpredented reliability,memorability, frequency and comfort.
LIGHT BUS does not need to be light years away, it needs a mental shift and political will.