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"  
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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.