Future of Transport discussion

Posted on May 2, 2010 by

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Friday morning I toddled off down to ECan’s offices for a talk on the future of transport in Canterbury. It was well attended, with a good coverage of the various councils, as well as consultants, architects, transportation industry, students, and a couple of general-interest people.

There were three speakers;  Steve Abley (Abley Transportation Consultants) talking about the integration needed and the overlaps and inefficiencies in transport planning, Robert Woods (Ecan Programme Manager Transport), about the current and future needs of Greater Christchurch’s public transport network, and Dr Simon Kingham (UC), about the benefits of a cycling city. Unfortunately I can’t recall all the details, and the first one stuck in my mind the most…

Robert Woods talked about the challenges facing the current public transport system in Chch, as well as the issues for the future. Obviously, peak oil is a major factor, and perhaps the worst thing about it from a planning perspective is that there’s going to be a lot of price volatility – which makes it nearly impossible to budget accurately for a fleet of diesel buses.  He also looked at the growth Greater Christchurch is likely to have over the coming decades – a 50% population increase – which is split 50%-25%-25% between Christchurch City, Selwyn District (esp. Rolleston), and Waimakiriri District (Kaiapoi & Rangiora). The population would also age substantially – with 65+’s going from 13% of pop. to 22% of pop in twenty years or so.  Add into the mix peak oil again, and the bigger picture comes out: a city growing along two corridors, with decreasing ability to run private cars. He estimated that public transport capacity would need to treble – and that the cost would as well. The current public transport system costs around $72 million a year to run but with a need to treble capacity and cope with peak oil price rises, that figure could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Woods’ plan was to move towards an integrated grid-based network focussed on the North and South Corridors, which together account for about 40% of the public transport trips. He didn’t specify a technology – but noted that ideally it would be able to be incrementally rolled out, though rail would be likely to handle the larger capacity in the future. He gave quick numbers that the running cost of that system would be around $20 million a year, with a $300 million construction cost.  If the costs of the running the current corridors with buses are in proportion to passenger volumes, and if it was running tomorrow, then his system would be up to $10 million cheaper a year to run at today’s prices.

Interestingly, though, he didn’t mention Lyttleton or that south-east corridor. Normally, Lyttleton has been at the top of rail studies done.

Simon Kingham focused on active transport, especially cycling. While he didn’t have the figures comparing NZ with Europe; Australia, USA, UK, were always the least-cycling nations, so I’d be fair to assume we’re in that bunch as well.  He talked a lot about the benefits of cycling, and highlighted an English program that saw major increases in cycle use in 6 towns of about 100,000 people each. For £5 per capita, and without any real infrastructure development, the Cycling England project saw a 27% increase in cycling, to which they give a benefit-cost ration of “at least 3:1”. There is great potential for the same thing to be tried in Christchurch, to turn around dropping cycling numbers, to increase the fitness of the average Cantabrian, and to improve everybody’s safety, and of course congestion. He also highlighted data from the Netherlands in terms of cycle safety, showing that there was a correlation between the numbers of cyclists and cyclist-fatalities. Christchurch should have a much better cycle culture than it does, though arguably it has the best cycle culture of any major NZ city.

Steve Abley talked about integration as needing to be the primary focus when developing transport policy, and accessibility as the second, rather than focussing on particular technologies or routes. He noted that there could be up to 8-1/2 council and planning organisations working on transport in Greater Christchurch at any one time (NZTA being the half), with significant crossover and obvious inefficiencies, and he hinted that an umbrella organisation could mean a better deal for Canterbury.

After the talks, there was around an hour for discussion from the group. Tram-trains got brought up again, with the suggestion being a single tram line running down Riccarton Ave and Tuam St to the new Exchange. I asked about freight, as all the talks had been about public transport, but the government’s focus has been more directed at road freight. There was at least one person from a trucking company, but the comments from him and from others were basically that road freight is such a cut-throat industry that they couldn’t really plan far ahead. The trucking guy didn’t mention peak oil, but surely it must be scaring them? The thrust was however that trucking companies would just have to pass costs onto consumers or go bust, or both. They noted that shifting freight onto rail and coastal shipping was a good idea, but the trucking companies didn’t have the capital to give those forms the investment they need to be viable, and as yet don’t yet see a pressing need to shift formats on a large scale. Other topics were a public bike-hire system for Chch, and a need for transport advocates to develop flagship designs that politicians could ‘achieve’, in order for real progress to be made. It’s not good enough having sensible ideas, they also need to be able to win someone re-election!

The rest was typical get-a-bunch-of-transport-people-in-a-room stuff, and I’m not a very good journalist, otherwise I would have taken notes. Next time…

…also, the journey to Ecan was a really nice commute. About 15mins bus (the good ol’ #5) and 10mins walk, through the nice end of Montreal St and across Cranmer Sq. Felt sorry for all the suckers in cars.

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Posted in: Christchurch, General