Environment Canterbury (ECan) figures show bus and ferry trips in greater Christchurch dropped to 1.12 million during September – 370,000 fewer trips than the month before. The last time there were fewer than 1.2m trips in September was in 2001, (1.01m trips). Whilst this drop can largely be attributed to the earthquake, public transport patronage dropped in 2009-2010 from 17.28 million trips the previous year to 17.21 million trips. This was the first drop in patronage on the Metro service since 2003-2004.
This drop on the number of trips for 2009/10 is a worry. Even with the recent earthquake, it is hardly good news when ECan had hoped to double public transport patronage within just a few short years. ECan’s public transport manager, Wayne Holton-Jeffreys, has put the blame on the recession, an excuse which I refuse to buy.
Over the last year or two, public transport improvements seem to have dried up. As a result, I do wonder if we have reached a patronage “ceiling” of sorts. Recently I posted about the lack of progress on bus lanes. I know that the earthquake has affected things considerably, but it can’t be argued that this project went well off track before then. Then there is the upgrade to the Metrocard (promised months ago yet still no online top-up function), park and ride (which would provide immense benefit for those in Waimakariri and Selwyn areas, also promised for a long time), and suburban interchanges. I could go on but I don’t have all night. In addition to a lack of progress on much-needed public transport improvements such as these, there has just been a lack of information in general from the powers that be (that goes for ECan and the Christchurch City Council). Recent bad publicity hasn’t helped, helping to stoke the fires of the myths that our bus conditions are of a sub-standard nature, and public transport is abnormally expensive in Christchurch.
It is excellent to note that bus lanes and suburban interchanges are “being progressed” but once again there is no information or vision of this, just as we constantly hear about rail but never see anything or hear any details of exactly how it could be.
I also must call into question something here. Are suburban interchanges that high priority? Once again there is a lack of information that makes me feel uncomfortable. What function will these interchanges really fulfil? What kind of standard will they bring to the system? How will they improve the efficiency of public transport and lead to a greater number of trips being taken? Unless they fulfil a more useful function, such as offering secure cycle lock-up facilities and perhaps Metrocard top-up facilities, then I struggle to understand the high priority placed upon them. I would much rather see park and ride implemented in places such as Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Rolleston, or the development of a network of express buses at peak hours as it is at the moment. Perhaps they could finally get around to building the long promised Lyttelton bus-ferry interchange to replace the semi-construction site they have now?
There seems to be a lot of talk but very little action on the public transport front in Christchurch over the last couple of years. Improvements, and we were really just playing catch-up, seem to have stopped. There is little to no information being released about the future direction of public transport (once again, check out the bus priority website). After several years of strong growth, we wonder why patronage has stalled? Recession? Yeah right. Lets hope 2011 bodes well. I’m looking forward to (well hoping for, really) a number of positive announcements.