The Press today published an article about the drop in patronage on Christchurch bus services, although given the wording used within you could be forgiven for thinking that only 3 people were using the entire system a day and that the very concept of public transport was should be called into question. Okay, maybe not quite, but once again the Press decide that instead of focusing on the real issue, the fall in patronage following the earthquake, they will focus on the ‘millions of dollars’ being lost as a result.
Having said that, the fall in patronage is quite substantial, March trips down to less than a third from the same period last year. This is obviously concerning, and brings a few questions to mind (more on that in a second). More promising though, April patronage was more than half of the previous year and more than th March total. Still not totally good news but bare two things in mind. First, there has been a massive natural disaster in Christchurch that will cause significant disruption to transport for at least 12 months. Obviously, this is going to affect patronage as people stay home more, travel shorter distances, and, with Christchurch relying on a bus based public transport system with little bus priority infrastructure, means disrupted and disjointed bus services offer little compared to car travel, even with all the post-quake congestion. Second, March is traditionally the strongest month for public transport patronage in New Zealand. April saw more trips than March in total, and compared to 2010 April was comparatively a much better month than March. This is a promising trend, especially given the circumstances, so it’s a shame the article didn’t focus on that aspect of it (headline: “Bus use beginning to recover”).
Is the running of bus services to the edge of the CBD a particularly good idea? Could some services somehow loop through Riccarton and Addington, where a lot of business has moved and good connections with other systems could be made? Is there scope to provide further cross-town services that bypass the CBD? Could we reinstate some through routes? More than anything, I think the current situation shows what a foolish idea having multiple bus terminals in the CBD is, and why it is better to manage buses through the CBD rather than ‘ban’ them. Having a central interchange seems to make quite a difference for connectivity across the city. Without it, the system does not really operate too well.
In my opinion such ideas have merit and could be explored but at the end of the day, given the situation, so long as the system is usable the focus might go on long-term ideas rather than ideas that don’t fit a long-term vision and won’t be needed in 12 months time. It is also early days and it is probably quite amazing we even have a system up and running at all at this stage (which should have been more of a focus in that article!). Hopefully some improvements and smart ideas are put in place in the coming months. The system is still focused on the CBD when that isn’t where the focus is at the moment, so some temporary changes to reflect that would be welcome in the coming months. However, I won’t expect miracles.