Here comes “The Comet” (and other bus route changes)

Posted on August 27, 2011 by


ECan are to undertake changes to Christchurch bus services as a response to the changed environment since 22 February. This also includes new trial suburb to suburb services, such as “The Comet”. From the ECan website:

All three main bus contractors (GoBus, Leopard and Red Bus) have had input to the process to date. Consultation has also included Black Cat Ferries, Ritchies Bus Services and the NZ Transport Agency.

“We have to make changes so we can restore confidence in the Metro service and to ensure it remains financially viable. It’s essential agencies and companies involved in public transport work together constructively to boost public transport as the city rebuilds.” says David Stenhouse, Environment Canterbury’s acting manager passenger services.

Metro services are being changed to provide a better service to the new centres of employment created by the disruption caused to central Christchurch by the 22 February earthquake. These improvements are part of wider changes to the way public transport services are contracted.

“The changes will enable us to service the newly emerged employment hubs, restore public transport services to levels similar to those before the February 22 earthquake, and give us the flexibility to make changes to contracts and routes as parts of the central city open up in coming years,” says Mr Stenhouse.

The new routes will include the Sheffield Crescent business hub in Burnside and the Nazareth Ave/Wrights Rd commercial area in Addington/Middleton.*

Since the 22 February earthquake public transport use in Greater Christchurch has dropped by around 50 per cent on the same time last year. This has put huge pressure on Environment Canterbury’s public transport reserve funds and reduced the share paid by bus users to the cost of running the bus network.

Mr Stenhouse said the contracting changes provide more certainty to operators in what was a very uncertain environment. “Longer term contracts will result in efficient pricing, greater stability, and reduced subsidy over time. The contracts will also be more flexible to drive greater service improvement across the city.”

You can see changes to current routes as well as new trial routes here (from page 10). This seems to me to still be a knee jerk response and nothing revolutionary, which to be honest is probably the only approach they can take right now. However, more suburb to suburb services is probably a good thing, particularly if the light rail proposals go forward.

It is worrying to see that patronage has been cut to such an extent, but is probably reflective of the operation of the system as much as the need for new and modified routes. Some of that simply can’t be helped, but I still think the powers that be need to look at alternative initiatives like fast tracking bus lanes, bus signals, cycle/park and ride, and incorporating suburban interchanges into the recovery and rebuild of major suburban centres to allow for easier and more efficient transfers between services (even temporary ones by improving bus stop conditions).

Although introducing new routes is all good, we can’t provide direct links for everyone so to me better more reliable services and easy to make transfers would go a long way toward regaining patronage and providing a more effective system. Just to put things in perspective, even with current patronage cut by 50 percent, it is still better than it was in the early 1990’s!

Anyway, the document is an interesting read, including comments from the operators around the contracting and fare revenue issues. A worrying sign is that the establishment of a central interchange is making slow progress. Having a central interchange again will make the system much more user-friendly so this should also have priority, but seems to be held up by the whole ‘multiple authority’ approach to public transport in greater Christchurch!