15 – the “dropped noodle” bus route

Posted on February 3, 2012 by


Changes have been announced to bus routes as a response to Redbus dropping its two commercial routes, the 10 (Bishopdale-Cashmere) and 29 (Airport), with these to take effect from 4 Feb. The 29 (Airport) has been picked up as a Metro tendered route and has had slight route and timetable adjustments while the 10 has been canned altogether. In the place of the 10, the 15 (Bishopdale to Beckenham) and 12 (Northwood to Murray Ainsley) have been modified. The 12 will now run a similar route to the former 10 to Cashmere, while the 15 will run a strange route to Hillsborough. The 16 (Belfast) will also no longer operate. A map of the revised 15 is below.

The 15 really bugs me. It was never the most direct route, tending to zig zag its way through some of the quieter streets. I have always felt it is the kind of route we should avoid. Now it just gets worse with the changes, doing a complete dog-leg at its southern end as it attempts to provide a solution to the re-routing of the 12. I have to ask, is it even needed at all? If the 10 had been kept as a tendered route, we could have a situation where bus services run on either side of the 15 run at much higher frequencies, and possibly ditch the 15 altogether. Here is a map of the current (pre 4 Feb) set-up showing the 15 (light pink) with the 10, and 12 running down Colombo on the left, and the 18 down Waltham on the right.

In fact there a few “zig-zag” type routes around the south. At the other end we have a similar story, with the 9 running to the left of the 15, and the 10 along Harewood Rd to the right (with a whole bunch of other routes running down Papanui Rd). Of note is the 14, which starts at the same point as the 15 and does almost a circle to get to Papanui! Then there is the 20 on the extreme left, which looks a bit of a special case. There seems to be a few of those around the city as some routes seem geared to simply ensure adequate coverage of the city, which in my view compromises quality.

I have crudely shown where other key routes run in relation to the 15 in the map below. To my eye, it looks like the 15 is trying to do everything at once. Surely that just results in a service that pretty much achieves nothing? Is it a good use of resources? Would it be better to consolidate routes and avoid ones like the 15? The only people I can imagine who would use it are those that really need to, rather than it being a true transport option in general. I would really love to get my hands on patronage figures for the 15. In the south, you already have the 12 running down Colombo St, the 18 down Waltham Rd, and even the 28 from Lyttelton, all pretty much serving the areas the dog-leg serves. Further, the Orbiter crosses the lot. To the north there is the 9 down Wairakei Rd and Rossall St, the former 10 (if it was kept as a tendered route) down Harewood and Papanui Rds, along with all the other Papanui Rd buses.

I think now is a chance to seriously rethink the way we designate bus routes. Do we want bus routes which try to do everything? The end result just seems to be routes that have great big kinks in them, or do dog-legs and spirals (well, almost) and take forever to get you to where you want to go. In my mind, having a system of fewer but really high-quality bus routes would be better, so that you are focusing your resources onto fewer, but more useful, corridors. No dog-legs, no kinks, just straight lines into and across the city with high frequencies, and good connections. Couple such an approach with bike stands at key locations, bus priority roll out, and the development of suburban interchanges and you have the start of a very useful system.

I guess it boils down to service coverage vs intensity. Do you want a system that tries to go everywhere as much as possible, albeit slowly and with resources spread out, or a system where you have fewer routes but that operate at incredibly high frequencies and to a high standard. Sure, it may be useful to be within 100m of a bus stop. However, that bus may take you around in circles, run only once every 30 mins, and take 40 minutes to get to where you want to go rather than the 20 mins or less it takes you by car. Would it be better to have a bus route 500m from your house that runs every 10 minutes or less, that runs in a straight line, that connects with other similar standard bus routes at key nodes if you want to go in a different direction, and on which more investment can be concentrated for things like bus lanes, bike lock-ups, better stops and so forth.

The 15, and other routes like it, represent what I feel is wrong with the bus system as it currently is. There seems to be a lot of focus on coverage, and getting a bus route past everyone’s doorstep as much as possible, whereas I think if we focus on quality, timeliness, and connectivity then coverage will surely follow. Looking at the future direction of the type of network we should have is another post for another day, which, if I have time, I would like to look into next week. For now, I will leave you with the strange case of the 15 to ponder.

On another note, if anyone feels like submitting a guest post please feel free. I haven’t been able to update this blog as much I would like to lately, and always welcome readers contributions.