Moving toward a simple bus system

Posted on February 10, 2012 by


Last week I posted about the 15 route (Bishopdale – Murray Aynsley) which, since the changes that came into effect on 4 Feb, seems to be guilty of trying to do too much as a single bus route, to the extent that it does a giant dog-leg at its southern extremity. I have always felt that the way to go is to create a more simple system focusing on high-quality and high-frequency lines (of any mode) that head into the CBD and across the city in straight lines (or as straight as is possible), and others which avoid the CBD altogether with key interchange points in the suburbs. The recent changes, I feel, are a strange step in the wrong direction.

I feel there are two ways to deal with the problems that routes like the 15 are trying to deal with. First, we could do away with them altogether, focusing on bolstering existing and funding new routes that pass through key nodes, in a straight fashion (i.e. no kinks, no loops, no dog-legs). If all these routes criss-cross the city (a mixture of pendulum style routes running through the CBD, and routes which cross the city avoiding the CBD) we may actually cover the same area but with a network that is far more efficient, simple, and user-friendly. Another possibility, although I feel it is the ‘next-step’ in the process anyway, is to do much of the above, but begin to develop local bus networks around key nodes, for example Riccarton, Linwood (kind of already happening) or Hornby. In either case, the idea is to build up a network based around the concept of transferring, the idea being that you can get from anywhere to anywhere with just one transfer rather than trying to build a network that tries to serve as many places as possible on one route and is useful to all but a handful of people (which is pretty much the concept Paul Mees advocates). Add in things like improved walking and cycling access to bus routes, bus priority, and a rapid transport network running along the key spines of the city, and you start to have a plan for a truly world-class public transport network.

Lets take a look at the map above. First, there is the 18. I fail to see what purpose it serves, except perhaps to fill the gap between Papanui Rd and Cranford Street, which is negligible and could possibly be fixed by bringing the Orbiter further south (why does it even go all the way up to QEII Drive?). Then there is the 46 which does a massive  loop through Mairehau then back to Shirley, which is an area the Orbiter covers anyway. That route ends up in Burwood, so why not have it run straight to the city, with the Orbiter running through Mairehau and connecting to other buses in Shirley and Papanui interchanges?

Below I have made a very crude schematic of how bus routes might look in the city’s west. Red lines run through the CBD, green lines do not (I have sort of based those on the Orbiter and Comet). Not every route is there , as it is indicative only, but you should get the gist. Transfers can be made at all the black squares and the idea is that you should be able to get to anywhere from anywhere in one transfer, while routes run directly from a to b without doing any loops or back-tracks. Routes simply criss-cross the city, providing effective coverage through easy and abundant transfers at key locations, meaning an end to loopy bus routes.

The logic behind that little map is that they are routes that would connect the key nodes (hence why there is a split after Riccarton to the Airport and Hornby). I would assume there would be other routes, such as a direct Airport-CBD bus, where warranted that would still potentially connect with other routes, just not at a suburban interchange.

Christchurch is kind of getting there already. We introduced pendulum routes, and now have 3 cross-city bus routes. The Bus Exchange, and now Central Station, introduced the public to the concept of a system that encouraged transferring, and patronage actually increased significantly. Further, suburban interchanges have been on the cards for some time to improve transfers outside of the CBD, and this seems to have been well supported. In short, the idea that transferring is a normal part of using public transport, and can actually make the system more efficient, flexible and user-friendly, is already proven and accepted to a large degree in Christchurch.

We also have an integrated ticketing system in place, bike racks on buses, and did have bus priority slowly being rolled out (currently on halt for obvious reasons). What was/is missing is some bravery on ironing out the kinks on key routes, reviewing some of the noodle-type routes, and getting serious about cross-city routes that avoid the CBD. A rapid-transit network, based upon that proposed in the final draft Central City Plan, would slot into the system nicely, with the only difference being greater capacity and (hopefully) greatly increased right of way.

I feel that to move toward this some progress needs to be made in certain areas. First, there needs to be a clear plan and progress on implementing bus lanes and other bus priority measures along key routes between all the nodes. We also need to make decisions and obtain funding for the much talked about suburban interchanges – we have seen how people will take to transferring when you provide quality facilities in which to do so (bus exchange), so it makes sense to get these sorted before you build a system around transferring. I also think that we need to make decisions on a rapid transit network before we go too crazy (such as deciding if we will utilise the railway lines). Sure, in the interim changes can be made such as getting rid of or modifying some nonsense bus routes, but to put a full plan like this into action you will need to know where the rapid transit system is to go, and how it will fit in, so we can map out a full system.

I think I can do a little bit more work on this. I find the whole concept of how we can rethink what we currently have for big gains in the short-term, and how it will fit into a future transport system, quite fascinating, and I would like to provide a bit more explanation around how I think we might do that. That will take me some time though, as I am currently quite busy with work and, well, getting on with living (I am only so much of a nerd, I can only spend so many hours on a computer away from work!). Hopefully this will give you a bit of an idea of where I am going though, and hopefully I can get together yet another follow-up next week.