Changes to Wellington Bus Network includes focus on core routes

Posted on March 4, 2012 by

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Wellington has recently begun a review of its bus services, and has proposed some colossal changes to the way the entire network operates. Some of the changes have quite some resemblance to ideas discussed in recent posts on the future of the Christchurch bus network, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at what they are doing, with a mind to what might work well in Christchurch.

Essentially, the proposed changes boil down to categorising bus services into one of three categories. Core, secondary, and peak-only services. Core services, A-H in the map below, would operate at 15 minute frequencies or less seven days a week, and connect all the major transport corridors, town centres, and important destinations.

Secondary routes would run every 30-60 minutes, and would serve the lighter populated corridors, with most running seven days a week. They are numbered in the 10, 20 and 50s in the map below. Interestingly, while some routes run into the CBD, others do not, and terminate at a suburban centre where people transfer to a core route. Others form loops.

Peak-only services would supplement the all-day routes, providing express services and direct services into the CBD from areas served by secondary routes, minimising the need for transferring during the busiest period. Some services would provide access to fringe areas where there is low all-day demand.

What I like about these proposed changes are that they create a very simplified and easy to use and understand network, while the cores routes correlate with the city’s key busy corridors, that are also ripe for ruther urban renewal. Further, it concentrates investment on the corridors that will get the most benefit and it sets up a good foundation for future public transport improvements. With suburban interchanges and a simplified system, while people may have to make transfers it should be easier for people to get to more destinations.

While an increased number of people will need to transfer (mainly during off-peak), the whole concept of transfers should be far easier to digest simply through planning for connections at key suburban centres. However, they will need to ensure that not only do they ensure that bus services align well, with little delay for the traveller, but that transfer facilities are up to scratch. Wellington isn’t the most pleasant place weather wise, so suburban interchanges will have to be of a very high standard if they want people to accept the transfer concept. This is something I think is crucial to the success of this type of network. In the FAQ, they have this to say:

Q: What do you mean by “good shelter” at connection points?
A: Shelters at these points would have appropriately sized, weather-proof and well-lit bus shelters, with RTI information screens and other timetable and local information, just in case you need to wait at one of these locations.

A little ambiguous, but again I think the quality of transfer facilities needs to be well thought out. Shelters that are largely enclosed, and perhaps provide cover almost to the bus door would be a good start (something similar, but slightly better, than what exists in Hornby perhaps?).

Unfortunately for Wellingtonians, while transfers between buses of the same company would be free, going between operators would incur the penalty of an additional fare. Wellington has really yet to get its head around integrated ticketing, and although it is certainly possible that there are a variety of good reasons why this has been difficult to achieve, I think it is something that holds back public transport usage, especially with the type of network they are trying to achieve. I certainly think it would be preferable to have integrated ticketing sorted before rolling out a network which relies on transfers to such a high degree. There are no such problems with this in Christchurch, as we well know that the metrocard allows for unlimited free transfers for two hours after one fare payment, and that there is a daily, and weekly cap on fares across all operators. I actually think that Christchurch is actually in a better position to begin implementing a similar type of network than Wellington because of this, although I think confirmation of funding for planned suburban interchanges and further roll out of bus priority measures is also required. For Wellington, perhaps integrated ticketing is not too far off on the horizon, as the FAQ doe imply that the lack of a universal free transfer is “short-term”:

Q: Will passengers have to pay a new fare when they transfer at connection points?
A: No, our aim is to keep the cost of a trip the same, whether or not you need to connect.  In the short term there would be a free transfer between two buses of the same bus operator (e.g. GO Wellington), but if you needed to switch between operators (e.g. from a Newland Coach Services bus onto a GO Wellington bus) you would have to pay two fares as currently occurs.

Something else I would like to touch on are peak-only express services. In all the recent talk on this blog, I don’t think there has been much said about the opportunity such services could present. Currently, there are only a limited number of express services in Christchurch. I used to catch the morning and evening 81 (Lincoln) express services from and to Prebbleton, and found it to be a much more pleasant experience than taking the usual all stops (for a start, there are little to no school kids on it). However, there was only one service so miss it, and you have to add 20 minutes to your journey (which I discovered one rainy afternoon). I am not entirely sure as yet what would be best; an entirely separate network of express services; inserting express services into (possible) core routes at peak; or perhaps both. Services with limited stops and running express for certain distances, and utlising bus priority measures such bus lanes and bus signals, would offer a very tempting service for many people.

What makes the Wellington situation more interesting is that, much like I proposed for Christchurch, there is an additional rapid transit element. There are the rail lines to the north, which links Wellington CBD with the key satelite centres of Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, Porirua and the Kapiti Coast as well as Johnsonville, and currently a study is under way for the development of a “public transport spine” that would look at “the feasibility of options for a future high quality, high frequency public transport spine through central Wellington between the Wellington Railway Station and Newtown”. Review, feedback and report on feasibility of short-listed options for this spine are due in December-October 2012. Feedback on the bus review is open until March, with a report back in April/May. It will be interesting to see what the outcomes of this are.

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