21st August 2006
A $330million blueprint for Christchurch bus services (The Press, June 15) shows that the city is serious about finding new ways to make public transport a feasible and attractive alternative to the private motor car.
In particular, proposals to give buses priority on some stretches of road are to be applauded. It has been shown internationally that wherever buses and cars share the road, it’s the bus passengers that suffer. Similarly, plans to aim for 10-minute frequencies and allowing cycles to be carried on some services, shows a degree of determination and sensible risk-taking which is to be commended.
The blueprint, estimated to cost $55million per annum over the next three years, has been produced by the Christchurch City Council, and while it appears to be a promising piece of work, questions must be asked about why the City has felt the need to carry it out as a special project.
Surely a grand plan for buses ought to be considered alongside other public transport modes. In the greater Christchurch region there is strong support for commuter rail services, and with the growth of the dormitory towns such as Rolleston, and soon Pegasus Bay, the need is becoming acute.
Bob Parker, the chair of the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy (UDS), has indicated that rail will be part of the mix but the exact location of potential rail corridors is not yet identified (The Press, June 7). As a consistent advocate for integration of transport modes, I would urge that this work needs to be advanced immediately.
Only when the modes are integrated can we hope to establish the backbone of a system that will serve the city for generations, or even centuries. My own preference is for a rail service that delivers passengers right into Colombo Street, via a connection coming off the Main Line at Moorhouse Avenue. Sound too ambitious? Not at all. Short sections of underground railway line can be surprisingly cost-effective using “cut and cover” construction techniques. There is no need for tunneling. An inner city line with two stations can effectively sit in a trench covered by a lid which is also the road for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. We should also consider a second inner city and inter-urban bus exchange in any developments incorporating the former King Edward Barracks site in Cashel Street, next to the City Mall.
Serious work is also required on the options for ownership and management of a commuter rail service. Toll Holdings, the national rail operator, has indicated it has no interest in these services, and so fresh thinking is required. Christchurch City has an obvious investment and management vehicle in Christchurch City Holding Ltd, but ideally a commuter rail operation should be operated in partnership with the surrounding districts.
Some investigations should also be made into the operational requirements. What kind of rolling stock is needed and how can it be funded? These issues have had some attention in a preliminary investigation and this work should not be allowed to languish.
The key to making central city areas vibrant and attractive places, with a diversity of uses, is to provide efficient and reliable access by a variety of modes. This includes access by cars and ensuring that parking policies encourage short term occupancy – not reserving the best spaces for discounted all-day parking. All the central city public car parking spaces should be free for the first two hours. Indeed, there should be no need to feed money to parking meters. Sensors embedded under the space could register the presence of a vehicle and start the clock. After the prescribed free parking time, the meter flashes red and the wardens issue fines. Circulation of people within the central city area can be encouraged with more hybrid-electric shuttle buses, which are already part of the central city’s identity.
Long term solutions can only be provided through a strategic and reasonably ambitious approach to land use and settlement planning. The wave of submissions on the UDS demonstrates the depth of public interest in getting it right. The scenario planning in the UDS process has set a fairly clear direction, but the challenge will be in how the final preferred option is cemented into the statutory planning processes.
The UDS partners have pledged to work together and put aside differences, which is great, and experienced facilitators have been recruited to drive the process and bang heads together as necessary. My fear is that this won’t be sufficient to steer the process towards a fully multi-modal, scaleable, energy-efficient transport framework.
We must ensure that these good intentions are translated into binding plans under the Regional Policy Statement, which is currently under review. This has to be a core activity for the regional policy process, as it was under the old United Councils. Environment Canterbury has now to deal with the built environment and its new Long Term Council and Community Plan must reflect that obligation under the Local Government Act.
The blueprint for bus services is a useful start. A complete solution, however, demands the right combination of land uses and transport modes which are planned to work together as the community’s needs grow and change.
Christopher Kissling is Professor of Transport Studies at Lincoln University