This post first appeared on TraNZport and is republished with permission.
As I’m writing this, I’ve just undertaken a bus trip from Christchurch Airport to Manchester Street in the central city using the #29. I was heading to Christchurch Hospital, so you may be asking why I got off where I did. Well, I’ll get to that part in a moment. This is a short post, but essentially what I want to do is record some observations on airport services.
The thing that surprised me most was that the bus was well used. Everyone had a seat, and there was room to spare, but even in comparison to Wellington’s #91 “Airport Flyer” service it was quite busy.
The #29 was pretty direct and quick. I’ve caught the #P (“Purple Line”) previously, and that seemed to take longer (although not prohibitively so).
The cost was $8.50 which seemed excessive but compares well with other cities and as well as the cost of parking and using a car. I still think it could be cheaper, but airports around the world tend to be excessive in their charges.
I must also mention that the driver was incredibly friendly (and so were the passengers, one talking to us and few thanking the driver as they got off – whoever said that saying thank you to the driver is a “Wellington thing” doesn’t know what they are talking about).
What’s not so good
Where is the bus stop? That’s the question that would be on most people’s lips when they step off the plane, and will still be on their lips 20 minutes later as they try and find them. They are tucked in a corner at what feels like the far end of the terminal with minimal signage like buses are some sort of embarrassment.
Where’s the “Metro” brand? Where’s an information kiosk? Where can I get a Metrocard or top one up? This kind of stuff should be obvious, but it isn’t.
Then there is the bus stop itself. The way it is laid out means that would-be passengers have to dodge traffic, construction works, and don’t have a lot of space. The area is busy with coaches and shuttles sharing the space (passengers have to cross the road that buses traverse to get to the “stops”), and waiting areas for passengers are pretty much non-existent. As for shelter, what shelter? There is none. When I arrived it was almost 30 degrees Celsius. Luckily the driver let us board despite having to wait another 10 minutes. Which brings me to why I got off at Manchester St instead of closer to the hospital. Because the bus was shut off until it departed, or because the air con simply didn’t work, we were sitting in a sauna and I couldn’t stand it anymore so got off as soon as I could (yes, I know the Purple bus would have taken me straight to the hospital but I had no patience to wait for it).
I would also suggest that the various buses that serve the airport are confusing, especially given there is no significant information at the stops explaining how the public transport system works. Travellers would likely have no idea on turning up whether the #29 or #P are their best options.
Finally, perhaps the biggest problem is that to get the best price you have to wander down the road away from the terminal to avoid the airport surcharge (Google even suggests doing this!). Now, this is common for many airports around the world, but I have to say it isn’t doing anything to encourage the use of public transport to and from the airport. This is particularly strange given that, unlike Auckland and Wellington airports, Christchurch Airport is still majority owned by the Christchurch City Council.
I’ve used public transport to get to and from Christchurch Airport a few times now, and have thought long and hard about what improvements are needed so that taking the bus can be a more realistic and useful option for a good chunk of travellers:
- A dedicated, well sign-posted, public transport stop at the airport, with adequate shelter, separate from coaches and shuttles, close to the terminal (similar distance to the drop off/pick up location for cars).
- A “Metro” information kiosk in a logical part of the airport terminal, with maps and timetables. Preferably this should be staffed, but as I’m trying to come up with suggestions that won’t break the bank, this isn’t a necessity (simply having some information would be a giant leap forward).
- If an information kiosk can’t be staffed, then an airport vendor where Metrocards can be purchased/topped up or prepaid cash tickets purchased to make life easier.Perhaps a ticketing machine would be good (though it would be good at other locations too)
- A dedicated, frequent (15 mins at least) service that runs straight to the city centre (as proposed in the regional public transport plan).
- Modern, large buses with air conditioning – I note that delivery of three new electric buses with air conditioning is supposed to take place next month, after which they will operate the #29.
This isn’t a unique problem to Christchurch. Within New Zealand, Auckland and Wellington have their issues, although I would suggest, through having used their airport buses in recent times, they are slightly better in terms of frequency, bus quality, access to the terminal, and signage. Overseas I have experienced much better to even worse than Christchurch, with my favourite experience being when I couldn’t find the Adelaide Airport bus stop (it was a tiny shelter at the other side of a giant car park) and got caught in a torrential thunderstorm. On the way back to the airport, my bus didn’t show up and I had to hail a taxi and made it to check in with a minute to spare.