Previous Reports 3: Strategic Business Case for Future of Public Transport in Christchurch

So far my series on previous reports on rail in Christchurch has covered the 2014 commuter rail study and the 2005 rail study. Next on my list are the more recent Business Cases for the Future of Public Transport in Christchurch. The very high-level Strategic Business Case was completed in 2017, the slightly more grounded Programme Business Case was then completed in 2018, and the more detailed business cases are scheduled to commence in the next wee while.

First up I’ll look at the 2017 Strategic Business Case.

My first impression is that it’s a goldmine of graphs and stats for anyone wanting to understand what our transport problems are in Christchurch. A few examples are below (apologies for the low resolution of some of them, I’m just taking them from the pdf report as I don’t have the orginal images).

In recent years, public transport patronage has been growing in every Australasian city. Christchurch was growing in similar fashion to other cities until the earthquakes hit.


A word of caution that this is total patronage growth, not per capita. Axel has questioned how meaningful this really is previously – it is primarily a reflection of each city’s population growth, rather than being anything to do with public transport getting better.

Christchurch gets far less funding per capita for public transport than either Auckland or Wellington.


Instead, in Christchurch we’ve been spending a lot of money on roading relative to public transport, and it’s getting higher. Some of this will be down to the earthquake repairs, but a lot of it won’t be – there are plenty of new motorways, expressways, overbridges etc. being built that are not related to earthquake damage.Capture.JPG

The bus routes that are higher frequencies tend to carry not only more total passengers, but more passengers per service hour. This aligns with international trends.

Capture.JPGPeople who live in the inner west (Riccarton) and the inner east (Phillipstown, Linwood, Waltham) catch buses more than others. People who live in Merivale catch the bus less than others.


Christchurch public transport is slower than Auckland and Wellington public transport.

Capture.JPGOnly a small proportion people living in Christchurch can access the central city by public transport within a reasonable commute time. This is largely due to buses not being protected from congestion. I have looked at this previously here.


This graph shows that in 2010 only about 6% of the people commuting to the city centre did so in public transport (purple). In 2041, assuming we have a similar level of road capacity to what we have now, this mode share will need to more than triple to 20% to accommodate the expected growth.


In light of all this the business case writers have defined 3 problems, and 2 benefits to be had if we can solve those problems:


  1. The current public transport patronage trends risk meeting the aspiration for a greener, compact, accessible, sustainable and innovative vibrant city. (40%)
  2. The current transport system leads to poor comparitive travel times for public transport compared with general traffic and poor journey time reliability for public transport that fails to enable effective travel choice. (40%)
  3. As Christchurch grows, unless there is a shift to increased public transport use, insufficient peak time network capacity will cause increased congestion for all road users, which means that public transport will remain slower than the alternatives and drivers are unlikely to change modes. (20%)

Do you think these capture the problems well?

I sometimes struggle a bit with these sorts of statements. The first one is extremely broad – I like that because it captures all the downsides of not investing in public transport. However that broadness might also make it difficult to use at a practical level – all these outcomes depend on lots of different things that are completely unrelated to public transport, so it’s hard to know how to invest to best achieve these.

The second one is much narrower. This means it doesn’t capture anywhere near all the downsides of not investing, but it is quite a concrete problem where it is simpler to come up with practical ways of solving it.

The third one seems a bit illogical to me. The second problem lends itself to solutions that involve speeding up public transport, like rail corridors or bus lanes. But then the third problem seems to assume public transport will always be sharing roads with traffic and being impacted by congestion.

The benefits to solving these three problems are defined as:

  1. Improved network performance as a result of moving more people in less vehicles.
  2. A greener, compact, accessible, sustainable and innovative economically vibrant Greater Christchurch.

I quite like this. I feel like they’re both quite broad, capturing all the benefits. If we can realise the first one, then the second one should follow.

There’s a couple of additional things that I think are strong arguments for investing in public transport but aren’t covered in this business case:

  1. Investing in high quality public transport that expands the number of people within an easy commute of the central city has been shown to increase productivity, through increasing the labour pool available to organisations.The second benefit statement may be meaning this when it says “innovative economically vibrant Greater Christchurch” or possibly “accessible”, but I think it’s so important it deserves to be stated explicitly.
  2. Investing in public transport decreases inequality, as it provides a low-cost means of accessing opportunities to people with less money. The map of bus rates by suburb above illustrates what we already know – poorer people tend to use public transport more than richer people.These equity benefits aren’t really covered anywhere in the business case, but I think they’re really important reasons to invest.

So that’s the Strategic Business Case. Stay tuned next week as we look into solutions for addressing these problems, straight from the Programme Business Case.

What stands out to you from all this? Do you think the authors have laid out the reasons to invest in public transport about right?

5 thoughts on “Previous Reports 3: Strategic Business Case for Future of Public Transport in Christchurch

  1. I think the third problem makes sense in that while the second identifies the problem of why PT isn’t effective in Christchurch, the third identifies why it needs to be improved. Of course, some might say that we can just build more roads, but then we loop back to the first problem. So in all, I think the problems identified in the Strategic Business Case make sense and tell a pretty good story.


  2. Peoples travel choices are significantly influenced by:

    1) spatial land use pattern – Chc is pretty close to a uniform circle of low density with a CBD, vs Wellington which is heavily geographically constrained.

    Our Space 2018-2048 mainly sees more low density development. (I note infill / higher density will only happen to the extent market land use and transport prices change)

    2) Transport costs (financial & perceived generalized costs) – parking is relatively cheap & there are no congestion tolls & carbon prices have not yet soared. Without price change there is no incentive to change mode unless regulated to do so. The only real shift in transport costs recently are the electric scooters (cheap & fast). I.e. car travel will remain dominant.

    PT needs:
    1) bus lanes on all core routes to increase the speed of PT services
    2) levy on all cbd parking & pricing on all parking within walking/scooter distance of CBD

    That said the business case & PT strategy consultation document have little to no focus on the essential role of providing “Public” transport via a full coverage network for the poor and carless.


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