Bus liveries are cool – but where’s the much needed changes?

This post first appeared at TraNZport and is republished with permission.

Christchurch joins Auckland and Wellington in having a standard livery for its bus fleet. First, I think it’s about time. Apparently, the city has up to eight different liveries running on the roads at the moment, and most carry that silly “metro” signage box on top. It’s ugly, confusing, unecessary, and kind of disappointing it took until 2020 to sort it out. As part of the roll-out of new bus contracts in September, Environment Canterbury is introducing a standard livery across the fleet (except for the Orbiter route which retains its unique colour), which is teal in colour, with a dynamic design on the side representative of Canterbury flora, fauna and landscapes. It and feels a little muted to me. I’d prefer if they just used the new orbiter livery on all buses, to be honest.

Why can’t they all just be green?

Still, it’s about twenty times better than what we Wellingtonians have to put up with:

IS Christchurch’s new bus livery better than Wellington’s “vomit” green? – ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

And it’s arguably more tidy than what Aucklanders experience:

Boring? – TODD NIALL

It just feels… a little 90s.

Get more people using the bus – that’s the mission. We want to make it clearer that this is a single, reliable, connected network that will get you anywhere you need to go in greater Christchurch across the day

Phil Clearwater, ECan Councillor

A standard livery presents a better image to the public, undoubtedly. That’s all cool and all, but Christchurch needs a lot more than new coloured buses to address its poor public transport use. In fact, the network needs to be more reliable (bus priority), more connected (higher frequencies), and have better coverage (more routes, and high frequency routes) of the city. Auckland’s uniform livery was an improvement, but what has made the bus network there power ahead is investment in double deck buses, the northern busway, the coming eastern busway, and integration with the vastly improved commuter rail network, as well as a well received overall network redesign. Christchurch has none of these happening (I think – more below). Wellington experienced the “bustastrophe” in 2018 when it introduced a new livery and network, yet those network changes have actually led to an increase in patronage, with more changes coming to address shortcomings in service (check out my previous post on this). At least Wellington got double decker buses, which I can confirm have done a lot for improving the service offering by relieving overcrowded peak buses (though more could be done).

Unless local politicians are prepared to pony up with the dollars and really invest in quality services and the right infrastructure to support it, pretty paint jobs will only go so far. In a city like Christchurch, there’s so much low hanging fruit with optimising the current bus system that it’s unbelievable it still hasn’t happened. It’s 2020, and public transport patronage has been stalled for several years because the current system just doesn’t work because it is grossly underfunded (see this excellent TalkingTransport post). It’s too hard, and nothing gets done.

Honestly, why not use the livery in this image?

There were some other interesting bits in relation to this announcement. First, electric buses are on the rise with 25 planned for 2020/21 along with 39 low emissions buses. I think they could be much more ambitious, but it’s a start I guess. It will, however, see fleet CO2 emissions reduce by 14 per cent in the first year of the contracts.

The new buses will also see “bigger vehicles” introduced on core (high frequency) routes. Now, I have to speculate; will this mean double deckers? Not only is Christchurch the largest Australiasian city without rail or rapid transit, it’s also now beaten by Hamilton in having double deckers. I noted the benefits in Wellington, undoubtedly felt by passengers in Auckland and Hamilton too. I think those types of investment go much further than a livery change in changing peoples perceptions of public transport.

Teal in the flesh

All in all a pretty underwhelming, if necessary, improvement to Christchurch’s public transport system. But let’s get some real good news from our southern city’s bus network.

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