There seem to have been a lot of blogs and twitter threads popping up over the last few weeks describing what we should be doing in Ōtautahi Christchurch to rebuild our public transport into a 21st century system befitting Aotearoa’s second city. For example:
- Brendon Harre’s plan here:
- Cameron Matthews’ vision here:
- Mostly Okay’s plans here:
- Harrison McEvoy’s thread here.
These all have many similarities to what the official plans already are, but also some key differences. I thought I’d just do a recap on what the official plans currently are so everyone’s clear.
In late 2021 CCC, SDC, WDC, Ecan and WK all signed up to the improvements laid out in the PT Futures Business Case.
The first stage of this included:
- Initially retaining the current bus network structure
- Increasing frequencies on core routes to “turn-up-and-go” (7.5 minutes peak, 10 minutes off-peak)
- Installing bus lanes on almost all of the inner core, mostly by reallocating road space from parking.
- Direct services between satellite towns and central city, supported by park and rides.
- Improving information – upgrading GPS system that feeds apps, upgrading real-time displays, audio announcements
This programme has a non-trivial yet very manageable amount of capital investment needed (~$87m all up) so we’re already starting to see this being rolled out. The bigger funding challenge is the increase in operational costs required (~$65m to ~$84m every year). And logistical challenges like putting on more services when we can’t even get enough bus drivers for the existing ones (here).
The second stage includes:
- A major network restructure
- Changing most of the core routes to a branching structure, which enables really high frequencies through the inner core whilst retaining coverage in the lower density outer suburbs.
- Consolidating several third-tier routes into one “outer half-orbiter”, connecting Halswell-Hornby-Airport-Belfast-New Brighton.
This network requires low capital expenditure ($28m) as it will have mostly been built in stage 1. But it runs way more buses to more places more frequently, and so has higher annual operating costs again (~$84m to $117m).
The third stage looks at the role of mass rapid transit in this system, and is still being threshed out. In April the elected members were given a briefing that included this:
- “the initial focus… is on the sections of the street running corridor scenario which have the highest forecast use in public transport ridership and connect existing Key Activity Centres (Riccarton Road and Papanui Road). These sections have high potential to demonstrate value for money and contribute meaningfully to outcomes sought as summarised below.”
- “Stage 2 will then explore the value proposition and best way to expand MRT to Selwyn and Waimakariri. This stage explores the pros and cons of extending the preferred mode identified in Stage 1 to Selwyn and Waimakariri, or a complementary service.”
- “Stage 3 will consider the benefits and risks over Stages 1 and 2 by adopting heavy rail as the headline mode, or by adjusting the route to run along the motorway corridors as envisaged with the limited stops scenario.”
There are a lot of similarities between the official plans and the ideas we’re seeing from bloggers and advocates. But a few key differences too I think could do with some more thinking on:
- The level of ambition. Advocates’ ideas are often for more comprehensive solutions (and therefore a much higher level of investment), not asking “either-or” but “why not both?” (for example both heavy rail and light rail). They would be very expensive but, given we are in a crisis, perhaps that is where we need to be heading…
- The timing and extent heavy rail. Advocates’ ideas often include heavy rail as one of the earlier movers, rather than later. And more extensive networks too.
- Different bus network structures. I don’t think any of the ones I’ve seen incorporate branching. Some have interesting combinations of different bus routes joined together. We’re already seeing Ecan start playing around with things like this, e.g. their recent consultation on flipping the heads and tails of routes 17 and 28.
It’s great to see all the public discourse on this though, and a general recognition that Christchurch needs better public transport than what it’s got now. I think it’s already starting to make a difference in the difference in the city.
And to finish on that note, here’s a picture of the soon-to-open Lincoln Road bus lanes – an absolute godsend for us southwesternites. Future blog on this coming soon!