Christchurch is a city with huge potential for a range of transport options. It is 90% built on flat land and despite the earthquakes still has a somewhat bicycle tyre layout of major ring and radial road routes. However since 2009 because of a range of issues – quake related and non-quake related – the city has seen a substantial decline in bus patronage. And years of making major overhauls to services on average once every couple of years seem to have not made any obviously beneficial impact.
Some of the problems can be traced back to poor decisions made by Environment Canterbury, who has the responsibility of planning bus services which Metroinfo are responsible for implementing. Christchurch City Council provides the infrastructure, such as the bus stops.
In about November 2009, after a decade of steady growth, there was a major overhaul in which bus lanes were introduced major radial routes such as Papanui Road. The bus routes themselves were not a bad idea and I can clearly remember several minutes being knocked of my transit time from the C.B.D. to where I got off on Papanui Road at the end of a days work. However, a combination of changed priorities following the appointment of Government Commissioners to Environment Canterbury and the earthquakes of 2010-2011 meant that within a year, the impact was being lost as resources dedicated to maintaining them were diverted.
However that major change in 2009 also had some very poorly planned route reforms, the logic of which I still cannot comprehend today. For example:
- The old no. 15 bus to Bishopdale used to go past Rangi Ruru Girls School and collect quite a few students who would have otherwise either had to bike or be driven. The day the changes took effect all of them stopped coming and were never seen again on that route. Same route also served several other important amenities in Christchurch, such as Allenvale School for the disabled, and a large number of pensioner flats in Bishopdale.
- They stopped the no. 10 going to Harewood. That was one of the busiest routes in Christchurch as bus patronage goes. If any change really had to happen to it at all, it could have been extended out to Orchard Road and could have serviced the transport needs of people working at Christchurch International Airport and associated businesses such as the rental car yards.
- The no. 17 from Bryndwr to the C.B.D. was a really reliable service prior to the earthquakes. It would take on average 7 minutes to get from Sheffield Crescent at the top end of its run, to the Aorangi Road stop as opposed to nearly 15 minutes now. Although the no. 17 bus still runs, patronage across all operating hours is much reduced.
- The no. 21, 23 and 24 services were good services going past the University of Canterbury, shown by the numbers of students during class hours who would be waiting outside the old U.C.S.A. or on Creyke Road.
When the 22 February 2011 earthquake hit, one of the many buildings it damaged in the C.B.D. was the Bus Xchange on Lichfield Street. For several months there were make shift stops around the fringes of the C.B.D. red zone where the public was prohibited because of the number of badly damaged buildings. A combination of badly damaged roads, road closures, infrastructure repairs and the red zone meant that large parts of the city were inaccessible for an extended length of time. As roads were slowly repaired some routes became usable again, often to only close again weeks later for urgent repairs. Services to many parts of eastern Christchurch now do not run because they have nobody to service in Avonside, Dallington, Bexley and parts of Avondale or Queens Park.
Nearly five years later, after 22 February 2011, the bus services are quite different. Some good services down Papanui Road still run, but they often do not have the advantage of being able to fully use the bus lanes. Roads like Harewood Road have become more congested with vehicles often occupied by only one person.
I used to use a wide range of bus services all over Christchurch to get to/from places and in all kinds of weather because the bus services were reliable enough that I knew that if I was waiting at a bus stop for a certain service, chances were the bus would be nearby. However, for reasons I do not understand, many of the radial route services are much more helter skelter with their timing, and some simply do not show up at all. Given that peoples ratepayer monies are being spent on these services, they have a right to expect them to work.
I do not know what the long term future holds for public transport in Christchurch. I feel whilst the Commissioners are in office at Environment Canterbury, no real progress is likely. As public transport does not appear to be a major priority for them, or the Government that appointed them, only a change of respective office holders will offer any hope.