With bus patronage at its lowest in 3 years, there are calls for changes to be made.
Early, cold and dark. He waits.
The sound of cars slowly gets louder as they speed down a long stretch of road in the East of the city. No stress yet, but time is ticking on. After fifteen minutes he realises it’s not so dark anymore and the cup of coffee in his hand is empty. Looking down the road it’s nothing but cars and some cyclists.
Where is the bus? A question he asks himself far too often, and a scenario which is all too familiar to Christchurch residents.
It seems that when it comes to public transport in our city, frustration comes with the territory. There are calls for more to be done, in terms of reliability, accessibility, and costs.
Passenger numbers on buses have dropped significantly in the last few years. Since 2014 bus boardings have decreased by 410,000. This was around the time bus routes changed, and since then, complaints have been made that some parts of Christchurch were missed out.
Spreydon/Healthcote Community Board Chair Karolyn Potter says there are certain suburbs around the city that have a lack of bus stops and routes nearby. This can become an issue for passengers, particularly older people or those with disabilities.
“We have people in their eighties, who can’t get to a bus stop anymore and there are people up on the port hills who can’t get to a bus either.”
Christchurch City councillor Phil Clearwater accepts there is an issue which needs to be dealt with when is comes to the accessibility of buses.
“It’s not good enough, and we do need to get better coverage of our bus system. There is extra cost, however to make the whole network system work, we need to find a way to fill those gaps.”
However Ecan’s Senior Manager for public transport, Stewart Gibbon says the issue of walking such distances to get a bus isn’t a big issue. However he understands the system isn’t good enough at the moment.
Ecan run the bus system alongside the council. Gibbon says reliability is something which entices people to use public transport and that our buses need to improve on that aspect. He links a lot of this to poor roads that were damaged by the earthquake, especially in the City Centre.
“We know at the moment that the reliability of our network is not as good as it could be, and one of the key issues about that is all the roadworks going on in the city.”
Phil Clearwater thinks of the bus system and usage as a snowball effect.
“Once there’s an understanding in the city that buses are taking too long then fewer people are likely to get on them.”
Stewart Gibbon mentioned that the average waiting time for a bus is around 15 minutes on the main routes. He says if Ecan were to focus on this and shorten the amount of time a passenger is waiting for a bus, reliability would be less of an issue.
“If we were able to improve frequency to ten minutes for example then as a customer you are less reliant on looking at the time table because you know in ten minutes a bus is going to be coming past.”
Although this would decrease waiting time, buses still have to wade through traffic at peak hours, just like a car. Transport planner Glen Koorey says there should be better bus lanes and corridors for them to travel on. He thinks the bus system would be a lot better if it mimicked what was going on in other cities around New Zealand.
”If you’ve ever been to Auckland and looked at the Northern bus way, that’s a fantastic facility on the North Shore that whizzes past the stationary traffic on the motorways,” he says.
Koorey adds that Christchurch needs to look at different options to improve the bus system, or else passenger numbers will continue to decline.
“If people are having faith that they are going to hop on a bus and it’s going to get them to a certain place at a certain time, they need to know they aren’t going to get stuck in traffic.”
The Christchurch City Council has been working on 13 new cycleways around the city. Glen says there has been a 21% increase in cyclists on Christchurch roads in the last year, he claims a lot of this due to the University cycleway, which has improved numbers greatly.
He thinks the recent building of cycle ways would be having an effect on the amount of people who use the bus system, though both public transport and cycleways need equal amounts of attention.
“The fact that we can put our bikes on buses means you get the long distance advantage of a bus, but then you can get the bike out for the last mile. I think we need to work on how we can integrate the two of them together.”
Phil Clearwater and Stewart Gibbon both agree that the environmentally friendly way of travel is having a direct impact on bus patronage.
“As more people get on bikes, those are the people who are willing to change their mode of transport and perhaps more likely to move from the bus and take their bike,” Phil says.
Phil Clearwater talks about the state of Christchurch's bus system
Bus fares have increased in the last 7 years. In 2010, the price for an adult ticket increased from $2.80 to $3.20 if you were paying in cash. A child ticket was bumped up from $1.40 to $1.60 in that year also.
Jump ahead to 2013 and the price of an adult ticket increased by 30 cents and last year adult cash fares went up by a further 50 cents, making the cost to ride a bus $4.
Stewart Gibbon and Glen Koorey say the price of using the bus in our city is cheap compared to other cities around the countries. For example, in Auckland the bus price for an adult is $5.50 for two zones.
They both also urge regular bus users to get metro cards to cut costs down by 30%. However Phil Clearwater sympathises with those on low incomes and people who can’t afford to ride the bus regularly.
“It’s a lot for people with low incomes. We want to make sure buses are affordable for people so we can keep them as cheap as possible.” Phil says.
Along with more cycleways and cyclists around Christchurch, there is talk that the price of petrol could also be affecting patronage on buses. Around the city, petrol is under two dollars per litre.
“The price of fuel is very cheap, so it’s a very attractive option to use your own car,” Stewart says.
Glen Koorey added that petrol prices would definitely be having an effect on passenger numbers, because as they go up and down, people tend to look for alternatives. According to the Ministry of Transport, the cost of fuel has an effect on people wanting to use public transport. If the cost of running your car was to increase, more people would shift to using the bus or other modes of transport.
The bus system isn’t used as much as it was 7 years ago, the fares have increased and reliability is an issue which both Ecan and the council say needs attention. As the city keeps recovering from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the key players want to see public transport in a good place later down the line.
“As the city continues to grow and develop, it’s essential we have a fast, efficient public transport system,” Phil Clearwater says.
Stewart Gibbon agrees things have to improve.
“We might not see immediate changes tomorrow, next week or next year, but I can say with quite a lot of confidence that it’s going to look very different when we look forward into the future.”
410,000 less passengers on buses since 2014
21% increase in cyclists on Christchurch roads in the last year
$1.20 increase in adult bus fares since 2010