Use public transport or face big traffic congestion issues

THE FUTURE: In the next thirty years, four times as many people need to be catching the bus.

The number of people using public transport needs to quadruple over the next 30 years, a new report says.

The Greater Christchurch Public Transport: A Case for Investment report will be presented to the greater Christchurch partnership committee tomorrow.

The committee is made up of the city council, as well as the Waimakariri and Selwyn district councils, Environment Canterbury and Ngai Tahu.

It looks at the future of public transport and lays out a case for investment in service and infrastructure until 2048.

The aim is to double the share of people using public transport from 2.5 per cent to five per cent by the late 2020s. That would then double again by 2048.

There are currently 13.8 million passenger trips on buses a year. Before the February 22, 2011, earthquake, there were 17 million.

“Unless steps are taken to invest in alternative modes and reduce reliance on private vehicles, increased travel demand during the next 10 years and beyond will exacerbate peak time congestion and generate significant impacts on the environment, health and safety,” the report said.

ViaStrada senior traffic engineer and transport planner Glen Koorey said transport in the city cannot stay the same so investing now is important, and the report was critical to that.

“We need to be looking at alternative ways, whether that be the bus or a bike or even car-sharing,” he said. Dr Koorey said the quakes “dramatically” changed the landscape of the city and provided an opportunity to put infrastructure in place.

“With people moving out to new subdivisions out of town, it’s not just in the city.”

A financial breakdown in the report said the “whole-life-cost” of the programme would be more than $1.3 billion.

That would include “significant investment” in rapid transport corridor improvements, which could include light rail, new bus lanes, as well as ongoing operating costs.

But the report said if public transport reached five per cent mode share, the economic benefits would be up to $1.4 billion.

“In addition, there would be substantial health benefits from added walking to access public transport stops and stations and emissions reduction benefits,” said the report.

Dr Koorey said introducing more rapid transport corridors, like bus priority lanes, were “vital” in changing travel habits.

“They really work well with really reliable services. It’s important to have bus priority networks in place.”

He said they would work to change people’s perceptions over taking public transport, which was that it was too slow and too unreliable.

“People hate having to transfer buses. If they can avoid the extra hassle, they will.”

Increasing frequency, improved facilities, park and ride interchanges and public transport priority measures have been suggested in the report.

Currently 83 per cent of residents drive to work, which the report said has had “increasing impacts” on congestion and delays around the city.

“Modelling indicates that average speeds at the am peak period could fall substantially by 2048 . . . average travel speeds in the morning peak could reduce by over 6km/h in the next 30 years from 42km/h to 36km/h.”

It said the reliance on private vehicles was “simply not sustainable” and would result in a “failing transport system.”

The report said rapid transit services along high demand corridors, particularly between the central city, Hornby, Sydenham, Addington, Riccarton, Ilam, Sockburn and Wigram, would help reduce the reliance on cars.

“Providing rapid transport along this corridor will provide an attractive alternative to private vehicle travel.”

Cost, comfort and travel time are the main reasons Cantabrians are put off public transport, the report said.

Canterbury is the fastest growing region outside of Auckland. It is projected to grow faster than Wellington, Tauranga, Hamilton and Queenstown combined with estimates putting the population at 640,000 in 30 years.

The largest concentration will be within 10km of the central city with an additional 60,000 employees in the centre.

However, investment in public transport in the city is lower than in Auckland and Wellington.

“Now is the opportunity for investment in public transport whilst the city is rebuilding, to shape the rebuild and before opportunities to use space for public transport is taken up with other development,” the report said.

Over the next three to five years, it said the “headwind” will turn into a “tailwind” for public transport patronage, which had been set back following the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

It comes as ECan is meeting to finalise its regional public transport plan today.

Changes include more bus routes, increased frequency, rapid transit corridors, an emission-free fleet by 2030 and a central city shuttle trial.