This is a Guest Post by William Stewart 

When I first moved to Christchurch after leaving Auckland in 2004, I was amazed by what was then to me, the best execution of public transport I had ever seen. The biggest barriers to me in using public transport have always been ease of use, comfort and affordability.

No-one’s going to use a bus system which is complicated, illogical and difficult to find out which bus route to travel on or where to catch your bus. The core of the system in Christchurch was the Central Bus Exchange, a staging area through which almost all buses (excepting the Orbiter outer ring service) in the city were routed through. Having all the bus stops in (or beside) one building meant that transfers were easy, that you didn’t have to walk far to get between stops and the easy to understand maps helped visitors and new PT users find their bus stop. Compared with Auckland’s multitude of departure points from Downtown, Mid City, Civic Center, Albert St, it does make it a lot easier to the non native user to find their stop. Aiding ease of use were large electronic signage which clearly and accurately display arrival times of all buses using the Exchange and what platform they depart from. Each platform also had a smaller sign which displayed only departure times for that particular platform. While electronic signage is becoming increasingly common in Auckland over the last 10 years, because all of Christchurch’s CBD buses depart from the same place, every passenger has access to the signs, as opposed to many of the inner city stops in Auckland (i.e Albert St, Customs St) which don’t, and all to frequently have had their printed timetable vandalized.

After you’ve made public transport easy to use, you also have to make it comfortable. Your own weatherproof clean car with padded chairs is always going to be more attractive then a bench (if you’re lucky) on the street with possibly no rain cover and definitely minimal wind cover. Once you add in the dangers of being alone at a bus stop late at night in town, the litter, stench and graffiti that plagues our inner city stops, public transport can become a very unattractive option. With the Bus Exchange, Christchurch was able to provide a modern and comfortable venue for PT users. You could wait indoors for your bus, safe from rain or wind or excessive heat thanks to the interior air conditioning, relaxing on padded chairs in a security patrolled safe and well lit environment. We are seeing more and more people realize that these are the type of facilities that needs to be offered to PT customers. With the development of New Lynn, Britomart and Manukau, Auckland is getting there. Unfortunately these are all mainly beneficial to train users, there isn’t really anything which offers the same level of ease to bus users. Which the construction of Britomart I had hopes that they would better integrate the bus system with the train station, but that hasn’t happened. New Lynn is primarily a train station and while the bus station is integrated, it is designed for people to sit outside for their bus rather than in.

Here are some photos of the old bus exchange: 

Christchurch also meets the third tenet of providing an attractive choice to private transport which is affordability. It’s not really relevant to the Bus Exchange but Christchurch does enjoy integrated ticketing based on a time scheme rather then zonal. Users may travel on any number of buses for 2hours and pay only $2.30. If they travel longer, they pay $4.60, the daily max charge.

With the events of 22/2/11, Christchurch lost much of its city center including the bus exchange. We had a temporary bus exchange for a few months which filled an emergency requirement.
Thankfully October 2010 bought an improvement with a purpose built Temporary Central Station. I haven’t had a chance to use this new exchange extensively as a passenger, but I believe it will certainly fill the gap until we get the promised brand new under-grounded (so that emerging buses do not impact pedestrian movement) bus exchange at some future point. Another major impact the earthquakes had was on traffic within the city. With the central city cordoned off for well over 8months, and the central part of the city still cordoned off, traffic every where else in Christchurch has been chaotic with all of that throughput which usually uses the city center’s 4 one way lanes redirected to roads which are not designed to handle that quantity of traffic. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that due to having to bypass around the giant rectangle of closed city center added more time to every journey. This understandably had a massive impact on the bus times and for the first few months after the quake our services were unreliable, always late and very inconvenient.

With the gradual reopening of the city center, timetable adjustments which reflect increased journey times and some central city through roads being opened, traffic is slowly getting back to normal. With a bus exchange located once again in the city it makes it easier to get cross town and transfer between routes. While most shops and businesses have relocated out of the city center, the bus exchange being back does mean that people can once again easily commute into town. This will play a crucial role in the rebuilding of our CBD. Here’s a comparison of diagrams of the old and new interchanges: And some photos of the new temporary interchange:

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  1. The one area Christchurch really let itself down with was that most services were/are just too slow and unreliable. This could have been partially mitigated with bus priority measures, but there were big delays in rolling out things like bus lanes and signals. Christchurch was well behind in this area. Still, I think Ecan & CCC have done a great job to have the system they currently do with all that has gone on. It should form a solid foundation from which to build upon.

    Also, there are 3 zones of travel (they were in the process of converting from a distance based 3 zone system to a location specific one at the time of the earthquakes) & the planned underground interchange is now no longer a certainty (see the final draft City Plan for more info:

  2. The shambolic situation with buses at Britomart makes things incredibly difficult in the event that one is fortunate enough to have choice in their outbound service, or is unfortunate enough to be a tourist. I’ve spoken before about my experiences with trying to catch buses from Britomart when I have a huge (any non-express H&E, 5xx or 4xx) selection of buses with a similarly huge selection of departure points. Walking up to the Anzac Ave merge point instead of traipsing around Britomart has been my preference for off-peak travel where trains aren’t an option.

    Does AT have any intention of fixing this mess, or are we stuck with the current bollocks forever? It’s not exactly an inducement to use buses when one must play “hunt the bus stop”.

  3. Jhumm- there is Rangiora and the airport zones, but I don’t consider them part of the city network. What Christchurch really needs is priority bus lanes, which I would like to make a post about at some point

    1. William – There are actually metro zones numbered 1,2 & 3 ( For example, Kaiapoi is in zone 2 while Rangiora is in zone 3. They were sort of in the middle of changing them to area specific Chch/Selwyn/Waimkakariri zones before the earthquake struck, which is why Selwyn Star services are slightly different/cheaper (previously Rolleston was zone 3). There are 11 bus/ferry routes in zones 2 & 3, and considering the growth out there I would def consider them part of the city network. Getting waaay off topic though…

  4. Certainly a much nicer way to wait for a bus than in a small shelter beside the road and I agree with others that Auckland could do far better in this regard, especially around Britomart which is a mess at the best of times.

  5. I endorse William’s comments about the Bus Exchange.
    I was gob-smacked when it first opened back in 2000 but despite several attempts over the years have been unable to elicit any interest in the concept amongst Auckland transport planners. Unlike the proposed mega underground bus terminal planned for the Britomart in the mid 90s (version 2 under Les Mills) which would have had capacity for 85 buses to lay up – the revised Britomart plans did away entirely with a downtown bus terminal – so today we have a very spread out network of on-street bus stops which is difficult to understand and inconvenient if your connecting service is at the opposite end of the precinct.
    The essence of the Christchurch terminal is its compactness – only 5 platforms with capacity for 8 buses which pause only long enough to deposit/collect passengers then leave to make way for the next service. Bus routes are also cleverly designed so that buses from one side of the city pass through the exchange and continue into the other side of town. A truly integrated solution that Auckland could do well to emulate.

    1. How many people I wonder actually catch the bus after getting off the train at Britomart? If the numbers are restricted to those catching ‘link’ buses, maybe we could find somewhere to put a decent downtown bus interchange?

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