Canterbury bus patronage drops 4.5 per cent despite new routes, bus interchange

Despite investment into public transport infrastructure, bus patronage has hardly budged in the last few years.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Despite investment into public transport infrastructure, bus patronage has hardly budged in the last few years.

Canterbury bus patronage is falling, despite a route overhaul and the opening of the central Christchurch bus interchange.

It comes as a report by top public sector consultant Peter Winder blames "tensions", "inefficiencies" and a "contest for control" between Environment Canterbury (ECan) and the Christchurch City Council for much of region's public transport issues. 

Bus patronage has dropped 4.5 per cent across Canterbury since July.

Last financial year about 14.2 million passenger trips were made on buses across Canterbury.

It was an increase from post-quake numbers, in which 11.4 million trips were made in 2011, but was still lower than any pre-quake year since 2001. Christchurch bus routes changed in December. 

The decline may result in ECan missing major public transport targets.

Canterbury councils last year commissioned Winder, who recently reviewed the city council's botched replacement district plan, to investigate the region's transport governance.

His just-released report found "a lack of trust" between the groups involved in greater Christchurch's transport planning, which had resulted in poor integration and a "sub-optimal" network.

Winder said the councils needed to find a way to work together.

ECan controls bus services, but territorial councils control the infrastructure the buses use such as roads and bus-stops.

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The arrangement caused conflict between the councils, who, according to the report, believed ECan "does not face, nor fully consider the full costs of its decisions".

ECan has a goal of 20 million trips in 2020, which it says it may fail.

Last month, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel told a select committee the system was broken. Falling bus patronage showed why the city council should have control of the network.

"We cannot realise our potential when we have no say as a city, other than through the region, where the buses will go and what type of buses we want to run."

After Winder's report, the Waimakariri, Selwyn and Christchurch council chief executives asked ECan to delegate its transport responsibilities to a new joint committee involving all four authorities.  

The committee would give the councils more control over transport planning.

It was an option proposed by Winder's report, which said the shared transport "vision" could fail without such a committee. 

There was a "contest for control" over Christchurch's transport, he said. 

"[T]he councils of greater Christchurch, and in particular Environment Canterbury and Christchurch City Council, have not, and are not achieving the level of integration that is necessary."

The councils' chief executives backed the proposal. Each council would vote on joining the proposed committee, starting with ECan, which would vote on Thursday.

If all councils agreed, the committee would be formed next year.

ECan could decide which of its responsibilities it delegated to the committee, though the recommendation was to delegate everything it legally could.

ECan chief executive Bill Bayfield said the regional council had accepted the report. Integrating public transport had been an "ongoing challenge" for the city.

His staff were reviewing why bus patronage was falling. 

"When you make big changes to public transport services, as we did late last year, the expectation is that patronage will drop initially before increasing again. This is because people need to re-familiarise themselves with the new network," he said. 

"We are recording good growth on our five frequent lines."

Declining bus patronage was a national trend, he said.

Bayfield said ECan commissioners and staff had positive relationships with the city council. 

"When you have organisations with different priorities, there can be challenges in making sure everything gets done at the rate and in the order the other organisation would like it to be completed," he said, citing bus lanes on Riccarton Rd as an example.

 - Stuff

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