A bold solution to Christchurch transport woes: Free public buses
OPINION: The recent suggestion of residents car-pooling between the northern outskirts of Christchurch and the city to decrease traffic congestion is a good one. Reducing the number of cars on the road is the key to the free flow of traffic, particularly in rush hour.
However car-pooling by itself will not solve the problem of stressed residents spending an extra hour in their cars each day rather than at home with their families. Auckland is the obvious example. For a host of reasons car-pooling has not reduced traffic to any significant extent in our largest city where "gridlock" is a better description than "congestion" for the daily grind to and from work.
Fortunately there is another solution to getting people out of their cars in large numbers – free and frequent public transport.
Imagine comfortable, modern, low-emission buses, fitted with free wi-fi, providing free and frequent travel along transport corridors to all parts of the city alongside plans to develop commuter rail with double tracking along existing lines.
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Paying for the policy is the easy part. In fact it would save us all money because it would reschedule into the future the need for the big, eye-wateringly expensive, proposed roading projects as the city expands north and west.
The cost of free public transport would be about $20 million per year which is the amount currently collected in fares. It would require capital investment to increase the number of buses over the next five years as residents move to public transport.
This is less than the cost of a single kilometre of proposed new roading.
The government wants to prioritise a massive motorway to carve through the north of the city at enormous cost to all of us. In reality such huge roading projects are a subsidy for trucking companies. A single eight-tonne axle (big trucks may have several of these each) does the equivalent damage of 10,000 cars over the same road.
Nowhere in the world has any city been able to tarseal its way out of traffic congestion. The common experience is that new roads just mean getting to the traffic jam quicker.
It's also irresponsible to promote roads in the shadow of the environmental crisis we face through global warming. With much of the city low-lying we should be taking the threat of our over-heating planet and rising sea levels more seriously.
Currently 67 per cent of Christchurch's greenhouse gas emissions come from transport – mainly cars and trucks. Public transport is far cleaner and greener and this policy would significantly reduce Christchurch's carbon footprint. In fact this is the single most important environmentally-friendly policy the city could put in place.
Everybody benefits. Even those who never use a bus or train will be able to travel on a congestion-free roading network.
Christchurch wouldn't be the first city to do this. Worldwide over 50 cities have some form of free public transport.
An added benefit includes stimulation for the real economy as residents spend less on petrol and more on family necessities. The Mayor of Tallinn (the capital of Estonia which has had free public transport for several years) calls it the "13th monthly salary" because of estimates the policy saves a month's salary each year for workers using the free service.
Bizarrely the government-run Environment Canterbury is consulting on increasing bus fares to compensate for lower bus passenger numbers. ECan is locked into the 1980s. It sees so-called "user-pays" as the only solution for residents – an approach which has helped lead to our deeply divided city. And all the while they are happy to prop up trucking company profits from the public purse.
In times of global warming, rising sea levels and deep social and economic divisions Christchurch City could adopt this win, win policy and move into the 21stcentury with a bold new approach to solving transport problems.