This story from The Press caught my attention the other day.
Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) boss believes Christchurch’s public transport model is “flawed” and is lobbying the Government for change.
In a letter to then Local Government Minister Chris Tremain in January last year, Dame Margaret Bazley writes about how public transport sits between councils, and should be addressed at a national level.
The letter, released to The Press under the Official Information Act, states: “The current model for delivery of integrated and effective public transport is flawed in Christchurch in particular. We have signalled our support to the minister of transport for a review of public transport arrangements.”
I think the fact that ECAN is controlled by government appointed commissioners rather than elected officials leads people to think that this suggestion is automatically about trying to damage PT in Christchurch and that comes through in the comments a bit but reading further, I actually agree with ECAN.
In Christchurch, responsibility for the provision of public passenger transport lies with ECan, but the responsibility for providing the infrastructure to support public transport, such as bus stops, shelters, and interchanges, rests with the city council, which has caused some tension.
However, hundreds of emails between the staff from both organisations, released under the Official Information Act in a separate request, show they appear to be working together, with the differences occurring at the governance level.
ECan commissioner Rex Williams, who is in charge of public transport, agreed it was a flawed model.
A review would most likely be done in “due course”, he said.
“It’s not urgent. We should be able to get around it,” Williams said. “All we have to do it work together and commit to the policy instead of veering off with other stuff.”
He hoped the two organisations would be able to communicate better at a governance level.
Any review of public transport would have to take place nationally, and would be unlikely for a couple of years, Williams said.
During last year’s budget-setting process, ECan lobbied the city council to put aside $18 million a year for the next three years for public transport infrastructure, but $8.4 million was included in its budget.
In a written submission at the time, Bazley said ECan was unhappy with the level of funding from the council.
“The absence of any significant capital expenditure to improve the operation of public transport over the next three years reinforces our view that the city council no longer seems committed to a viable future for public transport in Christchurch,” she said.
The problem really stems from the fact that the organisation that controls the PT network is different from the one that controls the roading network. The best plans for PT mean nothing if the road owner won’t do anything to support them. For example if ECAN want a bus stop added in but the council don’t want to do it then it doesn’t happen and getting bus lanes added can be a whole other level of difficulty.
The reality is this issue is not just one that is faced by Christchurch but by every city in NZ with the exception of Auckland. The problem exists due to the local body structure that we have and I assume the primary reason for putting public transport under the control of the regional body was to address the likes of Wellington and the old separate Auckland councils where there were multiple councils within a single urban area.
Auckland used to suffer this fate with the old ARTA setting plans for PT but it being reliant on individual councils to put in infrastructure like bus stops and bus lanes. For this reason it is perhaps even the more surprising that we managed to get the bus lanes we did on roads like Dominion Rd. Of course the creation of Auckland Transport was intended to be able to cut through these types of issues as well as the through the political impediments to change however oddly that didn’t help with the creation of more bus lanes until recently.
Overall I agree with what ECAN are saying. As we start to build a greater appreciation of the importance PT plays in the transport system in our cities then the current way it is set up simply isn’t going to work.