All we ask for is a decent bus service

All we want is a decent bus service, writes Lynley Hood of Kew.

I live on the Corstorphine-Kew bus route. I know how bad the service is. But it took the latest provocation - the Otago Regional Council's ''Proposed Changes to the Bus Services'' - to drive me from apathy, to research, to rage, to writing.

My nearest bus stop is on Corstorphine's main thoroughfare, Middleton Rd. Whenever I caught the 8.10am bus to town I joined all the workers and schoolchildren who relied on that service. We knew our buses always left Corstorphine at 10 past the hour, every hour between 7.10am and 9.10am, and two hourly thereafter. That might not sound much of a service, but needs must. We coped.

With the timetable changes of July 1, 2013, the 8.10am bus disappeared and our other buses began running less predictably, and on different routes. For my section of the route, the changes came without warning. The travel of workers, schoolchildren and everyone else was thrown into chaos.

To attend a 9am meeting downtown using the Corstorphine-Kew service, I now have to catch a bus that leaves St Clair Park at 6.50am. Those who live nearer the Corstorphine or St Clair Park terminus (more than a kilometre away from my neighbourhood) have a more frequent service thanks to buses that run to Corstorphine via Caversham, but the routes and timetables are equally confusing.

These days I often meet my neighbours walking down the hill to catch the St Clair bus, or trudging uphill back home. For me it's a one-kilometre hike, for others it's much longer. En route, we curse the infrequent and irregular bus service and its bewildering timetable. We lodge complaints. We write to the paper.

That this situation could arise despite the regional council's stated intention to ''lift patronage'', provide ''easily learnt and understood routes and timetables'', and ''operate services during those times people travel'' is baffling.

Are other routes similarly afflicted? To answer that question I compared weekday bus timetables and census data for people living on a one kilometre stretch of Middleton Rd (between Easther Cres and Isadore Rd), with weekday bus timetables and census data for people living on a one kilometre stretch of Maori Hill's main thoroughfare, Highgate (between Stuart St and Grendon St).

The Corstorphine weekday bus timetable combines six routes (three inward, three outward) in one complicated table. Buses to the Octagon from Corstorphine are labelled ''outward'', buses from the Octagon to Corstorphine are labelled ''inward''.

It takes careful study to figure out that buses leave St Clair Park for the Octagon via Middleton Rd and Easther Cres at 6.50, 8.50 and 10.55 in the morning, and at 1.00, 2.10, 3.10, 5.15 and 6.15 in the afternoon. Buses returning on the same route leave the Octagon at 7.50, 8.55, 9.55 and 10.55 in the morning, and hourly from 12.05 to 6.05 in the afternoon.

With so many variations, the risk of misremembering a departure time, missing a bus, and having to wait an hour or more for the next one, is high.

For townward journeys, walking down to Forbury Corner if you're up to it is the best option. At least if you miss the St Clair bus, the next one will be along within 15 minutes.

By comparison, the Maori Hill weekday service is a model of convenience. Buses go in both directions along Highgate at half-hourly intervals. That's four buses an hour on two routes. Each route has its own easy-to-understand timetable. Not that you need a timetable. Each bus leaves its terminus on the hour and half-hour throughout the day. All you need do is go to a bus stop and wait.

Data from the meshblocks abutting both sides of the selected one kilometre stretches of Middleton Rd and Highgate are revealing (meshblocks are the smallest geographic units for which data are collected by Statistics NZ).

According to the 2006 census, the 10 meshblocks abutting Middleton Rd contain 312 households. Forty-five (14.4%) of them have no access to a motor vehicle. By contrast, only 21 (5.5%) of the 384 households in the 13 meshblocks abutting Highgate have no access to a motor vehicle.

When the regional council invited feedback on proposed changes to seven Dunedin bus routes including Corstorphine, my heart leapt. Our messages have got through! The catastrophic drop in bus patronage has been noted! Our regular, convenient service will be restored!

But no. All they want to do is remove the most unpredictable and infrequently travelled route - the one that makes two trips up and four trips down Murray St at seemingly random times each day.

The Public Transport Management Act defines ''transport disadvantaged'' as ''people whom the regional council has reasonable grounds to believe are the least able to get to basic community activities and services (for example, work, education, healthcare, welfare, and food shopping)''.

By this definition the people on the Corstorphine-Kew route are transport disadvantaged. But we're not asking for special treatment. All we want is a decent bus service. If we had one, we'd use it.

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