On board with Dunedin's bus hub

The Dunedin bus hub has been much dissected and adjusted and is now ready to roll.

Coming, too, are ticketing changes and a bus app. These are to be welcomed.

The Otago Regional Council, which oversees the buses, has already instituted route changes, and it views the hub as central to these. It should, indeed, be easier for passengers to transfer between buses at the hub and in what has been designed as a better co-ordinated timetable.

Bus use in small cities like Dunedin is low. There is neither the population density nor the population numbers to support and fund busy buses.

Nonetheless, reasonable public transport is fundamental to city life and travel options. Even in an era of relatively cheap cars and petrol, buses provide a crucial choice for the young and those unable to drive.

But, increasingly, they should be used by others. Environmentally, single-person car use is undeniably much inferior and, when full-car costs and parking are considered, buses can also be cheaper.

There has been a certain snobbery with bus use in smaller cities. Certain residents, whatever their denials, would not want to be seen catching a bus.

Buses were for those who could not afford a smart car and a car park.

Buses were for the poor and those with time to wait at stops and take mass transport.

Fortunately, with changing generations and attitudes, this view is beginning to fade.

In Auckland, the traffic has forced a rethink, and Wellington has always had a healthier attitude to public transport. Bus users can, in fact, these days claim a little moral superiority. Buses can more become a mode for those some might view as the middle-class.

More efficient buses services are crucial. An app which tells you the location of your bus is part of this and long overdue.

Reliable and on-time buses are vital for busy people, and the app should provide the information on just where buses are at any particular time. The combination of bus and phone should improve the experience and efficiency, thereby encouraging use. So, too, should slicker ticketing.

Work on the hub, held up so far by a year, is due to start next week and be completed before the Christmas trading period. The bus shelters around the 10 bays have been extended to be almost continuous and electronic timetables will be displayed.

Inevitably, there will be some disruption in the Great King St construction zone, as well as drawbacks to passengers in the habit of catching buses along the Octagon strip. Change always creates, at least, patches of negativity. There will also be the loss of 37 car parks, only partly made up by parks if the Octagon area bus stops are replaced by vehicle spaces.

The hub will be modest compared to Christchurch's undercover interchange. But Christchurch is a much bigger city and it was supported by post-earthquake funding.

In Dunedin, the regional council has had to build a satisfactory facility without going overboard with public money.

Hopefully, pedestrian safety concerns have been sufficiently mitigated, although what many pedestrians will find frustrating is the blocking of the walking shortcut through the Dunedin Community House car park.

Now is the time for action on the $4.4million hub, app and ticketing change - for worse but, optimistically, mostly for better. By the end of the year, the extra pieces will be in place to improve Dunedin's bus services and their patronage.

The buses in the foreseeable future are not going to take the place of cars as the primary mode of Dunedin transport. But the small proportion on board buses needs to be expanded. The hub and other changes can be part of bringing that about.

 

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