'Nightmare' bus system needs rethink

Buses, buses everywhere, but not a bus to catch, cries Chris Skellett.

We have recently received a brochure from the Otago Regional Council clarifying the bus routes.

It's an 85-page affair that would take at least two hours to read through and understand properly.

It's chock full of detail. But sadly, it's almost incomprehensible.

There is no apparent logic to the systems described, and no conceptual overview provided. We just have to jump straight in.

The bus route numbers in the book seem to have been allocated entirely randomly.

For example, the seminal number 3 for Glenleith to the Bay Cemetery. Surely, a more significant route deserves this auspicious ranking?

My apologies to all those widows in Glenleith who value the service highly, but I'm sorry to say that for the rest of us, this route just doesn't rate as being worthy of the number 3 route in our conceptual map of town.

To add to the confusion, however, this route might be number 3 in the book but turns out to be number 24 on the buses.

Surprisingly, route 1, which I found after much searching, is my own route ( both in the book and on the bus), a minibus that comes in from Palmerston to Dunedin.

I'm afraid to say that no-one out here uses it because the timetable and fare structure are so uninviting.

And no-one talks of "catching the No 1" into town.

There are at least 76 routes listed for a town that surely does not need that level of complexity.

It's a nightmare, and I challenge anyone to reply to this article by saying that they are comfortable with the layout of the Go Bus booklet.

It's useful only as a technical manual for the anorak brigade.

The most intriguing aspect is the map on page 15 of the central city terminal stands.

They are identified randomly by the numbers 1 to 8, except, as eagle-eyed obsessives like myself will have noted, there is no stand 6!

How can this possibly be?

This curious omission is carried over from last year's booklet, which I had meant to point out to authorities at the time.

Perhaps stand 6 is unlucky, or perhaps it takes a disturbing underclass of punters to somewhere like Hogwarts?

In the interests of the renewed commitment to transparency, we should demand immediate answers as to the secret location and purpose of stand 6.

Stand 1 is called "Lower Octagon" throughout the book, but puzzlingly is shown on page 20 as being located around the corner in Princes St.

I recently conducted an experiment. I stood in the Octagon and asked 10 people where I could catch a bus to Mornington from.

Nobody knew, but suggestions ranged from "down by the Southern Cross" to "by the New World Supermarket".

These are diametrically opposed directions from where I stood.

There were buses all around me, largely empty, bearing a bewildering array of numbers, and oddly specific destinations such as Bradford or Dalmore.

The bus stops themselves were almost camouflaged, and none of them had any information on them about other routes or a city-wide route map.

Since drafting this article, I was amazed to discover that I actually walked over a bus stop every morning in Water St, between John Wickliffe House and the old post office.

Almost 20m of parking is carved off and designated "Bus Stop" on the road, but there is absolutely no signage or information for pedestrians as to where the buses might go. It's simply bizarre.

For the casual punter, all this is hopeless.

Although passengers at bus stops seem to know their own route reasonably well, they are completely unable to shed light on the rest of the system.

They simply shrug and turn away.

Perhaps it's time for a rethink? How about we reduce the whole bus fleet to six basic routes radiating from the CBD, preferably starting from a common point?

Their sole purpose would be to spin shoppers out to "park and ride hubs" in key suburbs (for example: the Gardens, Wakari, Brockville, St Clair, Andersons Bay and Green Island).

These buses could be running continuously, and for free.

At the hubs, get the taxis involved. Ban taxis from the city centre, and instead make them do the final connect from the "bus hubs" to people's homes, charging a nominal flat rate per ride.

I'd imagine stands of four to six taxis at each hub ready to respond to each bus as it arrives, and available to pick up any intending commuters from their homes in the meantime.

Residents would phone or text for a taxi from home to be taken to the local hub, from where they would take the bus to town.

Fast, efficient transport from every house to the centre of town.

This way, we'd get door-to-door service.

The buses would be fuller, and taxi drivers wouldn't be standing idly around in the centre of town.

As the costs and the size of the bus fleet shrink markedly, the taxis could be paid a generous retainer by the council for their crucial role in the suburbs.

These ideas will undoubtedly provoke a backlash of defensive explanations as to why it won't work. However, the current situation seems to be a complete mess to the casual observer.

It's uninviting, perplexing to non-users, and seems far too complicated for a town of this size.

I love buses and I'm "green" by nature. I'm very aware that peak oil will soon be upon us.

We simply have to do something about our misuse of diminishing carbon reserves.

Encouraging the use of public transport is one easy way to help the planet.

Public transport should be part of the solution, but as I watch these huge buses cruising around the suburbs with the occasional sad-faced passenger on board, I can't help but feel that they are currently part of the problem.

Chris Skellett lives in Warrington.


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