The Dunedin City Council is betting another $60 million on the gamble that nearly half of us will switch from cars to buses and bikes within five years. But is that sending good money after bad?
The DCC 2013 Transport Strategy document sets their goal that, by 2024, 40% of us (51,000 people) will be commuting either by bike, bus or on foot as our main mode of transport (P.30 Strategic Approach-Overview). The proposed $60 million conversion of the Central Business District’s main thoroughfare into a single lane for motor vehicles and a dedicated cycle way to allow a larger pedestrian zone is the next stage to prepare the city infrastructure for this target(click to enlarge).
On foot realistically means those residing in the inner city, mainly students plus a few inner city apartment dwellers. Cyclists would primarily be those living on the flat suburbs and connected by the cycleway network from South Dunedin to North and around the harbour. The bus network has the greatest catchment area of all the hill and outer suburbs of the city.
DCC Cycleway proposal had a target of 10% (13,000) using bikes for commuting. So that leaves a balance of 16% (20,000 people) as the DCC target for bus commuters.
In August 2019, after the route changes were made and bus hub completed, ORC General Manager Operations Gavin Palmer issued a media release stating patronage on the Dunedin network number of trips was now 2,500,000 pa for the year ended June. Converting that to equivalent regular commuter numbers you have to halve the figure because it includes the return journey for the same passenger. Then divide that by 260 (5 days a week for a year) and we currently have 4,800 full time commuter passenger equivalents pa. That figure reasonably aligns with the DCC 2013 transport survey above that says 4% (5142) use the bus to commute; however it also shows that no growth has been made in the past five years).
Also in August 2019 NZTA released the results of the cycleway usage. The jewel in the cycleway crown, Great King St running right through the heart of the university precinct records a zero increase. The Victoria Rd cycleway, the ‘visionary’ concept of linking south Dunedin to the city by cycleway recorded a 7% decrease. The daily average cycle count in July was 130 from six different counters around the city; the peak day in the survey was 236. That of course does not account for the same cyclist being recorded on two or more of the six counters on the same day. And with all cyclists at least making a return journey, let’s be generous and say there were on average 65 cyclists in July rising to a peak of 120 cyclists on the best day of the survey. NZTA concede that these results are ‘not startling”; that is an understatement.
Apparently the DCC is still confident, despite these actual results, of achieving their Transport Plan Goal since they have recently committed to the pedestrianisation of the CBD project. So we need to review the logistics they face in this challenge.
With the bus target of lifting from 4800 current regular commuter equivalents to 20,000 within five years, those additional 15,000 passengers will have to be transported from their suburb to the city during the 7:00 – 8:30am peak departure times. With an average 20 minute trip from terminus to CBD, that would require over 160 buses on the road during that peak time service. And again on the afternoon return journey. The good news is that they would have to be running convenient 10 minute services to achieve that; the bad news is that at any one time there would be 50 buses trying to get into the CBD bus hub which has only ten set-down bays.
And with cycling, the DCC still have to achieve a growth from around 120 cyclists on the best day of the current survey to a regular daily figure of 13,000 by 2024. And in addition to the increased usage, they would have to build bike parks to accommodate these 13,000 bikes within convenient walking distance to their individual destinations. And in addition the streets would still have to cope with the other 60% of residents in cars as well as delivery vehicles, emergency service vehicles, work vehicles and out of town vehicles.
The redesign plan for the CBD area is so the DCC can have the appropriate infrastructure in place for when the 13,000 cyclists and 160 buses carrying 20,000 people start arriving daily into the CBD Bike Park/ Bus Hub. The current Councillors are so convinced that this 2024 vision will be realised that they have now endorsed a budgeted $60 Million project to convert our main street to a town plaza in preparation for it. That is a big gamble based on the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy.
The DCC people involved are betting their jobs and their reputations on it, but of more concern is that they are using ratepayer money to buy the chips.