CCC takeover of Christchurch public transport would not improve services

In the Press two days ago it was been revealed that CCC and Ecan have made a joint approach to the Government to transfer the control of public transport services from the regional council to the city council. Such an idea has been proposed in one form or another by the Christchurch City Council since at least 1899, when it was a much smaller council than today. This suggests strongly the main motive for the the changeover is political rather than strategic.

The Government has historically been stedfast in resisting calls for the handover of these functions over more than a century, as recently as 1989 when various independent regional bodies were amalgamated into the present Canterbury Regional Council. This took over the public transport functions of the Christchurch Transport Board, which despite its name was a regional body which organised PT services across the various territorial authorities that governed Christchurch and its neighbouring townships at that time. Although CCC became much larger as a result of the same amalgamation process it was clearly seen at the time that there was no benefit in CCC becoming the new administrator of CTB’s services and this still is the case today.

The case for the transfer of services has been made because Ecan does not have control over the routes and infrastructure within the City, these functions being under the authority of CCC. However, in terms of what is being built and provided for in the City for public transport provision, CCC’s track record is woefully inadequate. There are a few bus shelters (the majority in the city are in fact privately owned), a handful of short stretches of bus lanes and a central city bus exchange. This falls far short of the level of support that is needed to ensure a high quality PT service and reflects that politically, it is impossible for CCC to deliver the higher infrastructure quality because of conflicting political priorities.

The services we have now, have been well developed by Ecan because it is a core function of the regional council to develop public transport independently of local CCC politicians and this works well because of the political independence and separation from parish pump issues and grandstanding. The current level of governance of public transport related functions within CCC is very weak; routes and stops are devolved to local boards, which fails to recognise that these functions are city wide concerns as PT services are used by people living across the city. Consequently there is no political process that recognises city wide transport governance and it is doubtful that there will be any political will for improvement such as centralising these functions under a transfer of overall PT governance from Ecan. These inconvenient facts explain why CCC has failed to prioritise the development of PT services under current arrangements.

A better solution is to give Ecan planning powers to designate the routes and stops and install infrastructure themselves. This is easily achievable without changing their structure as they have elected representatives across the City and are therefore properly organised to be able to conduct public consultation and ensure there is a good process for developing and improving public transport. An advantage that Ecan enjoys is that the centralisation of regional PT works well with the centralisation of other regional transport functions. There is no merit in having every local body across the region have their own public transport department with the resulting duplication and inefficiencies that would result.

A comparison has been made to Auckland Transport and their success in centralising transport administration across the Auckland region. However, the letter from the CCC Mayor and Ecan Chairman only mentions the centralising of public transport administration and does not refer to the takeover of other transport functions, as Auckland Transport has done, being the body responsible for all local roads and various other purposes in Auckland. As such the CCC proposal is very weak, as it simply appears to wish to place public transport under the CCC, but not to improve it by changing the management of public transport within the City in any way. It should also be noted that Auckland Transport is a regional body and is at arm’s length from the Auckland Council and its elected representatives. It is therefore freed from the kind of political interference that we see regularly frustrating PT development within Christchurch City.

In summary, there is nothing in this proposal as developed to date that suggests that the public transport system in Christchurch would be materially improved by a transfer of governance from Ecan to CCC and therefore such ideas should not be given any traction.

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