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The Christchurch Shuttle
Therese Banks - 14/5/99

- a magnet for passengers, a boost for the inner city and a boon for the environment.

The Shuttle in action.
The Shuttle in action.
Photo source Peter Hunt
Catching the Christchurch Shuttle at a popular time means joining a queue with people of all ages.

A leap forward in technology
The technology for electrically powered cars is now commonplace but not so for electric buses.

The problem has been to power a larger vehicle so that it can carry 30+ passengers. It was designline who developed the technology to produce a computer controlled, power management system for the Christchurch Shuttle.

This makes it one of the first ultra low emissions vehicles ready for production worldwide.

Why was the Shuttle introduced?
Because of its location, Christchurch suffers from pollution, particularly CO2 emissions. Vehicle transport accounts for almost 60 percent of the total transport emissions. The situation will continue to get worse.

The inner cultural and shopping centre is very spread out. Improved access is necessary to attract shoppers back from the suburban malls.

These problems caused the Christchurch City Council to form a partnership with passenger operator, Redbus, and coach manufacturer, designline, to launch the Shuttle in December 1998.

How does the service operate?
Trips are free for passengers with the ratepayers footing the bill. The Christchurch City Council pays Redbus $450 000 a year to run the service. Sponsorship has also been received from the Department Store, Smith's City, located on the Shuttle route.

Three Shuttles, each with a capacity of driver plus passengers (20 seated, 16 standing and one wheelchair) are used on the 4.5km route.

The vehicles have 'super' low floor access and wide entry/exit doors at both front and rear.

The service operates every ten minutes during the day and fifteen minutes in the evenings, seven days a week. Vehicles travel 90 to 150 kms daily.

The 22-stop-route links the Casino in the north and Hoyts 8, Science Alive and the Christchurch Polytechnic in the south via Colombo Street.

What has been the public reaction?
Patronage has exceeded expectations. As many as 80,000 passengers travelled in the five weeks from 24 December 1998.

Most are shoppers, although there are large numbers of international tourists on board who use the Shuttle to get to know Christchurch.

According to an independent survey, most people travel on the Shuttle because it is convenient and free. Others use it because it is electric and environmentally friendly. Some like the fun image of the shuttle, its colour and design. They rate the smoothness, the spaciousness and the quietness of the vehicle very highly.

The Shuttles have been so popular that drivers have had to turn passengers away. A fourth vehicle is ordered for late 1999.

What have been the benefits?
The Shuttle has lifted the whole image of public transport. Some passengers are making their first trip on public transport for a long time. Many say they would be prepared to pay to ride on the Shuttle.

Shoppers are being attracted back into the city centre, say retailers.

The Christchurch Casino
Arthur Pitcher Chief Executive, Christchurch Casino says: "I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the success of the Shuttle. It's fantastic. Every time it goes by, it lets off 10 to 12 people, which has got to be good for business and for Christchurch. Tourists come from the city hotels in droves."

Hoyts 8
Andrew Tremewan, manager of the cinema complex, says: "The Shuttle is great. It adds value for those customers who used to walk back to the Square to get connecting transport. Now it's much more convenient for them. It makes their evening out very reasonable in cost."

Smiths City
Peter Dickie, marketing manager for Smiths City, says: "Comments are good from staff and shoppers. We believe the Shuttle is having a very positive effect on business."

Fewer cars are going into the city centre. Christchurch Polytechnic reports with improved public transport fewer students and staff are parking cars.

The Shuttle brings Christchurch alive for tourists and students. The Polytechnic English Language School uses the Shuttle for city orientation.

The Shuttle is attracting visitors to Christchurch. A convention for 1000 Japanese tourists has been attracted to Christchurch because of interest in the Shuttle.

The Shuttle assists the disabled.
Graham Tapper, of the Burwood Spinal Unit says: "The Shuttle means that the disabled can be included as members of the general public. They can now come into town on a low floor bus. They can then transfer to a Shuttle and go at no cost to Science Alive or Hoyts. The cost of the whole trip is just $2. In other centres travelling the same distance would cost $12 or $14."

How does the Shuttle work?
The Christchurch Shuttle is a hybrid vehicle.

Power is supplied from 54 solid gel, water-cooled batteries, charged via regenerative breaking. This can be supplemented by an auxiliary power unit (APU), using a low emissions, diesel powered generator. This diesel engine, built to Euro 2 specifications, runs at a steady speed to optimise performance.

The driver is in control and can over-ride the charging system if emissions-free running is required. The motor is switched off along the main street, so no diesel fumes are produced. The generator can be switched on again when the battery needs a boost.

The vehicles do not have to come off the road to charge. Charging time is just eight hours and can take place overnight or anywhere en route where there is a 3 phase 15 amp power supply.

How it is more environmentally friendly?
Running or stationary, electric vehicles have no opacity and no particulates in emissions. Noise is minimal. There are no air filters, oil filters or other diesel waste material.

Economical running
Running costs are several cents a kilometre cheaper than for diesel buses. Having fewer moving parts, electric vehicles are cheaper to maintain.

Benefits can be enhanced through the use of solar panels which could provide 6 to 7 percent of the power supply.

Future designline electric vehicles
Teething problems were experienced with the diesel engine based APU. Initially power was not sufficient for a full day without recharging.

Replacing the diesel engine with a turbogenerator that has a turbine rating of 24 KW will make an electric vehicle viable for almost all city operations. The turbogenerator will mean:
*Virtually zero emissions
*Increased range of viable average operational speeds
*Reduced maintenance requirements
*Controlled management producing a constant power supply
*Smaller batteries allowing more room for passengers.

Dr Ross Green BE (Hons) PhD MIEEE MIPENZ of Auckland who is internationally known for his power electronics expertise says: "With these changes I am confident that designline's electric/hybrid bus will have superior performance to any comparable product."

Worldwide recognition for designline
The rest of the world agrees. There has been considerable interest internationally in designline's achievement from areas as far away as the UK, Germany and Chile. Orders have been received from Thailand where the vehicles will be used as a showcase for the Indian and Chinese market.

Transport Authorities internationally are choosing the electric vehicle to drive the future of transport.

Try the Shuttle and spread the word.
When you are in Christchurch join the throngs - catch the Shuttle. Tell your city council about this impressive service to the citizens and to local businesses.

Read the next article in this series to find out how popular the shuttle service has become.




 
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