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Christchurch bus exchange

Fast facts

Location: Cnr Colombo and Lichfield Streets, Christchurch

Construction: 2000

Owner: Christchurch City Council

Developer: The Carter Group

Design: The Buchan Group, Christchurch City Council

Contractor: Mainzeal

Case study researchers: Josie Schroder and Paul Roberts, Christchurch City Council

Key statistics

Site area: 3000 m2 approximately

Floor area: 9500 m2

Building height: 15 m (with variations)

Cost: Total development: $20 million (Bus Exchange $10 million)

Users: Approximately 8.6 million bus passengers/year; 1850 buses/day (1050 off-street)

Photo: Christchurch Bus Exchange location.

Photo: Location of the Exchange within the block.

Photo: Colombo Street on-street bus stops.

Photo: Lichfield Street pedestrian environment.


The Bus Exchange is an off-street, purpose-built public transport facility located close to the core of Christchurch's central business district. The Council wanted a first class facility that would assist inner-city revitalisation and promote public transport as an attractive option.

Rather than building a huge central city terminal where buses would park and passengers would wait, the buses briefly stop to set down and collect passengers and then continue moving. Such an interchange requires fewer stops than a bus terminus or station.

The Exchange operates in two parts, on-street and off-street. In all, there are eight pedestrian entry and exit points to the Exchange from surrounding streets, adjacent stores and the car park.

Design process

When a substantial portion of a central city block was being redesigned for a retail development, Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury saw an opportunity to work in partnership with the developer, the Carter Group to create a Bus Exchange.

The design process was relatively rapid as the retail spaces were already under construction when the site became available for the Exchange.

However, consultation with a wide range of external stakeholders and advocacy groups had already begun as the Council had already decided to remove buses from Cathedral Square.

The internal stakeholder group included, the construction company, Mainzeal; architects the Buchan Group and Carter Group; and City and Regional Council officers. This group held a series of mini-charettes to conceptualise how the Exchange might work within the parameters of the project.

Wider public consultation took the form of information dissemination rather than discussion, principally because of the very short time available for design.

Urban design issues

The aims of the project centred on inserting the new infrastructure into the existing block, building structure and street pattern, so it would work well and would:

  • keep within the footprint and scale of the existing structure
  • connect well to the surrounding streets, with the emphasis on the existing pedestrian connection to Colombo Street
  • retain the heritage facades and ensure the remainder of the façade related well to the scale, detail and form of the historic grand warehouse facades on the southern side of Lichfield Street
  • tie the modern interior to the historic exterior.

The Exchange was deliberately designed to invoke the feel of the quality of an airport lounge to:

  • improve the quality and image of public transport
  • provide a safe, secure, sheltered comfortable place from which to catch a bus
  • separate buses and pedestrian traffic
  • provide ample visual and audible information to minimise uncertainty and waiting time for passengers.

Evaluation - urban design principles


The Bus Exchange is close to the heart of Christchurch. It is part of a mixed use block containing a school, food court and retail facilities. As well as providing transport, the design of the Exchange aimed at helping revitalise the central city by building on existing retail, services and facilities, supporting the consolidation of the central city and increasing its attractiveness as a destination, while providing access to a sustainable form of transport. The multiple objectives have been achieved.

The Bus Exchange has proved very popular. It provides a comfortable transition and waiting space, and bus patronage has increased substantially since it opened. In fact, its popularity has become an issue with unprecedented increases in patronage. Future expansion of the Exchange will be required and it is difficult to see how this will be accomplished within the constraints of the present site. The Council is now looking at options to expand capacity onto an adjacent site, as the existing site will reach passenger carrying capacity by about 2008.


The Exchange has illustrated how a substantial new use can be successfully incorporated into an existing block pattern. The block is of such a size that it is adaptable to a wide range of uses.

The heritage façades on Lichfield Street have been sensitively incorporated into the development of the exchange, providing a street facade that reflects the scale, detail and form of the buildings to the south and east of the site and creating a strong sense of identity. The ground floor frontage onto Lichfield Street is fully glazed and provides good visual interaction between the waiting areas and the street.

The Colombo Street connection to the Exchange is not as successful. Its presence is less evident on the street, and apart from limited signage the primary indications of the location of the Exchange are the bus shelters that line the pavement.


The mix of smaller retail outlets and larger department stores, the food court and various other activities wrapped around the Exchange are compatible and generate plenty of activity during the day. When the retailers close, however, there are few night time activities in the immediate area.

The Exchange incorporates car parks and cycle cages. In recognition of the role of the Bus Exchange, the number of car parks was reduced to 200 from the original 300-400 proposed, to serve the needs of the property owner. The car park has proved very popular because of its central location, access to the one-way system, and one hour free parking during shopping hours.

The cycle cages are visible to a limited degree inside the Exchange, but their access is tucked down an alleyway with very poor passive surveillance, particularly at night when the alley is not well used.


Developed in an existing city block, the Exchange has two street frontages and privately managed pedestrian links to City Mall and to the food court. The least successful connection is with the food court, where steps restrict access for some users, although there is a lift adjacent to the stairs.

The Lichfield Street entrances have been far more popular than originally anticipated, increasing the amount of pedestrian traffic to the east towards the various education facilities. Initially it was not anticipated that the Lichfield Street pedestrian entrances would be so well used, and they were intended as secondary entrances to those on Colombo Street, to the food court and north to City Mall.

This has exacerbated the problem of the co-location of the Exchange and car parking, both of which have wide access and egress points, giving pedestrians conflicting visual clues. The number of vehicles entering and exiting interrupt pedestrian movement through the block. Changes in the paving treatment denote vehicle access and egress, giving the impression that vehicles have right of way, and poor driver behaviour reinforces this impression.


The Bus Exchange met the Council's objective of providing a major public transport facility within an existing block and building structure on multiple levels, rather than at street level. A creative solution to working within an existing city block was found through a collaborative partnership between the Council and developers.


The creation of the Exchange reflects Christchurch's intention to promote more sustainable forms of transport. Bus patronage has increased as a result of a high quality facility offering a safe, comfortable and accessible environment. Within the Exchange, the cycle cages are visible, to a limited degree. However, their access is tucked down an alleyway with very poor passive surveillance, particularly at night when the alley is not well used.

Two unanticipated benefits of the location of the Exchange are passive surveillance in less busy streets at a distance from the Exchange where drivers sit in their buses during layovers; and greater coverage of the city resulting from changes in bus routes. However, concerns have been raised about visual pollution associated with buses and bus stops in some residential areas. This is being addressed by reassessing through-routes as contracts come up for renewal.


A wide range of stakeholders and advocacy groups had already been consulted as a result of the Council's decision to remove buses from Cathedral Square.

For this project an internal group of stakeholders, including Mainzeal, the Buchan Group, Carter Group and City and Regional Council officers, held a series of mini-charettes to conceptualise how the Exchange could work, and they disseminated project information to keep the public updated on progress.

Lessons learnt

The project demonstrates the need to make the most of opportunities as they arise, and to be flexible about desired outcomes so they can be adapted relatively easily where improvements are required. The Exchange has almost become a victim of its own success and is expected to reach passenger carrying capacity in 2008.

Colombo Street is an important pedestrian route and vehicular route. At peak time the number of buses increases noise and pollution levels to a degree where Colombo Street becomes a very unpleasant pedestrian environment. At these times there is also a high degree of congestion and conflict between pedestrians and people waiting to catch buses on Colombo Street.

Cyclists also have difficulties in negotiating Lichfield Street as a result of the number of access and egress points and as a result of the poor visibility when buses are waiting to enter the facility. Particularly during rush hour, there is conflict between buses and cars pulling out of the Exchange, and cars using the adjacent carpark.

Street furniture, signs and other paraphernalia related to the bus system exacerbates these problems. A better design or greater footpath width is needed on Colombo Street for waiting passengers. Since the purpose of the Exchange is to provide transport to pedestrians, the pedestrian environment needs greater emphasis both inside and outside the Exchange. Any system for pedestrians should be intuitive and provide clear visual clues if it is to work successfully and not produce avoidable conflict. From the start of the project development, there was difficulty in designing a bus routing system that would work within the existing one-way system. A contra-flow lane was the result for northbound buses, and this system is confusing, particularly for pedestrians.

The project highlights how difficult it is to satisfy all urban design and traffic management objectives in densely developed locations.

Value gained

Bus patronage figures have risen and the Exchange is now working at its capacity for the number of buses using the facility. The location of the Exchange close to the centre of Christchurch has been integral to the success of the Exchange.

Christchurch residents identify well with the Bus Exchange and appear to value the benefits that it has provided, citing the level of comfort, provision of information and sense of security within the waiting areas.

The south-central area of the city has become more active and vibrant during the day, and its building heritage has been retained.

The Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand awarded the Christchurch City Council the Extra Touch Award for its consultative approach and for ensuring the accessibility of the Exchange for the blind and visually impaired.


"This complex moves public transport onto the centre stage, both for the inner-city area and for all of Christchurch."

- Mayor of Christchurch, Garry Moore

"Encouraging public transport is important to the city. More and more people every year are deciding to take the bus and you can see that with the numbers passing through the Exchange every day ... look at how the average person views it - and that it's a safe and convenient place to use."

- Yvonne Palmer, Safer Christchurch

"It might be nice inside but outside the Exchange waiting on Colombo Street is unpleasant. You get shoved around on the footpath and the noise and fumes are horrible."

- Pam, a bus user