Generally I feel that Auckland Transport (and ARTA before them) does a pretty poor job of marketing public transport in Auckland. They’re obviously not helped by key factors such as the vast variety of different bus companies, or the general lack of funding and neglect for the PT system up until recently, but there are clearly ways in which we could do things better. This article on “The Dirt” highlights the need for PT to be marketed better, if it’s to compete effectively against the vast amount of marketing undertaken by car manufacturers:
Worldwide advertising and marketing efforts among the automobile sector as a whole total $21 billion. General Motors alone spent $3.2 billion in one year. All these investments aimed at attracting new customers help increase car sales, but also boost congestion, carbon dioxide emissions, and air pollution, while working against broader public transportation use and more sustainable urban transportation systems. This is especially true in developing countries: Growing middle classes in these countries are increasingly drawn to car ownership. In Brazil, the number of privately-owned vehicles doubled to 2.6 million in 2010, and in India, there’s been a 20-fold increase.
To fight these trends, …public transportation systems must not forget about branding, marketing, and advertising and using smart, creative, cost-efficient campaigns targeted at increasing and maintaining ridership. Transit agencies must focus their efforts on how to “attract new users that currently use private transport, such as cars and motorcycles; retain existing public transport users who might feel compelled to buy a private vehicle; and secure political and financial support from government officials.”
The article is based around an excellent report prepared by EMBARQ, a transportation think tank. It makes some suggestions for how PT can be marketed better:
Transit agencies must focus their efforts on how to “attract new users that currently use private transport, such as cars and motorcycles; retain existing public transport users who might feel compelled to buy a private vehicle; and secure political and financial support from government officials.” EMBARQ’s report covers how to use tactics widely used in the private and non-profit sectors to focus on brand and identity; user education, information systems, and feedback tools, including online engagement; marketing campaigns; public relations; and internal and external communications. While public transport users determine whether to use a system based on its “reliability, frequent service, safety and cleanliness, service hours, and costs and structures,” public transport systems still need to do branding, marketing, and communications to increase and maintain ridership.
On branding, EMBARQ says “to create a successful brand, then, a public transport system should start by defining its core values. Most public transport systems strive for a brand that clearly presents their services as modern, efficient, rapid, reliable, convenient, comfortable and safe.” The report further differentiates between different types of branding issues, from creating a new service to remedying issues with a highly unpopular service to unifying disparate services under one banner. They also advise against using some loaded, unpopular words: “Another way of avoiding the stigma often associated with traditional bus transport is to not use the term ‘bus’ in the new system’s name.”
It is extremely difficult to create an effective brand for public transport in Auckland. This is predominantly because all the buses are painted different colours – according to the company that operates them. It does not have to be this way, even if the buses are privately owned and operated. In London all the buses are red, even though a variety of different companies operate them and I think this is something that should be looked at once we have integrated ticketing up and running, when it no longer matters which company operates your bus. The branding of b.line bus services seemed to work quite well – promoting the service as ‘superior’ to your normal bus route – in terms of frequency, reliability and speed. That’s why it’s so surprising Auckland Transport hasn’t bothered to unroll any further b.line services since Mt Eden and Dominion Road routes went live this time last year.
Perhaps one of the most important elements of marketing a PT system is showing how easy it is to use. Our current bus maps scream “the system is too complicated for you to even consider using unless you’re a poor sucker without a car”. Compare that to the simple network map of Wellington – which helpfully distinguishes between all-day routes and peak-only ones and creates the look of a system that makes sense. Similarly, in Los Angeles there has been a real effort to highlight that the bus rapid transit service is more like a rail service than a typical bus route: It seems like a missed opportunity to not have the Northern Express service combined with the rail system in a “Rapid Transit Network” map – much as what’s shown in LA’s map above.
So, here are my ideas for ways in which Auckland could market its PT better:
- Simplify the bus route maps so that infrequent services are shown as dotted lines, to distinguish them from ‘core services’.
- Create a uniform look for all buses and trains in the region, with the only distinction being whether it’s part of the Rapid Transit Network (trains and Northern Busway), Quality Transit Network (b.line and Link bus route) or other services.
- Put the Northern Busway on the rail map and call it an RTN map.
- Highlight the speed of various bus/rail options where they are faster than driving (Eastern Line, Northern Busway, Dominion Road etc.) and market that.
- Use the HOP brand more – could it potentially be a replacement for MAXX?
What other ways could we market PT better in Auckland?