Here at transportblog if there is one little change that we feel Auckland Transport could easily make to improve their game it would be to confront the pervasive culture of under-selling that affects their communications of future projects. What is this about? Often there’s is a fearful unconfident tone to things. Under-promise and over-deliver is great in theory but can too easily become under promise and that’ll do. Under promise enough and it won’t seem worth bothering with doing it at all.
One particular example that drives us crazy are the hopelessly low claims made for the City Rail Link with phrases like; it will “allow up to six trains an hour from some stations”. Good Grief, the CRL will enable well over 20 trains an hour each way at its heart. Anyway some stations have well over six trains an hour now, Britomart already has 20. A quick look at the current timetable will tell even the most desk bound clerk that suburban Puhinui or Papatoetoe is served by up to nine trains an hour each way. In fact even before the CRL is in place there is supposed to be at least six trains an hour from every station [except two on the Onehunga line; pending upgrades] this is one of great things that the new trains make possible. Ten minute frequencies is the near term plan and that means at least six trains an hour. Each way. So what is being said here? Lets spend $1.8 billion to halve frequencies?
The phrase, you’re not selling it springs to mind. Which is fine, except that selling it is the actual job.
Recently AT’s Transit ads have been getting really good [not as ambitious and funny as this big budget Danish one] but it seems that this culture of timidity won over again with the EMU launch in the curious Smarter, Better, Quieter tagline. Not only does this end on the strangely diminishing note of ‘quieter’ [surely better at the start] but also it is needlessly tautological; smarter is clearly better, and better; smarter, but then quieter is obviously better as well, and smart, so it’s like they ran out of qualities at two. But critically there’s the speedy gazelle in the room; why not say that the new trains are faster? Cos they are. And when it comes to marketing vehicles to get you places, faster is a key selling quality, probably the key quality. The image certainly suggests a bit of speed, but with the text declining to make that claim it really looks like we’ve spent all this money just to keep the noise down a bit. shhhh.
OK, so we can all imagine the meeting where this was discussed, with some worrywort pointing out that not everyone may experience a quicker journey time on the new trains as overall trip length is governed by other factors on our congested network than just machine speed. But when has how fast a car might actually get to be driven in the real world had anything to do with how they are portrayed in advertising? Most cars spend much of their time stuck in traffic but it doesn’t stop them being sold on that possibility; always speeding along the open road with no other traffic to worry the carefree user.
And the fact remains that the new trains do accelerate seriously faster than the current ones and maintain higher speeds too. They are faster, and their introduction will enable increases in frequencies and higher reliability throughout the network which will speed real life journey times for rail users. No Trade Descriptions Act case against using the word faster to describe these machines is ever going to stand. After all, being both quieter and faster, is, well, better. And smarter.
Oh and Auckland Transport know this and are prepared to tell you about it, but only in the context of warning you about how dangerous they are:
Really!? So it turns out they’re not only faster, but dangerously so; how cool! Come on AT; stop being so gutless. WATCH OUT: They’re faster. Go sell ‘em.
*note Lester Levy AT Chairman says they’re faster in his speeches and columns: “The new trains in themselves are breathtakingly wonderful, faster, quieter and smarter than before.”