Learning from Singapore

Auckland Transport has definitely been improving some of their communications (not all) Late last year they released a new City Rail Link video which finally addressed many of the issues we had with how they were explaining the project in the past

And they did a good job with with the video for the new bus network.

The one downside with these two videos is that they do require someone to sit down and watch a few minutes of video – something not everyone will do, especially those with little interest in transport. So perhaps Auckland Transport could to do something similar to what has been done in Singapore to explain their new transport master plan and make a few quick and catchy images that explain what they are aiming to do. Note: they are also good for highlighting the diversity of the population in Singapore.

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon 2

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon 3

Singapore Transport Plan cartoon 4

Of course they won’t get through to everyone – like this guy.

With AT reviewing their Integrated Transport Programme and it potentially being quite different to the current one then perhaps they could do something like this help explain it.

AT Launches the new PT Network

There has been a lot of talk about the new bus network that was first proposed in the Regional Public Transport Plan. Thankfully it received extremely strong support from those that made submissions allowing Auckland Transport to start working towards implementing it. While the overall concept has been accepted, there is still a long way to go yet as the specific routes that make up the network will need to be consulted on. Today Auckland Transport have formally started that process with the release of a video to explain the new network. Here is the press release:

Transforming Auckland’s Public Transport Network

Auckland Transport will shortly hit the streets to consult over the New Network for public transport services in Auckland.

The New Network is a region wide public transport network which is proposed to deliver bus services at least every 15 minutes throughout the day, seven days a week on major routes between the hours of 7am to 7pm. Services will connect better with train services for those customers who require connections.

The New Network will be rolled out by Auckland Transport over the next three years starting with bus services in South Auckland in 2014/15.

To help people understand what the New Network will mean for them, prior to consultation, Auckland Transport has released a video guide today. It can be viewed at: http://www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/newnetwork

Auckland Transport’s Chief Executive David Warburton says; “We are in a period of transformational transport change in Auckland. Any change is challenging. Significant changes in the transport area in Auckland includes the completion over the coming months of Auckland’s integrated smartcard for public transport, the final step in the introduction of the AT HOP card on bus services following the roll-out last year on trains and ferries, the arrival of the first of Auckland’s fleet of new trains and our New Network for public transport services. These are large-scale transport projects for a city undergoing transformation.

“If Auckland is to cope with expected growth in population, public transport must become a very real transport choice for more Aucklanders. But in order to encourage greater uptake, we need to make bold changes to provide a better level of service, respond to public demand and expectation and provide better connections to the places people want to go.

“Due to the sheer scale of the changes we are proposing, consultation and implementation for the New Network will be broken up into several phases. Consultation on the New Network begins in June in South Auckland. Other parts of Auckland will be consulted on in the coming years”.

Dr Warburton says, “The changes will not happen immediately. Any significant transformation requires disruption which is part of change. Implementation of the New Network for public transport will be challenging for a period.

“The video released today demonstrates the scale of the changes the New Network will bring to Auckland.

“In June and July, Auckland Transport will have people in the markets, shopping centres, transport hubs and on the streets in South Auckland talking to customers about these changes and getting their views”.
Dr Warburton says, “ The public will be invited to fill out feedback forms at the Open Days and can also provide feedback at our consultation webpage www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/newnetwork, or by filling out our freepost feedback form”.

I must say, this is probably the best press release I think that AT have done. I love how they have talked about how transformational this will be and how all of the key PT projects, integrated ticketing, electrification and the new bus network tie in together. But the good news doesn’t stop there. The video they have produced is superb and easily the best they have done to explain any project. It excellently explains why we need the new network, the logic behind it and even some of the finer details about the proposal.

On the page AT have set up for the new network, they also have a new and very pretty version of the frequent network map that we have seen before.

New Bus Network May 2013

All up I am very happy, not just with the new network but with how AT have started to communicate it. If they carry on in this same vein for both the network and other projects like the CRL then it will really help in getting the public to understand why these projects are needed.

Good work AT, give yourselves a pat on the back.

CRL marketing fail?

Posters have recently popped up on trains and about town advertising City Rail Link information days. I can’t find the actual poster online, but the image below is front and centre on these public service announcements:


There are a couple of things going wrong here, and I have to ask how AT could release such an image when they should be marketing the CRL in a positive light.

I have a couple of questions. Why would AT release an image in public that included:

  • A single tiny tram down the far end of the platform. Not a pair of our new extra long electric commuter trains filling the station up, one little tram. A tram FFS! This is no doubt going to confuse some people about what vehicles would actually run in the tunnel (“oh, they’ve gone back to that old light rail plan again I see”), leading to questions of why trams need a multi billion dollar tunnel to make their way down Albert St. It also suggests that the station is being built far too big for what it needs to support. This picture shows a wasteful extravagance, not an efficient piece of critical transport infrastructure.
  • A station with a few ghostly passengers in it, and a street above with a scattering of pedestrians and more than a few cars.  Is this the empty lifeless CBD that demands an underground railway, or is this ghostown the result of station construction perhaps? Why are we building this tunnel in the first place? He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
  • A grey and lifeless tint to the city. Sure overcast skies have little to do with rail stations, but it makes it all look quite dreary. Shouldn’t we be getting the public excited and enthusiastic instead?
  • A station that appears to have only one track. I realise that is just a combination of the perspective and the lack of a train on the other side, but it still looks like a single track station.
  • Buildings with for lease signs all over them. Ok this is a little hard to see, but it goes completely against the value of the CRL. If that station is sitting under the CBD there bloody well shouldn’t be any empty buildings right next door. They missed a trick here by not photoshopping a “LEASED” banner across the top of that signage.
  • A cityscape with a roadworks sign in it. Yes the CRL will cause plenty of roadworks and disruption. No we don’t want to advertise the fact!

My only conclusion is that no one is really thinking about image and marketing at all. Sure this render probably came from the architects doing the station interior, but it’s pretty slack to just slap it up in the public domain without any thought or improvement.  Maybe I’m being too harsh here, but I think they really need to shape up on how the CRL is presented to the public if we ever want it to get good support.

Marketing PT better

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?

MAXX website still needs to improve

About a month and a half ago ARTA launched a tweaked “MAXX website”, which is the front-door for people wanting to catch public transport in Auckland. It’s where you can find out timetables, updates about what’s happening in the system and also use the journey planner to work out the best way to get where you want to go, and the next bus/train/ferry that’ll take you there. At the time there was a fair amount of criticism levelled at the new site – largely on the basis that it seemed to make things worse, not better.

Many of those issues appear to have been sorted out, but from my efforts this evening of trying to work out when the next bus from my place into town is coming, it still seems like some improvement is necessary. Searching for that ride, here’s the “Option 1” result that I got: So it wants me to catch a bus in the complete wrong direction (one stage) and then catch another bus (two stages) to get into town. Option 2 is to walk it – hardly the best marketing for your public transport system. Option 3 is sensible and probably what I will be doing (if I finish this post quickly enough). I don’t even want to look at what Option 4 is, but somehow it seems to involve three (yes, not one, not two, but three) Link Bus trips.

I would try to illustrate how daft most of these suggestions are on a map, but when I click on the “map” option, this is what I get: Um yes, well that’s helpful. NOT.

An Idea

I think it’s pretty obvious that a better job could be done to market public transport in Auckland. How many people are even aware that it only takes the Northern Express bus 22 minutes to get from Britomart to Constellation Drive off-peak, and 30 minutes during the evening peak? Or that it only takes trains on the Eastern Line 14 minutes to get from Glen Innes to Britomart , no matter what time of day it is?

The idea I had would be for ARTA to somehow get radio stations which give traffic updates on how congested the motorways are each morning and evening, to also mention how the trains are running and how the buses are running along the Rapid Transit Network. I guess occasionally there might be hold ups on the rail network, but a simple message saying “the Northern Motorway is congested from Greville Road to the Bridge, about a 45 minute drive, or 25 minutes on the Northern Express” would raise awareness of public transport at exactly the right time – when people are stuck in traffic.