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.

EMU ad

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.”

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  1. Well, so far, the EMUs are not faster. They’re running to the same timetable as the ADLs. Sure they get up to top speed more quickly, but then they coast slowly into stations so as to maintain the established timing.
    In my opinion AT really missed the boat in not publishing a new Onehunga Line timetable that lets the EMUs take fullest advantage of their vastly superior performance. They’ve had plenty of time to work out what’s possible in terms of timing, spent all this money and effort getting in new trains, then continued the crappy performance-limited schedules so as to negate the best feature of the new trains: speed.

    It’s no wonder they haven’t promoted them as quicker, because right now they’re not. They’re just a prettier presentation of the same, slow inter-station journey.

      1. Until they tweak the timetables, though, people won’t see the benefit. AT is very averse to negative publicity, sometimes to their detriment, and in this case you can be quite sure that someone (not looking at any senior Herald staff, or course) would write a piece about how the new trains are supposedly so much faster but they’re not getting people between stations any more quickly.

        In any case, now the boat is gone. They’ve not promoted the speed, and they’ve ensured that the speed won’t benefit the travelling public for the foreseeable future. It’s a predictable, consistent PR fail by AT’s communications department.

      2. Yes, the trains themselves are actually faster, but it stops there.

        You’ve got to remember this is advertising and there is hell to pay if you advertise in a way that misleads. From what I’ve read from the first week, they aren’t faster this week as they settle in, AT are setting expectations to the three things they can be sure they can deliver on from the get-go with these new trains. They can’t start claiming faster until the lag times are taken out of timetables and the journeys are actually shorter.

        1. Patrick I somewhat agree. Car ads feature imagery of cars speeding about as you say but neither do they come out and actually mouth the words or put them into text that the cars are actually faster. Better is a pretty boring, dull adjective to use though when there are so many more adjectives out there!

    1. I think this weeks teething troubles proved AT right in terms of not updating timetables straight away, so I’m fine with waiting a little for speed increases. Interestingly in the promo brochures they are now saying it will be 10 minutes quicker from Papakura, which is very upfront of them for a change.

      1. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!

        I can’t stand it. They, the trains, ARE faster. It’s not the timetables that are being promoted. It’s a great big picture of a train FFS!!

        In some countries you can’t claims things like “faster” without saying what it’s faster than. Not here though. Besides, the new trains are, factually, faster than the “uglier, worse, noisier” AND SLOWER old trains. Than the bus. Than cars. Than my bike.

  2. Guys, you are both right. The trains are faster, they damn well should be they are newer better technology. And AT should promote this. However in terms of what the transit user wants; more free time though via faster JOURNEYS, they will not deliver until AT change the timetable to take advantage of the trains’ technical capabilities. So in both respects the problem lies at the feet of two teams within AT; the scheduling team for not reworking the schedule and the marketing team for leting them get away with this. Overall the issue is with AT’s leadership for not understanding that they sell journeys from start to end and their role is to make journeys as short and as hassle free as possible so they attract more customers and grow their business. It is the growth that will unlock the sources of future capital to buy the CRL.

    1. Really well put. AT think they are providing a service for those who may want to use it. They should be thinking they are providing a SOLUTION for those who have to commute/travel from A to B.

    2. Sorry but no way is that a fair comment on the scheduling team. There are only a few electrics even signed off for revenue service at this stage so there’s no way they can avoid mixed running with the diesels. That impacts on what the schedulers can do. It means their hands are tied until more electrics come into play. Talk about naive and ignorant!

  3. I doubt they originally planned to use the word ‘better’ (and if they did then they are obviously clueless about how to promote something to the public), because it doesn’t tell the public anything new about the EMUs, because by being quieter and smarter the public already knows they are better. And if they were going to use the word, then surely they’d put it last to sort of some up the first two points. It definitely looks like it was changed at the last minute, with ‘better’ being quickly substituted in for another word, presumably ‘faster’.

    ‘Smarter, faster, quieter’ makes it clear to the public they are better in many ways and it also has a nice ring to it. ‘Smarter, better, quieter’ sounds awkward and the use of ‘better’ suggests they were struggling to find other good things to say about it. So whoever decided to use the word ‘better’ needs to sharpen up on how to promote things to the public, and if it was originally supposed to be ‘faster’ but was changed then AT need to start realising that if they continue under-promoting PT then many people are going to keep having bad perceptions of it. I dread to think how they’ll promote CRL… ‘darker, colder, steeper’?

  4. Yes.

    I’m not particularly enamoured with “smarter” as a primary selling point – to me it only has some meaning as an indicator that some real benefit is being delivered in a better way.

    Nobody opted for a smartphone because they’re smarter – they went for them because they allow you to do a hugely increased range of tasks (or procrastination options), all from one handy device wherever you are. Which is, yes, smarter than what went before – but the awesomeness of the devices inheres in the benefits they deliver, not the relative “smartness” with which it’s all done.

    I’m not privy to how timetabling ought to work, but it seems a shame that there was no way to capture even part of the EMU speed advantage from the outset. Hopefully AT will make a suitable hoopla about unleashing the EMUs’ performance once we get a timetable that allows for it. You will, won’t you, AT?

  5. Even with all emu operation, the actual improvement in journey times in practice may well be small due to the need to provide sufficient slack in the timetables for junction conflicts, interaction with freights etc. The Emus should however provide better delay recovery. I think AT is being rightly cautious until the final all EMU timetable is finalised.

  6. Well, their customer service certainly isn’t faster.
    I tried to register a HOP card over a month ago and failed “because your email address has already been used for a support ticket or myhop”
    The password reset failed, so I filled out the contact form.
    Then a week later I happened to be in Britomart and got it sorted.

    90 minutes ago I got an email confirmation that they would be looking into my problem.

  7. I agree they’ve correctly used faster in both these ads. If it’s about the customer experience, and the journeys aren’t faster, you shouldn’t say “faster”. However if it’s about safety where the closing speed of the train is a factor, “faster” is relevant. Apart from trainspotters, nobody cares about the top speed, acceleration etc of a train – the only thing that matters is journey time. This is different from a car, where these things may indicate a more pleasurable driving experience.

    1. Thats BS I think. People care about those things even when they aren’t actually important, and there is a lot more to it than journey time. Lots of people care about the supposed speed of their car even though they crawl on the motorway to work like everyone else.

      Instead of better, why not say why it is better?

      1. I suspect if you asked the vast majority of train travellers, “Do you care about the top speed and acceleration of the train if journey times remain the same?”, they would say no. In fact, emphasising the train’s speed in that situation will probably serve to annoy many passengers if they are unhappy about journey times. e.g. “They spent millions on faster trains and can’t get me there any quicker!”. It’s not about being getting into trouble for false advertising, it’s about looking stupid.

        However while you may never get near the top speed or peak acceleration of your car, and your journey time may be dictated by traffic, these measures usually give an indication of the car’s performance and therefore how enjoyable it will be to drive, how easy it will be to overtake, and even its primary safety. None of that applies to trains, apart from maybe the driver getting a kick out of the performance.

        Actually, thinking about it, it’s relatively rare nowadays that cars are marketed purely on the basis of speed anyway.

        1. Ah but we aren’t marketing to existing train travellers. We are marketing the new trains to the public at large, in particular getting people who don’t already take trains excited about the new wonderful experience they might now consider as a good option. Nothing stupid about talking about the trains as faster, more frequent and more reliable even though they haven’t yet delivered all of that in the first three days of revenue service, they’ll get there in the end.

          Hell if companies only marketed based on the features of a product that actually made an immediate difference to someone who already used the product, well ads would be very very different things!

          “Faster” is a very succinct way of saying “these new trains are likely to get you to you destination quicker and with less delay than the old ones”. That’s true, so lets let everyone know.

        2. Cars are often marketed as driving freely through clear and open roads – it’s this (which is paralleled when riding a fast and efficient train) that inspires desire.

  8. I respectfully disagree with the OP. The trains are not faster and shouldn’t be advertised as such. As a regular service user and PT advocate this is what matters the most. Getting from A-B in a way that is faster and cheaper than driving. These trains are great but we are unlikely to see ‘faster’ until the CRL is built. AKA 10-15 years.

      1. Sure, but is a 10min gain from the extremes of the new service enough to highlight in advertising, esp when said gains are not to be seen for 18 months or so?

      2. they “will be” but they aren’t now. I can see the sense in waiting until a fact becomes true before you start advertising that fact. Once they have the new timetable sorted, it will make sense to advertise in advance. But right now when they don’t know when or how much, it can lead to a let down.

  9. You only have to look at car ads to see that pernickety facts are pretty irrelevant. Cars are sold on the perception of speed and on the even vaguer perception of how people will be seen by others if they drive them. The message for public transport is that it needs to exude smarter, faster, glamour. In this context maybe we should consider fine-tuning the lines between Newmarket and Penrose, so that the new trains can travel at extra high nose-thumbing speed alongside the motorway, even when it’s flowing freely.

  10. Got surveyed by AT today on what I thought of the electric trains launch and what they can do better.
    Told them to emphasise the “faster” part of the Trains in their communications.

    Suggest you do the same in your surveys too – check your inbox if you have a registered HOP card and have signed up for AT Communications.

    You know the drill and know what to tell them… maybe they’ll listen to the “public” via their surveys.

  11. Agree with most comments here that although the trains are faster when used to their full potential, that it would be misleading if they advertised them as such when at the moment they are not any faster in journey time than the diesel fleet. When the new timetables are out, then by all means shout it from the roof tops.
    As for one of the comments above that 10mins is not a significant saving, what a joke. If a journey currently taking 50mins gets cut to 40mins then I think that’s pretty decent.

    1. My point would be that most people don’t travel from the extremes and therefore it is incorrect to frame it as a 10min saving in travel time. It will be for a minority, but for most it would be 3-5 mins maybe

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