Perhaps the most frustrating part of the Herald’s silly Park and Ride campaign last week was the poor quality communications from Auckland Transport. Instead of explaining clearly what their plans are and why they have adopted this approach, all we got was somewhat mindless chanting:
AT chairman Lester Levy and chief executive Shane Ellison say the council’s transport body is continuing to invest in park and rides, but their focus is on getting people out of cars and into public transport.
Now it’s possible ATs full response wasn’t included in the articles but this is hardly the first time we’ve seen similar comments across many mediums. It feels more like this is just poor messaging from AT and it really plays into the hands of those who think any efforts to improve travel options is tantamount to social engineering. It’s not even true either, if they were really trying to get people out of their cars we wouldn’t be having to constantly fight to get already delayed bus or bike lanes built.
There are lots of key points that Auckland Transport should have made. Things like:
- It can cost more than $40,000 per parking space to expand park and ride facilities, so this is a very expensive way of growing PT ridership.
- Spending that kind of money on other ways of getting people to public transport, like feeder buses or improved walking and cycling connections, is likely to be much more effective in the long term.
- Park and ride plays a small (but important) part in the public transport network. Around 165,000 Aucklanders use PT each weekday (there are around 330,000 daily trips and presumably most people make two trips a day). There are also just under 6,000 park and ride spaces and most of them used just once a day. This means that around 4% of the people using public transport rely on park & ride – or put another way, doubling Auckland’s park and ride will only give a small, one-off boost to ridership (and this is assuming all users of the new spaces were used not currently using PT).
- There are places where park and ride makes good sense, like on the edge of the urban area. Auckland Transport are building new, or expanding, facilities in these locations.
- Introducing pricing might help fund more park and ride spaces and more importantly, manage demand. Although it wouldn’t fund too much unless the charge was $10 a day or more. Auckland Transport are (or should be!) investigating this.
What’s most frustrating is that AT have always seemed to struggle to get across key messages. One example of this is with the City Rail Link where we basically did the strategic communications for them for many years by coming up with diagrams like this, which they later copied:
A lot of the time Auckland Transport’s communications focuses solely on the what and very little on the why. Auckland is still a city in transition, essentially recovering from the disastrous transport decision-making of the late 20th century that Patrick detailed so well in his post last week. While there is good support from the public for improving public transport and making our streets safer, most Aucklanders are still dependent on their cars for getting around and probably need frequent reminding about why their fuel taxes and rates are being (rightly) spent on things other than road widening.
Key messages about the benefits and importance of creating safe and healthy streets, improving people’s travel choices and getting more out of our existing streets and roads should sit at the heart of a comprehensive communications strategy for Auckland Transport. They don’t need to start from scratch, as most of this already exists, tucked away in a multitude of plans, policies and strategies, such as ATAP, the Auckland Plan, ATs Parking Strategy or the recently released National Land Transport Programme. The Regional Land Transport Plan could have been a great way of pulling it all together, but that turned into a bit of a debacle.
Most of all, Auckland Transport needs to stop hiding behind meaningless statements like “getting people out of their cars” and focus their messaging on what they’re actually trying to balance when making their decisions. “Getting people out of their cars” isn’t the core reason why they aren’t rushing off to build thousands of park and ride spaces. Instead, it’s that park and ride is a really expensive way to attract relatively few extra people onto public transport and in most cases it’s better to spend the money elsewhere. This messaging would mean they’re more likely to come across as “careful guardians of public money” rather than “ideological social engineers.”
With strong Council and Government agreement on the direction for transport and a big increase in funding, Auckland Transport needs to up its game (and they’ve been given this message loud and clear by the Council). This includes a far more effective approach to communications.