Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Auckland Public Transport

There was a rather curious seminar given the other day in the Department of Marketing at the University of Auckland. I can only hope that the politicians responsible for this city's transportation system could attend:

Extreme Service Failures: Betrayal and

12noon Commerce B 115.

This paper reports a programme of research
examining extreme service failures. Based on
critical incident data, we identify and
differentiate extreme service failures from
other failures. Consumers perceive extreme
service failures as service betrayals with
dramatic consequences for consumer
satisfaction, intentions and behaviour. Next,
drawing on depth interviews we differentiate
commercial from interpersonal betrayal.
Commercial betrayal is similar to interpersonal
betrayal in several respects, but also has
unique characteristics. Finally we report
results of two experiments directed at
understanding whether and how service
providers can recover from service betrayal.

I read about this seminar on extreme service betrayal at the same time that I heard that the Auckland City Council (ACC) was asking for feedback on its vision for Auckland's 'Central Business District' (CBD). The vision that they have come up with makes me think of a neurological disorder from the pages of Oliver Sacks. Like some kind of abnormality that makes people see things upside down but experience this inversion as normal.

It's about ranking and list order. Here is the way that the Auckland City Council prioritises its 'vision':

In the next 10 years Auckland's CBD will grow and consolidate its international reputation as one of the world's most vibrant and dynamic business and cultural centres.

To realise the vision the Auckland CBD will be:

- recognised as one of the world's premier business locations
- a high-quality urban environment
- the most popular destination for Aucklanders and visitors in the region
- a world-class centre for education research and development
- a place that feels like the heart and expresses the soul of Auckland.

Now it seems to me that one of the things that makes Auckland such an awful city is the fact that it has focused on business at the expense of nearly everything else. The result is that Auckland's CBD is dull, grey and devoted to the automobile. It's not uncommon for sidewalks to disappear, for intersections to have no visible means for a pedestrian to cross, and for entire blocks to be given over to carparks. It turns out that I am not the only person who feels this way. According to research carried out for the ACC by De Beer Marketing and Communications:

The CBD is currently seen as 'unfriendly, disjointed, unrelated, lacking in personality, hardened, dowdy, no elegance, concrete and glass, grey, lacking in green spaces, and suffering from a lack of planning'. The absence of any reliable and convenient transport system, traffic congestion...are preventing access to the CBD. Building developments within the CBD have created limited or no visible connection with the harbour, and the CBD is perceived as 'over-developed, lacking in identity, and expanding with no direction'.

In light of these findings it's rather interesting that the emphasis on heart and soul comes dead last, preceded by education which is we all know one of Auckland's most important economic sectors. Note to John Banks: ACC's own figures show that the education sector is the leading occupier of floor space in the CBD. And according to a study by Informetrics the international education sector alone contributes $930 million per year, or the equivalent of holding an America's Cup each year. God forbid.

But back to this CBD project. There is a section that discusses the problem of access to and around the CBD with masterful understatement:

We have the roads we need in the CBD but the congestion at peak times suggests that we need to make better use of them. This congestion affects the CBD's attractiveness as a place to work, live, visit and invest.

But it's when the document pauses to consider the impact of public transport in the CBD that the prose becomes truly, well, sublime:

Passenger transport has become more popular in recent times, especially with the introduction of bus-priority measures on arterial roads leading to the CBD, and the introduction of newer buses.

There is a detached and inactive quality to this writing, as if the ACC has really had nothing much to with public transport. As though an integrated public transport system was really only a matter of consumer choice, rather than as a result of, say, proactive planning. Unfortunately, it seems this has been the case.

The document ends with a discussion of the problem of congestion in Auckland's CBD. Note the emphasis on the lack of a 'direct route to and from the eastern suburbs' even though through traffic represents only 15% of congestion and I suspect that the vast majority of through traffic is to the north shore, not the eastern suburbs:

Two main contributors to congestion in the CBD are through traffic (traffic neither originating from nor heading to activities in the CBD) and low car occupancy. Through traffic now accounts for 15 per cent of CBD traffic and can be partly attributed to a lack of alternative options for accessing other parts of the city (eg the absence of a direct route to and from the eastern suburbs). In addition, private cars coming into the CBD carry an average of 1.2 people, which, on an international scale, is relatively low.

Why not visit the site yourself and have a say. There are at least two problems here as I see it. The one is about using the active voice, while the other is about actively solving the problem of too many cars.