With new trial bus services coming online such as “The Comet” I have started to think about the branding of public transport in Christchurch, and the image problems that the bus system has suffered from recently.
Christchurch’s bus services have suffered quite a hit in the last few years. First, there were the delays in rolling out much-needed improvements such as bus priority, metrocard improvements and things like park and ride, basically a result of ongoing funding problems (I also felt the bus lane project was handled poorly, although you are always going to get opposition to these ideas the fact is that Christchurch was lagging behind other cities and getting bogged down where others hadn’t). Then there was the first earthquake which had an effect on the supply of new buses and that caused a LOT of bad press. Then there was the whole clamp down on the road worthiness of Christchurch buses which was a whole lot more bad news and generally gave public transport a bad name in the city. Hard to think that a year or two earlier many people in Christchurch were patting themselves on the back for their progressive bus service! Then, of course, there was the big aftershock in February which caused a whole bunch of disarray, much of which is still being felt today. Amongst many other things this included the loss of the city’s biggest employment hub (the CBD), the loss of a central interchange, the loss of many bus routes, detours of many other bus routes, no through bus routes, no more improvements, bad roads, and the list goes on.
Now, the system is in recovery mode. As we look to the future, there are many visions on the horizon. Light rail is a distinct possibility, as are many other ideas, but the fact remains that we will still need a first-class bus system as part of the public transport network, whatever we eventually decide to do. So, it makes sense to me to start from there, with the bus system we currently have, in anticipation of the other big-ticket items that might come along. I could go on all night about ideas for developing a “new” bus system (I won’t, promise) but what I want to explore is the branding and marketing side of public transport. With all the aforementioned problems that the bus system has had in recent times I would like to suggest that we bite the bullet and ditch the “Metro” brand. It only seems to bring up bad feelings and to be honest I think it looks tired and utterly unexciting. Even the Metro website looks dull. I don’t know what to replace it with, that is not my area of expertise, but what I will say is that now is the time to do it given that recovery of the system and improvements to it are about to come on-line (such as the introduction of new routes, reintroduction of through routes, and opening of a temporary interchange). Something clever, colourful, that taps into the spirit of Christchurch and the kind of city that we all want it to be would be just the ticket. Well, it makes sense to me.
It’s not just the Metro brand that I find concerning, it is also the continued branding of individual services. The Orbiter was a great success, as was the Metrostar but at that point I started to find the whole thing a bit cheesy. I don’t know of many cities that continue to name individual services like that. I can understand the Northern and Selwyn Star brands because they are a common brand that covers a type of service, and I wonder if that is a better way to attack this (i.e. having a common brand for buses that don’t go to the CBD). Now we have “The Comet”, and I wonder if soon these different brands will become too many and become lost in a forest of names. In Auckland I think they are taking the right approach with their “Link” bus services (“city”, “inner”, and “outer”) and B-Line brand, which is currently being rolled out to bus routes that have high frequencies and bus priority.
At the end of the day, my idea hinges on the fact that the entire bus system has received a bad rap. I would argue that it has generally been seen as being inadequate, slow, unreliable, of poor quality, and now pretty much non-existence. That might not necessarily be entirely deserved, but I think it is an honest reflection on the image of public transport in Christchurch. I say we should take the initiative now, and relaunch public transport in Christchurch in more ways than one. Metro’s time is up. It’s time for change all round.