ANU political marketing lecturer Andrew Hughes writes:
Firstly some of you might be asking The Night what? Is this a scary bloke dressed in all black riding a black horse who speaks with a deep voice? Nope. It’s the ACT government’s night bus service to the town centres.
And it isn’t in a healthy state with only 197 passengers using the service in the first three weekends of its service. This equates to an average cost of $326 per passenger. The highest cost paid by each passenger was $10.
So where is it all going wrong for the ACT Government and Deanes Transit Group? After all this is a good idea and one that the Greens had every right to pester the Stanhope Government to introduce.
Let’s start with issue no.1. Awareness. Unless a market knows you exist you have no chance of getting people to buy your service. Public transport is a mass market service so I have no idea why there was no mass media campaign run using the various forms of electronic and print media.
Hoping that only some forms of print or electronic advertising will do this for you is not good enough. And you can’t start it the same time as the service itself and hope that everyone in your market will see it and then think “What a great idea! I’ll use it this weekend!”
The awareness campaign should have been started at least two months before the service did. Social media should have been widely utilised too. Hey, guess what, this is 2011 not 1971.
A website does not cost that much to set up and maintain, and traffic could have been driven to it via the social media sites and the mass media campaign. Even some good ol’ fashioned guerrilla marketing followed up with a youtube vid would not have broken the bank.
Next a trial weekend would have been worth a run. It would have been an excellent way of measuring the success or otherwise of the marketing awareness campaign and getting some feedback on the service itself from the market, not to mention let people trial the service without any financial risk to them.
The safety side of the service needs also to be highlighted. Civic at night, particularly after 1am, best resembles a demilitarised zone but with a slightly higher risk of violence. I can’t remember the last time I heard any MLA say that they went for a stroll through Civic at 1am without a bevy of media and AFP with them.
So chances are that some people who may have consumed too much of both legal and illegal substances will board the bus. Not all will be well behaved and that won’t appeal to many. Solution? I would highlight to the market that some services will have an onboard security presence.
And I don’t mean just CCTV cameras. Some burly lads called Bob and Frank should do quite nicely.
Air-conditioned buses would be a nice touch too. It will probably see a fair few more people use the service and should not add that much to the existing cost. Not to mention this will lower the risk and psychological cost of using the service for the market.
Where to from now I hear you ask? Well no.1 is to keep the service. Public transport will never run at a profit, but that is not what it is about. It’s about providing a service the market wants. And the market potential for this service is huge considering a cab home to anywhere more than 5km from the city costing an easy $40 and the most you will pay on the Night Rider is $10. Not to mention sharing a ride is not much fun when your fellow passenger reeks of whatever they have consumed that night and most cabs I’ve got into in Canberra the air-conditioning strangely never works.
What I would do if I was the ACT Government and Deanes is start over with the marketing. Do what they should have done initially and run a more mass market campaign. Beef up onboard security, use the air-conditioned buses and get the social media campaign running. Be consistent with all marketing and don’t hope for big things too soon. Patience really comes in handy when you are in the public transport industry.