In 2005, The Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network, (ACTION) and the ACT Government took on the challenge to combine cycling with bus travel through the installation of bike racks on buses. On November 17 2005, Bike ’n Ride was officially launched by the then Minister for Planning, Mr Simon Corbell.
Bike ‘n Ride was designed to create a synergy between bus and bike travel and to complement the ACT Government’s Sustainable Transport Plan.
The concept of bike racks on buses has opened up many travel options for the cycling community. Distances that were once too great for the cyclist are now combined with bus travel to make the trip possible. Commuters can get from one side of Canberra to the other on a bike rack equipped bus, making cross-town travel possible with a bike.
The bike rack equipped buses travel on all Intertown routes that start in the suburbs and pass four of Canberra’s main town centres at Belconnen, City, Woden and Tuggeranong. The Intertown route is a high frequency service that operates every five minutes between Town Centres on a weekday (15 minutes on weekends). Bus route numbers include 300, 312, 313, 314 and 315.
The communications and marketing campaign for Bike ‘n Ride aimed to provide clear and concise information for potential users of the racks and to raise awareness in the general community about the concept. The result has been a high take up of Bike ’n Ride by the cycling community in Canberra and usage continues to grow.
Canberra is renowned for it’s good roads, public transport and cycleways. The challenge in the past has been to provide a transport system that takes advantages of all of these elements.
In addition, Canberra is home to a large contingent of cyclists and this group continues to grow. Major initiatives such as dedicated on-road cycleways along major roads has ensured that cycling is easier than ever in Canberra.
In 2005 The ACT government provided funding to ACTION to trial the use of bike racks on buses.
Before the first rack was commissioned, ACTION consulted with Unions, Occupational Health and Safety representatives and Engineers to ensuring the right style / type of rack was chosen. Australian Design Rules were covered to ensure the buses met all safety requirements in every aspect.
Bus companies across the world were investigated to see what issues, success and failures they had experienced with various rack types. The research also focused on the marketing and promotional strategies employed by these companies. The conclusion was to use a world-renowned model manufactured in America. The Marketing and Communications team consulted with Brisbane Transport to learn from experiences they had with racks. The Brisbane model proved to be invaluable.
As the only other public transport company to trial bike racks in Australia, Brisbane Transport provided ACTION with information about internal and external communication strategies as well as the practical issues like recording usage and instructions for passengers.
Driver Consultation and Training
ACTION staff were consulted in the early stages and testing of Bike ‘n Ride. One of the main challenges was the change associated with the increased length of the bus with the bike rack deployed. Driver and Union representatives travelled the streets with a bike on board to ensure that all streets in the trial area were clear of obstructions.
A training program was designed to ensure all bus drivers were aware of how the bike racks worked. This program provided drivers with an opportunity to experience the racks first hand and break down some of the misconceptions about how the system might work. All drivers were shown how the racks worked by using a portable off-the-bus demonstration as well as the opportunity to drive a bus fitted with the rack. Some of the driver’s concerns that came out of the training sessions included:
· It will take too long for people to load their bike
· I will have to get out of my seat to help load the bike
· The bus will be too long (in length)
· The bikes will come off the rack and cause an accident
Some of the main challenges for ACTION were to ensure that all customers were aware of the bike racks, how the worked and on what services they would operate. Passengers are required to load and unload the bike without the assistance of the bus driver, so clear concise communication was required. The target audience was very broad so a range of techniques to communicate wee employed. The techniques included:
Advertising mass media
· TV commercials – used as very visual way to show how to use racks as well as raise awareness
· radio commercials
· print media
· transit advertising - more to raise awareness than descriptive. Use of own buses reduced the cost to advertise
· website advertising
Customer relations activities
· ACTION’s call centre – information over the phone
· Descriptive brochures
Public Relations Activities
· displays at cycling and public events – provided a hands on way to use the racks prior to use
· presentations at local community groups
· presentations / training for staff
· Minister’s launch
A high profile launch with the then Minister for Planning, Mr Simon Corbell provided good media coverage and raised the awareness of the Bike ‘n Ride concept from the start.
ACTION developed a suite of advertising designed to inform the general public and potential users of Bike ‘n Ride. The television, brochures and bus stop advertising was designed to be descriptive, while the transit advertising was designed to raise awareness of the new concept.
The TV advertising was a tongue-in-cheek story designed to catch the viewer’s eye whilst providing specific information on how to Bike ’n Ride with ACTION. The commercial depicts one rider struggling to keep up with another before loading the bike and taking the bus. The passenger gets off the bus further down the road; refreshed and smiling the rider takes off in front of the faster rider who looks bewildered.
The creative design was aligned with ACTION’s corporate branding theme of “Take it easy. Take ACTION”. The theme captures the underlying message that travel with ACTION is easy, stress free and convenient.
Another effective initiative was to provide demonstrations at cycling and public events. This provided people with an opportunity to use the rack without the added pressure of the bus being “in service”. Portable racks were produced and buses were taken out of service to showcase the bike racks to passengers. Many people at these events commented on how they were pleased to be able to practice using the rack before waiting at a bus stop.
At every bus stop on the Bike ‘n Ride route, information stickers were used to inform passengers on the details of how to use the racks. Step by step instructions reduced the confusion at the point where the racks were to be used.
ACTION dedicated a communications officer to oversee the Bike ‘n Ride project. This enabled a concentrated and coordinated approach to the planning and execution of the concept.
The Minister for Planning Mr Simon Corbell, supported the introduction of Bike ‘n Ride by providing the funding of $345,000 for the trial as well as launching the service in November 2005. Bike ‘n Ride provides sustainability and value for money for the Canberra community as well as complementing the Government’s Sustainable Transport Plan.
ACTION established meetings with internal stakeholders to ensure all safety aspects were considered in the early stages of the project. This included representatives from the bus drivers, engineers and occupational health and safety representatives. The training program for drivers raised a number of issues regarding the size of bicycle, routes to be travelled and hazards at particular points on the route. All these issues were dealt with prior to implementation.
ACTION worked in conjunction with various organisations and community groups in the lead up and implementation of Bike ‘n Ride. The Australian Greenhouse Office, Pedal Power ACT and the National Heart Foundation were consulted in the lead up to the implementation and included in the promotion to encourage this environmentally and healthy transport option.
After the Bike ’n Ride project was launched, ACTION worked closely with Canberra’s peak cycling group, Pedal Power to conduct a series of information sessions. This provided cyclists with an opportunity to try the racks before standing at a bus stop.
Public displays at events such as the Australian National University Open Day, the Canberra Multicultural festival and Bus Interchanges also provided an opportunity for the general public to try the racks and ask questions.
The build up and anticipation of Bike ‘n Ride began prior to the official launch in November 2005. In the early testing stages, the public saw two buses travelling through Canberra suburbs with a bike on the front. This was to ensure that all Intertown bus routes were compatible with the bike rack equipped bus.
As buses were progressively fitted with racks, the public saw more and more of the highly visible racks on the street. The new racks generated many enquiries from interested people who contacted the ACTION customer service centre. By the time of the official launch in November 2005, interest and awareness in the new system was high.
After the official launch, ACTION maintained the momentum by introducing various advertising messages in the media. The descriptive television commercial was complemented by transit advertising and bus stop information. Once these messages were well established in the market place ACTION began a series of demonstrations at public events.
ACTION worked with Canberra’s peak cycling body, Pedal Power to ensure the new concept was communicated to the cycling fraternity. Pedal power continues to independently monitor the usage of Bike ‘n Ride and provides regular feedback to ACTION.
To reinforce the Bike ’n Ride concept, media releases reporting on the usage statistics were regularly issued. These releases were often picked up by the local media and reported.
ACTION continues to promote Bike ‘n Ride through advertising at bus stops and on buses. Ongoing displays are planned for the lead up to warmer weather in spring.
To ensure the plan was implemented effectively, a project manager was appointed. The roll out of information was timed to coincide with the ministerial launch of Bike ‘n Ride. By using the high profile of the Minister, ACTION was able to gain media attention and credibility in the initial stages of the campaign. ACTION progressively rolled out all forms of communication, timed to complement rather than overpower each medium.
An essential component of the communication was the installation of information at bus stops. A bus stop sticker was installed at all bus stops along the routes involved in the trial.
Results and Evaluation
Bike ‘ Ride is proving to be a success for the Canberra community. Passengers now have the choice of mixing travel modes to reach areas that were out of reach to many cyclists.
Usage figures indicate an average of 30 cyclists use the racks daily and this figure continues to climb. This usage far exceeds the Brisbane Transport model that shows an average usage of 35 per week in the first year.
ACTION’s objectives for Bike ’n Ride have been met by providing new opportunities for ACTION customers to combine cycling and bus travel.
ACTION’s bus patronage continues to climb. Currently adult passenger boardings are up by 16% on the previous year. While this rise can be attributed to factors such as fuel prices, however ACTION attributes some of this rise to the Bike ‘n Ride concept as it provides additional options for commuters.
The marketing and communications plan has been achieved by creating awareness in the community of the new Bike ’n Ride option on ACTION bus services. A survey of the bus users in July 2006 showed preliminary result of 87% awareness of the bike rack concept.
How people are using the service
· Regular cyclists use the bus service in the morning and ride home in the evening and vice-versa.
· Weekend passengers catch buses then ride around Canberra’s tourist attractions such as lake Burley Griffin to the National Museum.
· Many students at Australian National University and University of Canberra regularly use the service to get to class from the outlying suburbs then ride home. Both Universities are serviced by the high frequency Intertown route.
The Bike ‘n Ride service has been received enthusiastically by Canberra’s Cycling Community. Daniel Oysten from Isabella Plains says:
“…with BIKE ‘n RIDE- it means that I can still ride home and get the exercise but I don't have to ride both ways – I can catch the bus into work in the morning and ride home – it is a great way to exercise and travel around Canberra.”
[See above, under 'Results']