A new ad campaign that claims “crowded public transport” is a danger to your bubble is stoking unfounded fears, argues Wellington regional councillor Thomas Nash.
Update, 23 May: Wilson Parking New Zealand has issued a statement in response to this column which is published in full below.
You might think it would be a brazen display of pandemic profiteering and climate sabotage for a car parking company to run ads urging people not to take public transport right now. Well, that’s what Wilson Parking has been doing with radio spots on Newstalk ZB over the past few days discouraging Wellingtonians from taking the bus or the train.
The opening line of the radio ad warns people to: “Keep your bubble safe, skip crowded public transport.”
To my mind, the car parking company is stoking fears about using public transport and undermining people’s confidence in the system. This is at a time when the regional transport agency, Metlink, has spent weeks diligently applying all of the measures recommended by the Ministry of Health to make buses and trains safe.
It’s simply not true that public transport is crowded right now. Trains and buses have been running smoothly, with physical distancing on board and stringent cleaning measures. Metlink is monitoring capacity and redeploying vehicles in response to any potential pinch points on the network.
Perhaps it’s just an error of judgment, but arguably the ads amount to using misinformation during a pandemic to undermine an essential public service in the pursuit of private gain.
Wellington already has a congestion and pollution problem from private cars at peak times. It’s grossly irresponsible to be encouraging people to drive more rather than take public transport. In fact this messaging flies in the face of the city’s entire forward-looking strategy.
The stated objective of Wellington’s multi-billion dollar, generation-defining transport and urban development project – Let’s Get Wellington Moving – is to move more people with fewer vehicles. The attack ads by Wilson Parking directly work against that objective, which was endorsed by a strong majority of Wellingtonians after extensive consultation.
We all got a taste of what a more liveable city might be like during the level four lockdown. People jumped on their bikes and delighted at the safe, clean and quiet streets. It was actually pretty remarkable to see people react to open streets that were people-centred for the first time in generations. The NZ Herald even published an editorial imagining a shared future for our streets, with “mini villages” inspired by the lockdown:
“Where there are clusters of small businesses such as restaurants, cafes, wine shops, takeaways, dairies and small groceries, pedestrianised areas could dominate. Cars can be diverted around the immediate area or markedly slowed down so that walkers and cyclists have priority.”
As well as being a regional councillor, I’m involved in business and community ventures that have had to weather the storm of Covid-19. I know how the lockdown affected bottom lines and business plans, but the answer is not to attack public services and take opportunistic potshots at what you might see as your competition. That’s not only morally repugnant during a health emergency, but also bad for business.
The right thing to do would be to pull the ads off the air and to stop attacking public transport at a time when Wellingtonians are coming back to work and reviving our city’s economy. Now more than ever, businesses, communities, and every one of us should be doing our best to support each other and work together to shape a better future.
Wilson Parking New Zealand CEO Ryan Orchard responds:
Wilson Parking regrets the misinterpretation of its latest radio advertisement. We are disappointed in the opportunistic and false claims made by a minority of councillors as we are in process of returning our 250 New Zealand employees to work and like many others, begin rebuilding our business.
Our intention was never to imply that public transportation was unsafe and we don’t feel our advertisement does this. Our aim is simply to highlight that driving as an accessible, flexible and affordable option for those who have begun commuting again. We have shown our support to businesses, communities and individuals transitioning into new working patterns by lowering parking fees and offering more flexibility to remove stress around commuting and increase parking accessibility for those who choose to drive.
The claim that Wilson Parking is using misinformation in its advertising is false. Our message is entirely consistent with official recommendations to avoid crowded transportation.
To minimise risk on public transport, the government has recommended that individuals travel at off-peak times and avoid sitting or standing next to people that they don’t know.
Wilson Parking fully supports the use of public transport as one of a range of modes for the daily commute. A number of our facilities support access to public transport, and we are simply promoting driving as an alternative and safe way to commute.
We are well aware of the seriousness of the health issue and maintain that driving to work is an effective social distancing tool during this time.
We acknowledge that some workers may benefit from driving and they should not be shamed for this choice. For those who have access to a vehicle, have a physical disability, live or work with vulnerable people, or are vulnerable themselves, driving is a valid option to practise social distancing and minimise contact with strangers.
As part of our ongoing commitment to the community, we have partnered with many organisations through this crisis to provide free or heavily discounted parking to healthcare and essential workers, including the New Zealand Police and St. John’s Ambulance.
We are working closely with many New Zealand businesses who are currently offering their employees more parking options to support a smoother transition back into the workplace and we encourage businesses to continue to make contact with us to discuss ways we can assist them.
Wilson Parking is a business that is an active part of the city’s economy and supportive of Wellington’s businesses, communities and workers.
Our current initiatives are in support of getting people back to work and actively participating in the city’s economy. We’ve reduced our rates by as much as 50% in some locations to create more accessible parking as workers return to the CBD.
We are doing our part in shaping our services to be flexible and solution-oriented for Wellingtonians, and in fact all New Zealanders, as they return to workplaces and the city. We’re open to meeting with constructive councillors to discuss how we can be more active in supporting Wellington’s vision for a better future.
Ryan Orchard, CEO, Wilson Parking New Zealand