A few months ago, I traveled to Australia and New Zealand as part of a media tour sponsored by French transportation giant Connex, which was showcasing its transportation management contracts in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland. Connex operates public transit networks in 23 countries worldwide but, after recent acquisitions, has become a major player in the Oceania region. Hence the trip.
An exciting excursion, both professionally and personally, the six days I spent Down Under were laden with guided tours, press events and interviews with transportation leaders. Most importantly, we the media — about 15 journalists from around the world — were given the hands-on experience of traveling around this exotic and beautiful region by coach, cab, bus, boat, plane, train and even helicopter. It was a multimodal experience in the truest sense of the word.
Reflecting on these diverse travels, I’m thankful to have not just experienced the rides themselves but also observed the everyday habits of passengers, operators, employees and other individuals who help compose the transportation picture.
I’ve listed here the five most significant aspects of the trip, in no particular order. I define significant as anything critical to the locals, relevant to North American issues or just plain fascinating to see first-hand.
1. The Britomart Transport Centre in Auckland. This underground rail station, opened in 2003, put the icing on an extensive urban revitalization project. Mixing modern and historic architecture with cutting-edge engineering feats, Britomart’s jaw-dropping design resembles something out of a science fiction movie. It’s also the world’s only underground station with a ventilation system that can accommodate diesel-powered trains.
2. The success of the Sydney Monorail. Sydney’s 2.4-mile, elevated monorail is both a prominent tourist attraction and effective commuter option. Circulating through Darling Harbour and Chinatown, two of Sydney’s tourism hubs, the line offers stunning city and ocean views to its 4 million annual riders. The recently opened Las Vegas Monorail can look to Sydney as a model for success.
3. Melbourne’s commuter rail experiment. With higher annual ridership than New York’s Long Island Rail Road, this network is one of the world’s busiest commuter rail systems, a fact that seemed clear to me even on a Sunday. Passenger-friendly innovations such as cell phone-accessible train schedules have allowed the system to build a solid ridership foundation in a car-heavy city.
4. Privatization. With Connex and other transportation management firms operating systems or vying for new contracts throughout Australia, a large portion of public transit is privately maintained and operated. Their performance, financial and otherwise, will be worth keeping an eye on.
5. Similarities between the U.S. and Australia. The two nations share a frontier mentality that still manifests in peoples’ transportation habits. Citizens love to own cars, particularly gas-guzzling SUVs, and both countries share the challenge of widespread urban sprawl. Getting people to buy into public transit remains an elusive goal.
Can I go again?
Above all else, exposure to the people, cities, land and culture highlighted the trip. Poking around one of the remotest regions of the planet doesn’t come without amazing sights, sounds and surprises. I even managed to build a few good international contacts.
If you have the opportunity to start a relationship, work or travel in a foreign country, take advantage of it. Everyone gains from the global spread of ideas and information. I stress this to our international subscribers, too. It really is a small world after all. And getting smaller.