The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 6 (October 1, 1930)
The Railways and Public Relations — Establishing Personal Contact with our Customers
The Railways and Public Relations
Establishing Personal Contact with our Customers.
Discussing the subject of “Public Relations” in his annual report, recently submitted to Parliament, the General Manager of Railways, Mr. H. H. Sterling, states: “During the year I have pursued the policy I indicated in my last annual report of giving close attention to the public relations side of our business. I have moved about the system as freely as circumstances permitted, with the desire of making the utmost possible personal contact with our customers, the public generally, and with the staff.” The report continues as follows:
Constructive Criticism Appreciated.
I Have been very much gratified by the number of invitations that have been extended to me by various organisations, businessmen and others, to address them. I have endeavoured to meet every invitation, but I regret that the necessities of business prevented my acceding to all of them. I am hopeful, however, of addressing during the coming year the bodies whom I have not yet been able to meet.
I have received most valuable assistance on the occasions of which I have been privileged to address these gatherings, and I have had many helpful suggestions and much constructive criticism. This latter I have particularly welcomed, as I feel that criticism that is constructive in its nature—especially when it is ultimately found to be well-founded—is not only helpful, but very pleasing. It has been my constant endeavour to treat every piece of such criticism with the respect that was due to it, and the opportunities that have often thus developed for free and frank discussion with those who are directing their thoughts towards railway problems, have brought a large understanding of the public point of view to me, and, I sincerely trust, some understanding of the railway position to those with whom I have held discussions.
The Management and the Staff.
As regards the staff, I myself have received much benefit from contact and discussion with them, and I think that here also the opportunities for exchange of ideas that have arisen as I have moved about the system have led to understanding and mutual confidence. I have been much gratified by the appreciative references that have been made from time to time to the work we have been able to do in this connection, and it is indeed pleasing to see the members of the staff who are located at our stations taking a more and more active interest in the business side of our operations. I have felt there is much latent strength in our organisation, which, if it could be brought out, would be particularly effective as regards our position in the community, more particularly from a competitive point of view.
I have previously mentioned on more than one occasion that the capacity of the Commercial Branch to make contact with customers and potential customers is definitely limited, and that I feel we must look more and more to our stations’ staff to constitute a fighting organisation in the competitive field.
The great development that we have had during the year, of what, for want of a better term, I may call the “business page 30 sense,” leads me to the conclusion that the point at which I have been aiming is not far distant when a substantial rearrangement in our business-getting organisation may be made with advantage, both from the point of view of efficiency and economy. I have in mind arrangements which will leave to our stations’ staff more than has been done in the past, the responsibility of attending to the commercial side of our activities in the districts served by the respective stations, and I feel confident that, as our station-masters and others, progressively develop their sense of responsibility in this regard, we will build up an organisation that will be imbued not only with principles of efficient railway operation, but also with a keen commercial sense that will make not only for the adequate protection of the Department's interests in the competitive field, but also for a still higher will to serve, upon which alone a successful business can be built.
Preventing Exploitation of the Railway Tariff.
Owing to the serious inroads our competitors were making in the transport of the higher rated commodities, it was decided to introduce a system of uniform rating in those localities where it was found that traders were using rail transport for the low-freight goods, and road transport for the higher-rated traffic.
This is a matter of considerable importance and I wish therefore to take this opportunity of fully stating our position in regard thereto.
It is becoming increasingly evident that certain persons and companies are prepared to exploit the railway tariff in their own interests in the direction of sending all their low-rated goods by rail while sending their higher-rated goods by competitive services. Inasmuch as it is the high-rated goods that enables us to maintain the low rates on the lowr-rated goods, any defection of the high-rated traffic lessens our capacity to maintain the low rates. We have already arrived at the stage where it is necessary that we should increase the low rates in order to make up for our loss on account of the higher-rated traffic and, so to restore, in some measure at least, the financial status quo so far as revenue is concerned. Any general increase in the low rates founded on the fact that we are losing revenue through the higher class of traffic being taken away from us must involve a certain amount of inequity to the extent that those persons who remain loyal to the railway, giving us their high-rated traffic as well as their low-rated traffic, are involved in the increase on the low-rated traffic. We have therefore endeavoured, as far as possible, to devise means whereby we might protect these people, and prevent the exploitation of our tariff by those who wish to take away their high-rated goods and leave their low-rated goods with us. We had a rather outstanding case of a company which trades in general merchandise and farmers’ supplies of all kinds, including fertilisers. This company entered into an arrangement with a road-carrying organisation that is in very strong competition with us. Under this arrangement, in consideration of the carrying company agreeing to purchase goods for the purpose of the road-carrying business from the merchandising company referred to, the latter company agreed to give the carrying company its high-rated traffic. The merchandising company, however, left their low-rated traffic with us. We could not possibly see that such a position was in any way equitable. We did our best to persuade the company to see the unfairness of the position, but we were unsuccessful. The company took the stand that we had to meet competition.
Department's Action Vindicated.
We felt that we could not allow the matter to rest at that point, and we were prepared to adopt the company's competitive standard, but we insisted that that competitive standard should operate throughout the whole field of the company's traffic, and not only over that portion which it suited them to send by our competitor. We therefore made a regulation which provided that all goods between the stations affected should be charged at the competitive page 31 rate. This, of course, covered the low-rated goods as well as the high-rated goods. So that those persons who gave us the whole of their business should not be penalised, we also made a regulation that in the case of those persons who gave us the whole of their business, the classified or local rates (whichever were the cheaper) should apply rather than the uniform rate. The company in question has resorted to various subterfuges of, in my opinion very doubtful ethical standard, in order to circumvent our purpose. On the other hand, we have had other companies who have been affected by the regulation I have mentioned and who have apparently seen the fairness of our action and have placed the whole of their traffic with us.
The company I have referred to above endeavoured to create a certain amount of agitation among the business community at the inception of our action, but they were quite unsuccessful in their effort to place us in a wrong light with the business community.
In Line With Australian Practice.
Action on somewhat similar lines to the foregoing has already been adopted in some of the Australian States, and, I have reason to believe, with quite satisfactory results.
I think it is very necessary that the unfairness of the form of exploitation of the railway tariff that is described above should be brought out clearly, and that action to circumvent subterfuges that may be resorted to to enable such exploitation to be carried on is essential.
The question of further steps to be taken effectively to deal with the situation is now under consideration.
The Chief Transport Agency.
The railroad is still the centre about which all transportation must revolve. The airplane and the motor truck are important; none can reasonably deny this. Yet they are all merely complementary factors in a gigantic system which has its main dependence in efficient rail service.
—Mcadville Tribune Republican, U.S.A.page break
New Zealand Railwayman and Their Interesting Daily Activities
Snaps taken around the railway yards at Wellington, shewing various phases of the work perfored by members of our staff in preparation for train running, (1) taking water; (2) (4) oiling and examining a locomotive; (3) Thorndon locomotive depot; (5) tightening up smokebox do++ (6) coaling operations; (7) train examiner gives signal to release brakes; (8) (14) coupling up; (9) repairing the track; (10) travelling crane in operation at Lambton station; (11) cleaning carriages; (12) shunting operations; (13) oiling wagons; (15) giving the “right away” signal
(Railway Publicity photos.)