Motivation and overall communication goals
The overall communication goal of the NPRA frames the information campaign of the tunnel rehabilitation projects. Here, it is stated that the NPRA ‘is to be perceived as an open and user-friendly competence network working with care for people and the environment to ensure travellers a safe and efficient journey’ (NPRA 2015a: 3). In accordance with this goal, an information strategy was prepared when the 10 Oslo tunnels were to be rehabilitated (NPRA 2015a), stating that those directly affected by the rehabilitation work were to receive information prior to the capacity reduction and be encouraged to use means of transport other than cars. The underlying reasons for the tunnel rehabilitation (e.g. sharpened EU tunnel-safety requirements) were not part of the main message in the communication strategy.
The NPRA seems strongly mobilised by a wish to avoid extensive traffic chaos and dissatisfaction among road users. The information campaigns were thus linked to a desire for building legitimacy for the public intervention of tunnel rehabilitation. However, the NPRA also seized the opportunity to test new communication tools for travel-system management. As noted by an NPRA informant, ‘We had the opportunity to show our abilities. We could not afford to fail [in terms of traffic collapsing], and we got more people working with public information’.
A key element communicated throughout the information campaign was a timetable showing the estimated duration for each tunnel rehabilitation and what type of closure could be expected (e.g. whether rehabilitation involved nights/weekends or more long-term closure). A main message in the information campaign was that, during periods of overlapping tunnel rehabilitation—like for Smestad and Bryn—there would be significant capacity reduction in the road transport system. It was also emphasised that the tunnel works would lead to more congestion and delays. The main message for the Smestad tunnel was rather alarmist, with headings like, ‘If no one changes travel habits [i.e. how and when people travel], it may take up to four hours to drive from Sinsen to Smestad [a distance of 7 km]’.Footnote 5 When the Bryn tunnel was to be rehabilitated, the message was somewhat different: ‘Avoid congestion while the Bryn tunnel is partially closed! Leave the car; use public transport, cycle or walk!’.Footnote 6 While this paper focusses on the information campaigns, it should be noted that the NPRA strategy also involved mitigating measures, such as signposted speed reductions, temporary park-and-ride facilities and temporary public-transport improvements.
Execution: Smestad information campaign
The NPRA has extensive experience in implementing various communication measures before major work on the road network. These traditional measures, described below, were used in the Smestad information campaign:
Key NPRA personnel available: A central point in the strategy was that key NPRA personnel, including the project manager, were to be highly accessible to all those with questions about the capacity reduction. Availability of key personnel was emphasised to reduce uncertainty and frustration among travellers and ensure good co-operation with other agencies.
Stakeholder analysis: Interest analysis was one of the first activities in the communication work for each tunnel. It included mapping and prioritisation of target groups, as well as detection of specific challenges arising with the rehabilitation and finding solutions for them.
Local community information: Flyers describing the work and mitigating strategies were made and distributed locally. Flyers were made in several languages as illustrated in Fig. 3.
NPRA webpages: On the NPRA website, general information on the tunnel rehabilitation and information about each tunnel repair and upgrade were presented. The agency considers this a main information channel (NPRA 2015a). The website was used both to communicate about the ongoing work and its effects on traffic; the information was given in Norwegian and sometimes English. Flyers with local information were also made available here.
Dialogues with schools and parent–teacher associations: Schools considered to be affected by the rehabilitation work were mapped in advance. This was done by the NPRA in co-operation with the municipality. Thereafter, dialogue was established between the school leadership, parent groups, municipality and NPRA representatives.
Electronic roadside boards: On the central main routes, large textboards warned about the risk of congestion and encouraged people to travel by public transport. In addition, real-time information was given for a limited number of alternative driving routes, providing drivers a basis for route selection.
Facilitating news coverage: The NPRA sent information and press releases to local and national newspapers. In addition, press seminars were held. As the first rehabilitation project, the Smestad tunnel received massive media coverage both prior to the capacity reduction and when the work commenced.
Advertisement, radio and news media: Advertisements in both news media and radio were used to inform the public about the new traffic situation at Smestad and Bryn. However, as described in the next section, a shift occurred, with more advertising on digital news media and a higher level of audience targeting in the Smestad campaign compared with that of Bryn.
Execution: Bryn campaign
Turning to the Bryn campaign, the NPRA shifted its execution strategy. It employed all the information measures that had been used in the Smestad campaign and introduced novel measures, some new to the NPRA. While paper-based and digital media coverage was highly important when initiating the work of the Smestad tunnel, one could not expect the same news coverage for Bryn. Long-term tunnel rehabilitation was no longer a new and unknown phenomenon in Oslo, and the experience from Smestad was that the traffic flow did not collapse with the capacity reduction.
The rehabilitation at Bryn proceeding Smestad enabled the NPRA to draw on experiences from the latter. Before the Bryn rehabilitation began, the NPRA decided to apply new types of communication measures as a supplement to the traditional ones. As explained by a key informant from the NPRA,
As an agency, we can plan a lot. However, the extent to which media choose to cover an issue cannot be planned. Before the Smestad rehabilitation, we worked extensively with the media, and there was tremendous coverage. We got the effect we wanted: Travellers were informed and enabled to potentially choose other modes of transport than private cars. Thus, when the Bryn rehabilitation was about to start, we continued with what had worked well and asked the question of what more we could do. We had to reach the travellers in a new way because you don’t get the same media coverage twice in one [overall] project. As a result, we decided to use advertising more.
The NPRA decided to engage a public relations (PR) agency to reach affected traveller groups more effectively. In autumn 2015, an acquisition was announced for the preparation and distribution of an information campaign. The Bryn tunnel was the first major project the campaign targeted. In the announcement, the NPRA emphasised that the supplier should offer ‘creative expression and production of material for several platforms, with an emphasis on digital channels’ (NPRA 2015b: 4). With the involvement of the PR agency, the use of social media and advertising on digital platforms became a more central part of the information campaign.
Digital advertising: Advertising on digital platforms facilitated more extensive audience targeting, allowing the NPRA to reach residents in specific geographic areas at defined times (e.g. commuters likely to travel via the Bryn tunnel). This type of advertising was distributed in both digital newspapers and social media, focussing on the idea that driving through the tunnels would lead to delays, while choosing active modes of transport or public transport would represent a ‘shortcut’ (Fig. 4). Such advertising represents a new form of targeting information work for the NPRA.
Social media: While Twitter was applied for the rehabilitations at both the Smestad and Bryn tunnels, the use of FB marks a clear difference between the two. An FB page called Bryn tunnelFootnote 7 was created three weeks before the rehabilitation started. In January–December 2016, covering the time before and during the repair and upgrade of the tunnel, the NPRA published 104 posts on the FB page, addressing comments and questions. Figure 5 shows that the NPRA added the most posts in February 2016, immediately before and after the capacity reduction. Looking more deeply into the content, the most applied type of post describes how traffic is affected by the rehabilitation work (as the main element in the post).
In co-operation with the PR agency, creative efforts were made to contact and communicate with a broad audience. Music playlists were created (and published on FB), humorously including songs like ‘Tunnel of love’ (Bruce Springsteen) and ‘Road to hell’ (Chris Rea). Humour was also used in a radio commercial staged as a conversation between the Smestad and Bryn tunnels. A last example of creative communication is that the NPRA offered a cross-country ski service as a stunt to promote commuter parking at the urban outskirts (reducing traffic into the city), as shown in Fig. 6.
Campaigns were also conducted with the distribution of information, coffee and buns at several metro stations, and multiple contests were launched. Two videos were made and published on FB, one about winter cycling and one describing the rehabilitation of the Bryn tunnel. They were viewed 1,32,000 and 1,31,000 times, respectively. The films and other NPRA posts were promoted through the FB advertising system. In this way, they were strategically directed towards specific population groups at certain times. The strategy was to make the posts visible in the FB feeds of people thought to be especially affected by the rehabilitation work, among them, commuters travelling through the area on their way to work.
Resources used for the information campaign at NPRA
It is difficult to estimate total campaign-resource usage for the two tunnels and separate between them. While the NPRA does not have an exact account, an overall description can be made. In terms of manpower, there was mainly one person dedicated to the information work for Smestad. In the week of the capacity reduction, when the media pressure was at its peak (see "Main information sources"), assistance was provided by two other communication advisors at the NPRA. Other than this, only small amounts of resources were used for media advertising (web and paper). For the Bryn tunnel, two communication advisors were engaged six months before the rehabilitation started. From about two months before until two months after the capacity reduction was initiated, they were assisted by an additional advisor. While one of the NPRA employees was full-time engaged with the Bryn tunnel during the whole campaign period, the others also had other tasks. An advisor made the following comparison about the work at the two tunnels:
Beyond the extensive use of social media at Bryn, the kind of information work conducted for the two tunnels was much the same. But it was done at a higher level for Bryn. Among other things, we distributed flyers to the whole district—about 40,000 inhabitants—whereas at Smestad, they were only distributed to a couple hundred.
In terms of resources used externally, the agreement with the abovementioned PR agency was a two-year contract (with the possibility for a two-year extension), worth about €39,000. While this sum also involved information for other tunnels, it has been suggested that about 90% was used for the Bryn tunnel.