In a time of dwindling government funding, selling ads is an important revenue generator for transit authorities. But the advertising can be more than simply placing a car card on a bus or putting up a poster at a station — creativity can produce an “experience” for customers.
Companies and organizations advertising with Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) regularly search for ways to bring paper ads to life. From Philadelphia Orchestra mini-concerts at stations to Opera Company arias on trains, these unexpected shows have received rave reviews from customers and are activities that SEPTA has welcomed on its vehicles and at its facilities.
Some advertising can bring “character” to the agency. When the stage show “How to Train Your Dragon” visited Philadelphia in September, the dragons invaded SEPTA’s Suburban Station during the morning rush hour, “attacking” commuters as they went about their routines. It was a different way to build an interest in the show — take the creatures to the parents who would be purchasing tickets for their families to attend a performance.
The most ambitious of the SEPTA interactive advertising ventures is the recently christened “Speakeasy Silverliner.” As part of the $37,000 transit-based portion of the marketing campaign for its new exhibit, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” the National Constitution Center had the inside of a SEPTA Silverliner V railcar wrapped to resemble a 1920s gin joint named “Dewey’s.”
Through April 2013, SEPTA Regional Rail riders can be transported to the “Jazz Age” on board the car, the walls of which look as though they’ve been decorated with a deep red wallpaper, pictures and sconces; the ceiling with faux tin and crown molding. Some windows appear to be a wooden liquor cabinet, stocked with bottles. Other windows feature police officers, bathing beauties on the beach and bootleggers. An unsavory character stands at a door, knocking to get into the club while Al Capone, flappers, musicians and a bartender pouring martinis greet passengers entering the “club.” But, riders don’t need to know a secret password or special knock to get inside — they just need their SEPTA pass or ticket.
This is the first time the interior of a Silverliner V car has been covered in a full wrap.
“The Speakeasy Silverliner not only allows our customers to step back in time to the Age of Prohibition, but it also serves as a reminder that SEPTA is the way to go when visiting the Philadelphia region’s many cultural institutions,” said GM Joseph Casey.
As an added bonus for riding the train, passengers can enter to win tickets to the American Spirits exhibit by taking their photo on board the car and posting it to Twitter using #NCCSpeakeasy or to Facebook and tagging National Constitution Center and SEPTA.
In addition to the Speakeasy Silverliner’s interior, an exterior wrap with revelers inviting passengers to join the party will appear on another Silverliner V car. This marks the third time advertising has appeared on the outside of SEPTA Regional Rail train cars since Pennsylvania House Bill 1173 was signed into law last year. Proposed by State Rep. Thomas Killion, the legislation allows the Commonwealth’s public transit agencies to sell advertising on railcars’ exteriors. Previously, advertising was allowed on the outside of all Pennsylvania public transit vehicles except railcars.
“It is necessary for organizations to be resourceful to raise capital to support improvements projects,” said Casey. “Representative Killion showed great insight in introducing the legislation, giving Pennsylvania’s transit authorities another ‘vehicle’ for advertising opportunities. Our customers can look forward to future creative advertising like that of the NCC on our Regional Rail cars.”
Public transportation is lauded for its convenience. In the Midwest and on the East Coast, that convenience includes being a mobile supermarket. Peapod’s interactive posters at train stations are virtual grocery stores. By downloading an app for their smartphones, passengers can purchase groceries while riding the rails.
In Philadelphia, Peapod launched a three-month trial campaign earlier this year at 15 SEPTA Regional Rail stations. The campaign proved so successful that Peapod brought the ads back to the SEPTA stations this fall. Commuters are not only “bringing home the bacon” on their trip from work to home — they can also order it from their local Giant Supermarket on the train ride.
What do transit authorities like SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART have in common other than transporting thousands, even millions of riders every day? All were recently ranked as four of the U.S.’s 500 “Best Employers” by Forbes magazine.
SEPTA, MBTA, MTA and BART were among 25 organizations included in Forbes’ “Transportation & Logistics” category, along with Southwest Airlines, Amtrak, CSX, Union Pacific and Greyhound. In fact, SEPTA (#33) and MBTA (#49) placed higher than Apple (#55) and SEPTA was the highest ranked company in Pennsylvania.
As an experienced designer of streetcar systems, one question I am frequently asked is, "Can a streetcar _____?" The blanks are usually filled with design challenges, such as "turn left from a curb lane", or "go under a low clearance underpass" or "operate at higher speeds and frequencies." More often than not, the answer is YES! Modern streetcar systems, such as those operating in Seattle, Tucson, and Atlanta, are modeled after European trams that are designed to fit within tight, complex, and built-out urban environments. The unique combination of vehicle's size coupled with the ability to operate in the same lanes as automobiles, trucks, and buses allow designers to create safe, efficient solutions to nearly every design challenge that arises.
At the Denton County (Texas) Transportation Authority (DCTA), we’re constantly looking for unique ways to engage with passengers, generate brand awareness and increase ridership. This year with Valentine’s Day being on a Saturday, we saw a great opportunity to launch a campaign in which passengers could ride DCTA’s A-train commuter rail and Connect Bus for free on Valentine’s Day all day by saying “Be Mine” to the agency’s rail and bus operators. With low-trending ridership in February, we needed to find a way to increase ridership and brand awareness within Denton County and surrounding cities. Launching the Valentine’s Day promotion definitely would help us achieve this.
Seeing a canine passenger on mass transit is not uncommon, but the reasons why a dog might catch the train or hop a bus are varied (remember Eclipse, the Seattle Lab mix that uses the bus, often on her own, to get to the dog park?). Most public transit pooches are working —as K-9 officers or service animals. In the Philadelphia region, other animals — in approved carriers only—are permitted to ride the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s buses, trains and trolleys. However, a new pilot program underway by SEPTA allows registered therapy dogs volunteering at two Philadelphia hospitals to use two designated bus routes to travel to their sites.
To be sure, there is no substitute for offering high-quality bus or rail transit service, but many transit agencies skimp when it comes to marketing, outreach, and education and, as a result, the public often has no idea how good the service may actually be. Buses also have an image problem in many communities, which proper marketing could help address. Witness the huge sums spent by automakers in crafting the image of their automobiles.