(This story by Chris Hamilton, chief of Arlington County Commuter Services in Arlington, Va., was original published by Mobility Lab.)
Los Angeles has done a great job of using creative marketing to get people excited about riding its transit s - See more at: http://mobilitylab.org/2015/03/06/infrastructure-money-tight-do-better-bus-marketing/#sthash.DTwXmaks.dpuf
Los Angeles has done a great job of using creative marketing to get people excited about riding its transit system. Photo courtesy L.A. Metro
If cities want to reduce the need for expensive infrastructure improvements, they should brand and market their buses better, according to New York Times conservative commentator Josh Barro.
Citing a 2009 report from the Federal Transit Administration, he notes there is evidence to believe that transit agencies could attract more discretionary or choice riders if they “spruce up the buses and tell riders they’re faster than they think.”
This resonates with our experience in Arlington, Virginia, and in other progressive communities around the country.
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.
Our experience in Arlington shows that transit agencies could indeed gain ridership if they did a better job on marketing basics, we call it “Making It Easy,” including:
- Spending time to do good marketing and sales,
- Putting information at the stops, and
- Providing great real-time apps and other information tools.
We should do these relatively inexpensive things first, to maximize the use of the existing system and possibly forestall having to invest large sums in additional infrastructure.
In Arlington, our Commuter Services bureau markets all modes of transportation through a variety of means. Our research shows this marketing causes a substantial lift in transit usage as well as a shift from driving to other modes. In concert with good development planning and transportation services, our efforts provide better mobility without more traffic, at a relatively insubstantial cost as compared to infrastructure.
Barro contends that we should spruce up buses and let consumers know they are faster than you think. This isn’t a bad start.
In Arlington we’ve worked on some other ideas as well.
- We are developing a technology product called CarFreeAtoZ that will combat the car bias inherent in most current mapping software systems, and produce travel results more akin to real-world conditions across multiple modes.
- We’ve had success marketing the Metrobus 38B as the “Orange Line with a view,” and our Car-Free Diet marketing platform emphasizes how letting someone else behind the wheel can alleviate stress, among other things.
- We’ve worked on distinctive, colorful branding on our ART series of buses. (The same technique has been utilized on Washington D.C.’s successful Circulator buses.)
- And last but not least, we’ve taken deliberate action in improving the customer service provided by bus drivers. Our most recent survey shows that we’re succeeding, not only in terms of customer satisfaction, but, significantly, in terms of the numbers of Millennials using the service.
Yes, we need to think deliberately about the way we market buses in this country. And we can’t skimp on these efforts. If conservative writers like Barro can get on board with this concept, that’s good news.
Screenshot of suggested routes on CarFreeAtoZ system.
Screenshot of suggested routes on the CarFreeAtoZ system. - See more at: http://mobilitylab.org/2015/03/06/infrastructure-money-tight-do-better-bus-marketing/#sthash.DTwXmaks.dpuf
...as a transportation planner who has worked on bus rapid transit-style systems in the greater Washington region, I’ve noticed a disconnect in the public’s expectations versus the reality of the systems they’re getting. It got me wondering: do people have an accurate picture of what BRT means or the benefits the systems provide? During public-planning sessions, I’ve heard a lot of feedback on BRT. The gist is, “That’s really nice that the bus is a different color and the station platform is fancy, but I just want it to be on time.”
After acts of terrorism — domestic or international — law enforcement agencies are almost always asked: “How are you ‘ramping up’ your security efforts?”
Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent buying buses and railcars every year. Although the national unemployment rate has declined since the Great Recession, for low-income families and communities of color, the unemployment rate remains in the double-digits and good, family-supporting jobs can’t come fast enough. We need strategies that revive U.S. manufacturing and other industries that can create the kind of jobs we want.
The recently adjourned 2016 Democratic National Convention put Philadelphia in the national — and international — spotlight once again. For the third time in four years, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority transported thousands of visitors to the City of Brotherly Love and its surrounding counties. As with the U.S. Open in 2013 and the World Meeting of Families and Papal Visit in 2015, public transit was a key component for all event activities.
Everywhere, evidence reveals how we’re moving into a less-consumptive, sharing-based society. Whether it’s people’s homes, torrent files or a car ride downtown, sharing is in. As environmentally conscious and economically prudent reducers and re-users, millennials are choosing non-traditional forms of transportation. This behavior has already had a huge impact on the way the transit industry is planning for its future.