Management & Operations

Is your agency the best-kept secret in town?

Posted on July 1, 2001 by Frank Di Giacomo, publisher

Sometimes less is more. On the golf course, for example, you want to minimize the number of times you swing at the ball. And don’t forget racing. The less time it takes you to finish the race, the better your chances of winning. But, let’s face it, more is more most of the time. It’s simple arithmetic. Transit agencies understand this perfectly: More riders, more revenue. With the ailing U.S. economy and eroding tax base, it’s critical that transit properties take advantage of all opportunities to bolster their revenue. The key to avoiding a nasty budget crunch, however, is to put more riders on your vehicles. Not only does it increase revenue, but it also reduces political pressures that could lead to unwelcome cost-reduction tactics. Do they really know you? But some transit agencies seem to be the best-kept secret in town. They offer great service: clean, safe and comfortable vehicles that arrive and depart on schedule and cover routes that meet the needs of the populace. The only problem is that they are not leveraging their prowess into higher ridership numbers. There are ways to get more people to use the local transit system. Some of these tactics are fairly obvious, such as using the media to tout the services. But, depending on the effectiveness of the message and the media, some of these marketing campaigns have limited impact on ridership. There are other ways, however, of building ridership. That’s why we assembled the feature story called “Meet 10 of the Fastest-Growing Transit Agencies in North America.” We wanted to find out how these agencies, some well established and others relatively new, are expanding their ridership. Some have seen double-digit percentage growth for several years. Whatever they’re doing, it’s been consistent — and successful. The power of partnerships Finding allies is a good start. Partners can help to identify new groups of potential riders. In State College, Pa., the Centre Area Transportation Agency (CATA) uses its clout as a major provider of service to Penn State University to partner with large apartment complexes that cater to Penn State students. In return for an arranged fee paid by the apartments’ owners, CATA provides tenants with free service to the campus. Those apartment complexes that don’t want to work with CATA are at a disadvantage in competing for tenants who would rather take the bus than drive to campus. In Philadelphia, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has teamed with a tabloid called Philadelphia Metro to provide 250,000 free copies of the newspaper to riders of its bus and rail services. Not only does the agency receive $600,000 from the newspaper for distribution rights, but it also receives a free page of advertising in each issue to promote its services. And, don’t forget, the riders receive free news, weather and sports. Back to the basics If all else fails, go back to the basics. The key to building ridership is to make it easy, convenient and relatively inexpensive for people to use your service. It doesn’t hurt to find out what people think of you either. In Lafayette, Ind., the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corp. changed its name to CityBus after a survey discovered that people couldn’t remember its name. But the agency didn’t stop there. It also spruced up its buses with a new logo and paint scheme and adopted a policy of allowing kids under 18 to ride free. Although the latter strategy doesn’t provide an immediate revenue boost, the long-term payoff could be significant as these young riders mature into accomplished transit-using adults (read: fare-paying). With fuel prices still at a level that has motorists thinking about transportation alternatives, now is the time to bring more passengers on board and find ways to keep them there.

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