Management & Operations

Appreciating your riders, even the 24 billionth

Posted on July 1, 2003 by Danny Nicholson, Toronto Transit Commission

Nellie Adams sewed her entire wedding dress on a Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) streetcar. Michelle Macpherson met her future husband. For Chris Higgins, a bus driver on the Harbord route made her day by cheering up her cranky one-and-a-half-year-old son with a rousing rendition of The Wheels on the Bus. These are just a few examples of the more than 4,500 letters the TTC received during its highly successful 24 Billionth Rider Campaign. The campaign refers to the 24 billion riders the TTC carried since it began in 1921. Ridership numbers indicated the actual 24 billionth customer would enter the system on Dec. 10, 2002. The contest was designed to select an “official” 24 billionth rider, not the “actual” 24 billionth. Creating the campaign The 24 Billionth Rider Contest was designed to create awareness to the question, “How important is the TTC?” The idea originated with TTC Deputy General Manager – Corporate Lynn Hilborn and was developed by Toronto advertising agency Campbell, Michener & Lee. The target audience for the contest consisted of TTC riders, the general public, media and politicians at the local, provincial and federal levels. Customers were invited to write about their most memorable moments on the TTC’s service. The stories were limited to 75 words or less, with a committee of elected commissioners selecting the best 24 submissions. An eight-week poster campaign on all TTC vehicles and subway stations outlined details of the contest. The poster campaign was supported by pull-down vehicle brochures, promotion on the TTC’s Website and ads in the Metro newspaper, which can be picked up throughout the TTC and GO systems. A strong public relations program supported the advertising campaign. A full page in the Toronto Star was devoted to the top 24 submitted stories. The Toronto Sun had extensive coverage as well, including a photograph of Adams, the woman who sewed her wedding dress on the streetcar. During the contest, the TTC displayed a 9-foot pixel sign, which continuously counted upwards to the magical 24 billion target. The sign was featured weekly on CityTV’s Breakfast Television and also made a special appearance leading the annual Santa Claus Parade, and at Air Canada Centre for a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game. And the winner is... The 24 finalists were invited to attend a special ceremony at the busy Bloor-Yonge Station on Dec. 10. The TTC chair, along with Toronto’s deputy mayor, drew the winning letter from a raffle bin. Cameras and microphones from local and regional media organizations all pointed directly at Toronto resident David Switzer as he walked through the turnstile at Bloor-Yonge Station, becoming the official TTC 24 Billionth Rider. This is his winning story: I remember returning from the Canadian National Exhibition on the Yonge St. car full of stuffed animals and funny hats, staying out all night by riding the Danforth line end-to-end ‘till dawn, having my first (very close) contact with multiculturalism on the Harbord car and listening to a hockey game on a bus stopped on The Queensway because the driver wouldn’t let the guy with the radio off ‘till the game was over ... 60 years a rider. As the winner of the TTC’s 24 Billionth Rider Contest, Switzer won a first class VIA Rail pass for two to any VIA destination in Canada, plus a one-year membership in the Metropass Discount Plan and a TTC bomber jacket. All 24 finalists received a DreamPak of gifts. Ready for the 25 billionth rider The TTC’s 24 Billionth Rider Contest proved to be a hit with TTC customers and the news media. It’s hard to picture 24 billion people, but that’s four times the population of the world or 20 million subway trains full of riders. The TTC is the second-largest public transit authority in Canada and the United States. One billion customers ride the TTC every 30 months. TTC turnstiles are now turning up to the 25 billionth rider, who should come through in 2005.

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