The automobile industry spent about $21 billion on advertising in 2007, according to DM News. Clearly they would not spend this kind of money to convince us all that we can’t live without a car unless it actually worked. If public transit agencies want to increase their “customer base,” why are they not advertising too? Apparently, some are.
Los Angeles’ Metro is marketing its products and services much like the auto industry with the end goal of reducing traffic, cleaning the air and reducing commute times. The streets of LA sport buses of bright colors and a number of playful ads on billboards encouraging Angelinos to take the bus, rail or carpool. Matt Raymond, the Chief Communications Officer for Metro and the creator of LA Metro’s marketing push, said the marketing team aimed to make public transportation cool.
The ads and the re-branding of Metro seem to be having success. The recent passing of Measure R – a 1/2 cent sales tax that is expected to generate 40 billion dollars over the next 30 years for improving transit services in LA – required a 2/3 vote and showed that the vast majority of Angelinos, most of whom commute by private car, are willing to pay for transit out of their own pockets. Metro’s marketing is also finding success in convincing people to start using its services, with the percentage of discretionary riders (those people who have the choice to commute by car or transit) rising from 24% to 36%.
Smaller transit agencies have tried similar measures. In 2008, the Bay Area Air Quality District gave grants to transit agencies around the San Francisco Bay Area for marketing to help promote walking, biking, and taking transit. For Petaluma Transit, it worked. Ridership increased 20% during the campaign. Petaluma’s marketing campaign also included connecting driving with global warming by asking people to, “Cool the Planet One Ride at a Time.”
While current budget crunches may mean less money for transit operations, as funds recover, it will be imperative to support expanded transit services with marketing. Such advertising can help create a culture shift away from the use of personal cars and towards more sustainable lifestyles. It may be obvious to transit agencies that driving causes traffic, pollution, and climate change, but the average person still needs a reminder and a convenient alternative if they are going to ditch their car for good.