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Just Trans It!

Jan 27, 2010

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Coordinator for VIA Architecture

It is shocking to think that the average person is exposed to between 600 to 3,000 advertising messages a day. Whether it be a banner ad on a website, a giant product ad on the side of a bus, or that catchy jingle you can’t get out of your head about Sprott- Shaw Community College…since 1903, we are exposed to advertisements everywhere we go. Some companies are even branding golf holes so that when you take out the flag it reveals a hidden logo in the hole.

So why is it that some of the most important services don’t market themselves?

In an interesting article about LA’s push to market its transit services, the author dispels the notion that money spent on marketing means less money for improvements to the service. Rather, he argues that marketing the service leads to more usage and therefore more efficiency. This is what Clayton Lane, a transport expert for EMBARQ, calls “the virtuous cycle.”


The “virtuous cycle” begins with a marketing campaign that increases awareness of the benefits of transit, or a campaign that aims to dispel the negative images of transit. This usually leads non users to try the service. The increase in demand is met by an increase in supply, which means new routes and more frequent bus or rail services. An increase in the number of routes and frequency of service leads to more efficiency, which encourages use by another wave of patrons, which starts the cycle all over again.

Environmental agencies that spend a substantial amount on marketing could donate some of their resources to help with a transit marketing initiative. The benefit to them is that increasing transit use not only creates a more efficient system, it creates less dependency on cars and thus less traffic, which also means less idling in stop and go traffic (which we all know would be a good thing for the environment).

After reading the article, I tried to reflect on whether or not I had ever seen a transit advertisement in Vancouver and I came to realize that I had seen a few, but that they had all been on the bus and were often for the U-pass, a bus pass available to university students attending certain institutions.

Although it is nice to know that there is some marketing effort being put forth, these ads are not especially effective when it comes to the larger goal of increasing transit use and targeting non-transit users. Advertising a service to the existing patrons does very little to increase the user base for the obvious reason that it’s not targeting people who don’t use the service already.

The Metro, on the other hand, (LA’s transit service) is focusing their efforts on increasing their user base and improving their image by having an in house marketing department that re-brands and cleverly markets their services. It is perhaps one of the most effective transit marketing campaigns, albeit perhaps one of the only transit marketing campaigns out there. Their website could use some better navigation and graphics, especially in comparison to ours but their ads, logo and slogans seem to be getting people’s attention.

By re-branding and marketing their transit service, “discretionary riders, (those people who have the choice to commute by car or transit) have jumped from 24 to 36 percent.”[2] With a recognizable M inside a circle as their logo, they have created a number of effective campaigns as shown below. In addition to these ads, they have used vibrantly coloured buses to heighten the image of their fleet, something which is extremely important in an image conscious society, such as LA. They have also incorporated the local culture by using California poppy red as one of the colours of their fleet.

Of particular importance is their “Go Metro” campaign which is a great way to emphasize fitness, and with the arrival of the new year, I imagine the timing is not a coincidence as people try to implement their resolutions. Slogans such as “bike the cycle: go metro” or “take the first steps: go metro” focus on increasing activity by using transit in combination with walking and biking. This in ingenious as it takes a potentially negative view of walking all the stairs or the long distance between stops and turns it into a great, affordable alternative to a gym membership.

Their website is full of helpful hints and suggestions. This would be another great campaign for Vancouver as we Vancouverites have such an interest on health and fitness. I can see it now…TransLink branded pedometers being given out and perhaps even fitness groups getting together to walk the stairs or go for a run and then catch the bus home.

The current users of Vancouver transit appear to take it because they have to, either because they cannot afford to drive or the commute is too strenuous. My experience has been that once people have taken transit, however, they realize how effective it is. Of course there are still a few inefficiencies, which according to the virtuous cycle, would diminish with an increased ridership. The challenge is to change the perception of those that don’t already use transit, which is where a marketing strategy becomes integral.

As “just do it” is to Nike, we need to find a memorable message to encourage new transit users….Just Trans It?

There’s an “us” in every b“us”?

Transit: because finding parking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Or perhaps a pedometer that says “you are less then 1000 steps from a bus stop: help yourself and help your environment.” Whatever the tag line, a more efficient transit system awaits, which will certainly help with Gregor Robertson’s goal of becoming the Greenest city by 2020.

Image Credits: RLR Bus, BC Billboard, Cruel/Kind, Superhero, Green City


  1. Hmmm… so by marketing transit I might actually want to get on a smelly slow bus jam-packed with people I don’t know or like?

    Seriously though, I can see how flaunting the environmental (and health) benefits in people’s faces through advertising, will encourage people who consider themselves green or want to be more green to step it up and make the effort.

    Furthermore, taking the bus just makes more sense sometimes when you consider traffic, road rage, finding parking, PAYING for parking and gas prices. People (myself included) often forget that the bus is a greener, cheaper, and less stressful alternative available to all!

  2. Very good, a marketing talento!

  3. Nice article. Very informative and fun to read.