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When the "Best" Isn't That Great

Mike McIntyre writes that Cleveland's RTA will finally get rid of the "Best Transit System in North America 2007" stickers that have been plastered all over buses, trains, and shelters since the APTA awarded the prize two years ago. From my perspective, the campaign has been a public relations failure, and removing the stickers couldn't come sooner.

(from Flickr user thegilmanator)

If you go back and look at the APTA press release from 2007, you'll see that it praises RTA for transforming its fleet of buses, reducing operating costs, and holding fares steady. Nowhere does it say state that, compared to systems in New York, Chicago, Vancouver, or Mexico City, Cleveland's transit system is objectively superior. But that's how RTA's PR machine tried to spin it. They didn't fool anyone.

I've gone into restaurants and seen stickers on the door that say thing like: Best Wings in Town! (source: online poll of AOL subscribers 1999) and I wonder, how long before these awards expire? I think the answer depends how plausible the award is. If the restaurant claiming to have the best wings actually does sell good food, then it's not unreasonable for them to advertise the award. On the other hand, if they serve wings so terrible that no one in their right mind would consider them "best in town" then the restaurant is probably just embarrassing itself.

That is, more or less, what RTA has been doing for the past two years. But it's even worse because during that time, service has declined, fares have increased, the agency has faced multiple financial crises. By continuing to boast about the 2007 award, they only managed to make themselves look completely out of touch with reality.


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