Marketing Public Transit

Erik Weber has an excellent post over a at The City Fix about the responsibilities that public transit agencies have to their customers (or potential customers) when it comes to marketing and advertising. He argues that there's a balance that must be upheld between what a transit agency promises and what it actually has the ability to deliver.

(from MIAD Communication Design on Flickr)

Last year I wrote about an egregious marketing effort by Cleveland's RTA. After receiving a bit of recognition from the American Public Transportation Association, the transit agency plastered "Best Transit System in North America 2007" stickers all over their buses and trains. They were finally removed in early 2010.

It would be one thing if someone, anyone, thought that Cleveland was competing for the best transit system in all of North America. Realistically, that simply wasn't the case. So the marketing campaign made the transit agency look out-of-touch and arrogant. And it only makes the transit agency look incredibly bad as it's raising fares and cutting service, but maintaining the marketing pitch of "best in North America".

There's certainly value in highlighting the things that transit agencies do well. But making blanket statements like "best of the best" will rarely achieve what it's designed to. Unless you actually happen to be the absolute best, or at least have people who believe that to be the case.