Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why are transit ads so bad? DC and Orlando edition

For a couple months I had been meaning to write about a really bad ad done for the new commuter rail service in Greater Orlando.  The service is called SunRail ("SunRail ridership grows despite glitches," Orlando Sentinel).

The ad communicates benefits: that you don't have to drive in traffic and there is wi-fi, but focuses on a foolish "use" of the wifi--someone listening to a particularly dumb song. Somehow the ad was driving traffic to the SunRail website, maybe because it is so annoying. See "New TV Ad Drives Traffic to SunRail Website," from the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

The new WMATA ads for the Silver Line, which opens July 26th ("At last, the Silver Line is ready; Metro says passenger service will begin July 26th," Washington Post), aren't a lot better.

 They have a syrupy voiceover and focus on people in the images but they don't show any of the places (destinations) that are reachable by the service, either in the newly served area or the rest of the metropolitan area that is already served by Metrorail.

The ads are online on youtube but also at the Express, in this article, "Metro solves all your problems in three ads."

It would have been a nice way to reiterate the value of the Metrorail system, which Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote about on Sunday, "When did Metrorail's problems begin?."

For what it's worth about FIVE YEARS AGO ("St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region"), I suggested that WMATA needed to rebuild the area consensus around transit, because the original constructors of the system are long gone (it's been about 45 years since the system began construction, and it will be 40 years in 2016, since the start of service to the public).   I also suggested the 2016 anniversary as another way to push such a process forward, "WMATA 40th anniversary in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment."

I guess the Metro Forward process is partly that kind of rebuilding, but the planning has been satisficed, because most of the elected officials in the metropolitan area aren't interested in coming up with a way to finance substantive improvements and expansion.

* Although the ad about dating has some truth to it. More than 10 years ago, I met a Fairfax-based woman at a conference in DC but figured that since I didn't own a car, the logistics of dating would be too difficult. I joke that I am bad at long distance relationships, whether it be with someone in Texas or Michigan or Fairfax County, Virginia.

Note that the first few seconds of this ad by the natural gas industry, featuring natural gas-powered buses in Los Angeles, goes towards some of the benefits that I think could be more clearly communicated:

- not having to drive in traffic
- being able to do other things, like read
- environmental benefits
- cost savings (versus how much it really costs to drive a car on a per trip basis)

The Port Authority in Pittsburgh has done some advertising on its buses, focusing on these kinds of benefits.

For a video ad with some acceptable humor, Sound Transit does a decent enough job.

-- Voice of Reason, featuring Molly

but I would still push some hard benefits.  I don't know how I feel about their "ORCA gets you moving" ad which promotes their transit smart card.

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At 8:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, you are overthinking this. There is no reason to explain what is "reachable by the service". Everybody already knows where metro goes. There is no sense in "reiterating the value" of Metro, because it's value is very specific, and most people will use it in whatever way best addresses their self interests. These 3 ads distill in less than 15 seconds each what some of those interests are: how to get a better job, how to get out of traffic (or presumably get other people off the road to make traffic better for you), how to increase the possibility of getting laid.


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