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Cool Transit — It’s About Branding, Baby!

Mass transit offers many benefits, and millennials are more supportive than previous generations of renewable energy and shifts in transportation. However, we are still far from the ridership percentages our country had long ago, before we got involved so profoundly with automobiles. Feeling engaged and positively connected to cool images of public transport might be the transformational keys. Changing the perception of public transit is important.


With a boundlessness of communication technologies, smartphone-wielding city-dwellers are increasingly up for multi-modal tranport-changing situations. Darrin Nordahl suggests that mass transit offers greater appeal from the hedonistic enjoyment of travel rather than altruism and environment responsibility. He is the author of Making Transit Fun!: How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus).

Of course, there is an even greater sense of joy involved when one understands that there is a good influence, a good vibration set in motion, from good choices. Both are important, but one has to first be enticed to ride public transit. Thus, transit agencies are giving up simply making sure buses run on time. There is a move to improve public perception and the experience of riding public transit using the many pleasurable aspects of travel by this means.

Intransition Magazine uses a popular idea to express the current trend that agencies are discovering as useful — “branding.” Involving marketing, advertising, and communications, it encourages identification with an image.

Intransition Magazine uses Seattle as an example. “I like to look at the brand as any touch point a customer has with anything that you have your brand name on,” said Bob Virkelyst, supervisor of marketing and service information at King County Metro, of Seattle. “That is indeed what you’re branding, whether it’s visual, audible or tactile.”



“I have one motto to myself: constantly trying to make Metro cool,” said  Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority creative director Michael LeJeune. “In a place like Los Angeles, if you don’t make transportation cool in some way [it won’t work].”

“I think that’s a mantra that any agency can use. It’s particularly important here because we are the car capital and the influence of entertainment and technology. We have pretty stiff competition.”

“The design, signage, branding, livery can’t be an afterthought,” said Aileen Carrigan, a transportation planner and co-author of the nonprofit transit advocacy group EMBARQ’s report “From Here to There: Marketing and Branding Public Transit.” She said this is especially true for new services, such as bus rapid transit. “These decisions need to be integrated into the planning and engineering process.”

With ridership increasing in 2013, new life is clear. While the idea of self-driving cars has excited millions, some propose self-driving buses as opposed to self-driving cars. That would certainly help the transit brand, especially if they came to market first. Hi-tech might be one of transit’s best branding identities. People love to be considered up with the latest tech — making identification with transit identification with hi-tech could go a long way for improving mass transit’s appeal.

wifi train

amtrak free wifiSimilarly, another key attraction to transit could be Wi-Fi. This is becoming in vogue in some major cities outside the US, places such as Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia; Paris, France; and Bangalore, Mumbai, and Gurgaon in India. They each have or will soon have well-developed metro systems that offer free Wi-Fi. Cities such as Porto Alegre and São Paulo in Brazil; Beijing, China; London, United Kingdom; and Mumbai, India are adding buses that offer Wi-Fi.

Transit with Wi-Fi should help increase ridership. It makes sense — finishing some work on the way home in transit will allow less work in the office or once you are home; or just scrolling through recent news from your favorite website (CleanTechnica, ahem) allows you to better enjoy your commute time. Perhaps as part of branding, more agencies will try Wi-Fi.

Related Stories:

Classy Intercity Buses Make A Comeback

This App Could Revolutionize Public Transit.

How Well Does Your City’s Public Transportation Score?

Save Money This Month ($839 ) With Mass Transit

High-Speed Trains Improve Quality Of Life

Image Credits: George (CC BY-SA 2.0 license); Mr.TinDC (CC BY-ND 2.0 license); Steven Vance (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license); Anita Hart (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Cynthia Shahan started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. (Several unrelated publications) She is a licensed health care provider. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education, mother of four unconditionally loving spirits.


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