Introduction: Quality Counts
A well-designed public transportation system is far more likely to lure new users and encourage regular rides than a system that has few routes, which has insufficient frequency, or which is generally not user-friendly. Therefore, the most important method of promoting public transportation in the city is to develop a good product. The product itself should be designed with the needs of both visitors and residents in mind, and likewise, a marketing and promotions strategy should also consider locals and tourists as different target markets. Once the system has been designed and is ready to be promoted, the city council needs to focus on what motivates people to ride. Is the city traffic congested? Are parking options limited and expensive? Are citizens ready to improve their quality of life by reducing their dependency on cars? These are all different angles an advertising campaign may take, while avoiding unnecessary moralizing that might turn off key audiences. People are also self-centered and want to know that riding actually benefits them, rather than perceiving it as a sacrifice. Therefore, to promote the use of public transportation, the city should focus on how riding is convenient, cost-effective, safe, and pleasant.
Significance of the Problem
The problem is one of perception. Perceptions directly predict behavior when it comes to eschewing a car for public transportation (Carrus, Passafaro & Bonnes, 2008). Not enough residents perceive the public transportation system as being viable, safe, reliable, or convenient. Residents already know that public transportation reduces their carbon footprint and saves money; what they do not yet know is that public transportation can be easy and improve the citys overall quality of life. A considerable amount of money has been invested in the public transportation system already, the bulk of which has come from taxpayer dollars but a significant portion of which is also derived from the private sector. Another problem is therefore that ridership levels are too low to justify any further investment in the system. Yet in order to attract new riders or encourage existing riders to use the system more, the city needs to promote public transportation and make it an attractive option for residents from different parts of town. An analysis of needs will demonstrate which areas are being underserved, improving safety, convenience, and accessibility to lure the target markets. The numbers are already there: according to the American Public Transportation Association (2018), over ten billion trips are taken on public transportation each year. The city can leverage these numbers with a sustainable growth model that focuses on the unique needs of residents and visitors.
The first recommendation for promoting public transportation in the city is to highlight convenience factors. Convenience factors refer to things like the proximity of public transportation to shopping, businesses, and homes, with enough variety in methods of transportation, enough stops to reduce walk time, and sufficient frequency to encourage quick journeys (Beirao & Cabral, 2007). The system needs to be promoted as something that is fast and efficient, as many riders may perceive public transportation as taking a long time, with long waits between busses. To remedy that, operators need to ensure on-time service, add service to busy routes, and offer more express services. If possible, a light rail option will help cut down on total trip time. Other convenience factors are related to negative reinforcement: such as appealing to current drivers as a means of avoiding sitting in traffic for an hour or driving around for ten minutes to find parking. Marketing campaigns can focus both on the positive and negative reinforcements that appeal to convenience factors.
While not all riders are financially motivated to ride public transportation, many are. When presented with the cost savings over owning a car (insurance, payments, gas, and maintenance, in addition to tolls and parking), public transportation can seem like an attractive alternative. Strategic pricing models will also help to encourage commuters to purchase monthly or yearly passes, and also to encourage tourists to buy daily or weekend passes for their families (Fujii & Gaerling, 2005).
People need to know that riding public transportation is safe and comfortable. For this reason, public transportation should be marketed as being safer than other forms of transportation by comparing statistics related to automobile accidents versus accident that occur on the public network. More importantly, the public transportation system needs to be integrated into clever urban planning models that allow for bright lighting, the presence of security guards and CCTV, free WiFi, and similar security measures.
Finally, public transportation should be promoted as something that is pleasant. Hiring service-oriented drivers can help with improving the perception of buses. All parts of the transportation network need to be maintained with immaculate precision, with clean stations and vehicles. A good app, complete with GPS tracking of buses, will help users with trip planning. Offering incentives to ride, such as discount coupons, will also help promote public transportation as something that is integral to the city experience.
Public transportation should appeal to both new and existing users, as wel as both residents and visitors. When public transportation is promoted as being convenient, safe, cost-effective, and pleasant, users will develop a totally different attitude towards their city. Public transportation needs to be embedded in the concept of civic pride: as a means of connecting people with the city, opening up new parts of town, helping small businesses thrive, and creating an environment that is clean, user-friendly, and attractive.
American Public Transportation Association (2018). Public transportation benefits. https://www.apta.com/mediacenter/ptbenefits/Pages/default.aspx
Beirao, G. & Cabral, S. (2007). Understanding attitudes towards public transport and private car: A qualitative study. Transport Policy 14(6): 478-489.
Carrus, G., Passafaro, P. & Bonnes, M. (2008). Emotions, habits and rational choices in ecological behaviours: The case of recycling and use of public transportation. Journal of Environmental Psychology 28(1): 51-62.
Fujii, S. & Gaerling, T. (2005). Temporary structural change. National Academy of Sciences. https://trid.trb.org/view/763053
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