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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

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Agencies Sell the Environmental Benefits of Transit

By Greg Henry

In this troubled economy, experts say “green” marketing strategies are proving effective at luring public transportation riders and swaying voters to support transit ballot initiatives. Highlighting riders’ potential carbon footprint reductions, cost savings and role in lowering the country’s fossil fuel dependence are all part of the equation.

At the Transit Initiatives and Communities Conference, held in Salt Lake City in the spring, Nina Szlosberg and Sig Hutchinson, the co-founders of North Carolina-based Move America Now, delivered a presentation titled “Making the Case for Transit in Today’s Economy.” They emphasized three “Es” – economy, environment and energy – and a “Q” – quality of life.


Metro Transit

Hutchinson, whose three-year term as chairman of the Triangle Transit Authority (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) expired this year, said the three “Es” are “a great conversation starter in getting people to realize mass transit is good for the environment, energy and economic development. At the end of the day, what it means for my family is more time and more choices.”

Often the public views public transportation as something that limits their mobility, but when bus and lightrail lines service high-density areas with access to businesses, shopping and work, using these lines is easier and cheaper than driving, Hutchinson noted.

“You just have to reset people’s perceptions,” he adds. “Old perceptions were that you have big, large, smelly buses that are full of poor people who cannot afford transportation. Instead today it could be a hybrid bus, light rail, streetcar or whatever.”

Hutchinson saw firsthand how green marketing worked in nearby Charlotte. A $500 million light-rail system that debuted two years ago in North Carolina’s largest city has been a raving success, he said.

“Charlotte projected 9,000 riders a day and they’re up to 16,000 a day, which was the projected numbers of 2025,” Hutchinson says.

The following are a few creative promotional approaches recently used around the U.S.:

• The Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., Metro Transit system promotes many services through its “Go Greener” program. Go Greener highlights Metro’s fleet of 170 hybrid buses, use of next-generation fuels like biodiesel and ultra-low sulfur diesel, and use of clean diesel technologies. Bright green buses serve as moving advertisements, with the Go Greener logo and slogans like “Save More Than The Price Of Gas” painted on the vehicles’ bodies. The Go Greener website also includes a carbon counter that explains how using mass transit helps lessen the carbon footprint in the Twin Cities.

• South Florida Commuter Services ran a contest in May for commuters to upload videos that promote the benefits of using public transit, carpooling and bicycles. Entrants have the chance to win a monthly transit pass and see their video air on CNN via the area’s cable company. “By incorporating new media techniques, and offering a great incentive, we hope to engage the public in this promotion and spread awareness of the benefits of using commuter options such as public transit, biking or carpooling to get to and from work or school,” says Jim Udvardy, SFCS project director.

• In the Denver area, the Eco Pass has grown in success and expanded since the program’s inception in 1989. The Eco Pass is an annual photo I.D. purchased by employers that are good for a year of Regional Transportation District bus and light rail services. It has been promoted as a way to save employers on payroll taxes, reduce employees’ commuting costs and cut the region’s traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.


APTA

• Transit agencies across the country participated in Dump the Pump Day, a June event aimed at raising public awareness of how riding public transportation helps preserve the environment and saves money. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the event’s sponsor, transit agencies took part with a variety of promotions, such as offering free rides or reduced fares; outreach efforts via social networking sites, advertisements and contests with giveaways, such as free transit passes.

Greg Henry is a freelance writer based in Denver.
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