Through our recent blog series on transportation, one thing has remained clear: if you build it, they might come. Building a public transportation network doesn’t ensure that there will be ridership. After investing the millions it takes to create a new transit network, municipalities need to understand how to effectively communicate the new transit options to their citizens. When designing a successful public transit campaign, governments should understand that affordability, the freedom of not worrying about parking and the option to read or relax while in transit are some of the major benefits that citizens value when choosing to leave the car at home. Every municipality or agency should know the benefits and the potential barriers that influence riders’ decisions concerning transportation.

RTA Chicago Public Transit Advertisement Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/2015/01/23/regional-transportation-authority-looks-to-new-ads.html

RTA Chicago Public Transit Advertisement
Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/2015/01/23/regional-transportation-authority-looks-to-new-ads.html

When building and marketing a transportation network it is also important to keep the five A’s in mind. Petra Hurtado, an established urban planner and transportation researcher, helped coined the five A’s in her research. She advocates that a successful transit system will meet the standards of each A. The important standards include: availability, affordability, accessibility, attractiveness, and awareness. If a transit system is both affordable and available but people aren’t aware of its existence, it will not get used. Marketing to individuals is important, but those messages won’t enact behavior change if they don’t resonate with individuals’ values. For example, if a government knows that their transit system is a quicker alternative to driving during rush hour, they should consider advertising on the highway when people are stuck in traffic and annoyed with congestion. Similarly, by understanding that transit riders are usually young, they need to use technology that makes riding as easy as possible. Smartphone apps that allow riders to easily pay for transit helps compete with ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft where in-app-payment is automatic and seamless.

Whether your city is building a new train line or simply adding a bus route to your service, you must understand your audience and their behaviors! Simply building a new line from point A to point B will be useless if driving is cheaper, parking is readily available, and citizens aren’t exposed to information about where transit lines exist and how frequently they are offered. Understanding and implementing the five A’s, studying the behavior patterns of your riders, and marketing to the barriers that inhibit ridership or the benefits that may encourage it are key aspects to enacting change and successfully communicating alternatives to driving.

By: Jonathan Keiles