Monday, September 20, 2010
Marketing buses: vans vs. "BRT"
Recently I've been complaining about the marketing for the Taxi and Limousine Commission's new private van services, but in the past I've complained in general that BRT was being oversold, and later about the overzealous marketing that was being done specifically for the Transit Authority/Transportation Department joint Select Bus Service project.
So you may be out there thinking, "Yeah, Cap'n, what are you, some kind of fucking hypocrite?" Not so fast. There are times when marketing is appropriate and times when it isn't. Select Bus is not one of those times, but the pilot van program is.
With Select Bus, you've got buses that are packed to the gills during rush hour; the exclusive lanes allow them to run more frequently, transporting more passengers with only a few more buses and drivers, and a minimal increase in fuel consumption and pollution. There is such a huge pent-up demand for transit in these areas that any increase in capacity is used up pretty quickly. In these circumstances, everyone knows the value of the bus, so telling them what they already know is a waste of time.
If you were to run private jitneys along any of the proposed Select Bus routes, or any of the high-ridership routes in the city, you wouldn't have to do any marketing. You'd just have to pull up to any rush-hour bus stop that's jammed with waiting passengers, load up and go. As long as the vans get the passengers where they want to go faster than the bus with a reasonable amount of safety, people will figure out the value and act accordingly.
This is not such a situation. These are routes where there is significant competition from other transit routes and from private cars, and where the MTA couldn't make money even with hefty state subsidies. They're also routes that have lain fallow for over two and a half months, since the MTA ended service on June 27.
Assuming that the vans can make a profit at all, they need to get all those customers back and more. They need to get the word out that the service is available and that it provides value.
I am not suggesting that the van operators try the kinds of bait-and-switch operations that bus rapid transit promoters have engaged in. If the service doesn't provide value, customers will figure that out eventually; you might as well treat them with respect.