Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marketing a new transit service

Last week the News reported that passenger counts on the new Q74 private van service were lower than expected, and they got a few suggestions from potential passengers. Here's one:
Dori Birch, 47, didn't know the vans were available until she saw the newly installed blue-and-white "Group Vehicle Ride Stop" sign along Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens.

"Maybe it needs to be advertised more," Birch said.
Birch is right on there. We can all think of ways the vans could be sold: I'm going to break them down into things that the TLC could be doing, things that the van company could be doing, and things that either group could be doing.

The most basic problem is the name. Who came up with "Group Ride Vehicle Program"? Would you ride in a "Group Ride Vehicle" if you had any choice in the matter? "Group Ride" sounds like "group home," which makes people think of riding with developmentally disabled and/or emotionally disturbed people. I've ridden on buses like that, and it wasn't any worse than any other transit experience, but it's not the best image to project, especially in this case where it's not at all accurate. The main thing is that when I see something that says "Group Ride," it just doesn't give me the feeling that the "group" in question could include me. I would have used "jitney." A lot of people don't know what it means, but it's not much less clear than "Group Ride Vehicle."

These signs are not particularly inviting. How about just "TAKE A VAN TO QUEENS COLLEGE FOR $2!" and on the other stops you could have "TAKE A VAN TO THE SUBWAY FOR $2!" Short, simple and to the point, and you can have the other stuff in small print.

The TLC has sent out press releases and put up a website about the program, but the website didn't go up until the day after the service started. The maps are all in PDF format, which is not particularly necessary since each one is basically a single image; WNYC's webmasters extracted the images. How about a smartphone app that helps you find the nearest stop, or a layer for Google Maps? Or just a webpage optimized for smartphones with a nice easy-to-remember URL like nycvans.gov?

The TLC could also hook the van operating companies up with various community organizations in order to help their marketing.

I hope that the TLC will implement some of these things soon. It's not too late; the pilot still has eighty-eight days to go.

1 comment:

George K said...

I just wrote a letter to the MTA suggesting that they publish the route of these vans on the map (and mention that they charge $2, but don't take transfers). I said that, since those routes are fairly short, they are most likely only being used for local trips (or trips that will take the customer to an MTA-run service), and that they will most likely not have an impact on revenue.