Austin’s transit marketing focused on “fun” trips instead of commuting (and it worked) - Mobility La

It’s one thing to provide a new transit service, and another to get people to use it.

Last year, Austin, Texas launched two express bus routes with a new marketing campaign Starting in late 2016, the campaign stemmed decreasing ridership, preparing the way for an entirely redesigned bus network in 2018.

The results were unusually good: a 38 percent increase in weekday riders and – surprisingly – an 85 percent increase in weekend riders, according to Austin’s Capital Metro.

MetroRapid (the two express routes) “crosses the heart of Austin,” Cynthia Lucas, Marketing Director at Capital Metro, told me earlier this month. Buses arrive every 10 minutes, and service extends to 2:30 a.m. weekends, making MetroRapid highly dependable without too much planning, fretting, and waiting. Transit lanes in selected areas, along with signal priority, means that buses get a head start with a few seconds of the green light before other vehicles. Multiple door boarding speeds the flow.

Yet premium pricing for this express service hurt ridership when MetroRapid opened in 2014. To fix this, the city lowered fares to $1.25, matching the rest of Austin’s bus system.

This might not have been enough. In addition to lowering fares, Capital Metro launched a marketing campaign with a goal of long-term travel behavior change. Although research on transit marketing nationwide is scant, the Austin campaign shows the value of a smart ad campaign.

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