Disguising buses as casino-hopping frogs was just one of the strategies used by 10 public transportation providers across the country who were recently recognized by the Federal Transit Administration for encouraging more riders to jump on the bus.
The "Success in Enhancing Ridership Award" was presented last week at the American Public Transportation Association Bus and Paratransit Conference in Seattle to those who successfully added at least five percent more passengers per year over a two year period.
FTA Acting Deputy Administrator Matthew Welbes said, "Anyone can sit back and let gas prices drive up ridership numbers, but these transit agencies have proven they are winners by taking proactive steps to attract new customers."
In addition to Coast Transit Authority in Gulfport, Miss., which branded their existing gulf coast casino bus route the "Casino Hopper," the FTA selected nine other winners from 21 entries.
Innovations included creative advertising campaigns, student promotions, and customer-focused service adjustments. Winners were divided into four population categories, ranging from service areas of under 50,000 to more than a million people.
Welbes was joined by APTA President William Millar in recognizing transit providers who tried fresh approaches to boost their ridership in 2006 and 2007.
The timeframe allowed enough time to put the new strategy into practice and then measure its effects. In addition to netting more passengers, the new technique must have the potential to be successfully transferred to other transit systems.
Finney County Transit operates under the authority of Finney County Committee on Aging in southwestern Kansas. They introduced a new fixed route service and created a steering committee with participation from many community stakeholders. The group helped develop the service policies, time schedules, and fare rates. After the service debuted, customer comments were collected monthly at community meetings and used to gather input for system improvement. The end result of these activities was a ridership increase of 16 percent.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Citylink represent the first time in the United States that a tribal and local government have collaborated to create a free public transportation system. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe created a new fixed route service in 2006. The tribe and Citylink planned the route service, marketing plan, and stops based on customer needs, built a new maintenance garage to ensure the buses can operate 365 days a year. The new services increased ridership by 27 percent.
Intercity Transit's ridership increased 18 percent by continually revising and updating their strategic plan and by forming partnerships with organizations in their operating area. Intercity Transit formed a partnership with Evergreen State College to offer late night service and a partnership with the city of Olympia to create a Growth and Transportation Efficiency Center downtown for the public to find out more about alternative transportation options and purchase discounted transit passes.
Ozark Regional Transit's initiative involved getting school-aged children to ride the transit system. The "Try It, You'll Like It" campaign let school-aged children ride the system for free over the summer. Ozark Regional Transit added stops at the local pools, libraries, summer camps, and the Boys and Girls Club. System ridership for youth rose 91 percent, and overall system ridership increased by 24 percent.
River Valley Metro Mass Transit's ridership increased more than 14 percent by creating new routes and advertising it creatively. A new commuter route linked the Bourbonnais service area to a train that travels to downtown Chicago and a demand-response route was replaced with a new fixed route service. New route schedules were used to wrap the Sunday paper and distributed to all households along the new routes. River Valley Metro Mass Transit also partnered with the local newspaper to host tailgate parties at local football games.
Whatcom Transportation Authority attributes their 12 percent ridership increase to the new red line branding and marketing campaign and to a county-wide partnership created to increase the use of alternative transportation. Whatcom Smart Trips participants create an online trip diary where they can log their bus, walking, and biking trips. As participants achieve personal milestones, they receive rewards, incentives, and recognition from local businesses in the region. According to the online trip diaries participants' bus trips have increased by 45 percent.
Capital District Transportation Authority created a new strategic plan, vision, communications plan, and updated labor contracts. Due to these high-level changes, service was modified to meet rider demand, additional hybrid vehicles were purchased, and a fare simplification program called Simplefare was created. Since these initiatives were begun, ridership has increased by more than 20 percent.
Coast Transit Authority decided to brand their existing route that traveled to the casinos along the gulf coast operating area. The route was named the Casino Hopper, and bus wraps featuring a green frog hopping were used on the route buses. A New Orleans musician, known as "the Frogman" was hired as a celebrity representative. The Frogman appeared on all print, television and radio advertising, thereby associating the transit agency's route with the musician's popular song, "I'm Just a Lonely Frog." This marketing campaign was very successful and ridership increased 17 percent.
Community Transit's 18 percent ridership increase was a result of offering more evening and weekend service on popular routes and community partnerships. The New Resident Campaign mailed packets of information to all new county residents that included transit system information and free ride tickets. The Commute Trip Reduction program worked with the major employers in the region to promote transportation alternatives, such as vanpools, carpools, bicycling, walking, and taking public transportation to work. Between 2006 and 2007, ridership on the routes to the Boeing-Everett facility increased more than 17 percent.
MTA Bus Company was created in 2004 to assume the operations of seven bus companies that operated under the New York City Department of Transportation. MTA Bus Company was created to improve quality and efficiency of bus service in New York City and has committed to aggressively upgrade the overall service delivery of its bus operations. Schedules and headways were revised to deal with overcrowding and running times were modified to accommodate traffic conditions. MTA Bus also decreased the average fleet age from 13.5 years to less than 5 years and improved maintenance facilities and technical expertise. System ridership has increased by 18 percent overall.