October 12, 2009
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New APTA Chair Encourages All: ‘Telling Our Story’
BY SUSAN BERLIN,Senior Editor
To new APTA Chair M.P. Carter, public transportation agencies have a responsibility to spread the word about their successes in sustaining the economy, saving energy, benefiting the environment, and contributing to an improved quality of life. To that end, she has set “Public Transportation: Telling Our Story” as her signature initiative.
At an Oct. 6 General Session in Orlando, Carter brought together four transit marketing and public relations professionals to share their stories of how “Public Transportation Takes Us There.”
“We need to find new ways to tell our story and reach out to our customers and critics, both young and old,” she said “We need to use word of mouth, as well as social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. We also want to ask our customers to tell our story.”
Matthew Raymond, chief communications officer with Los Angeles Metro, shared a major success story: the November 2008 passage of Measure R, a half-cent fuel tax to support transit projects in Los Angeles County. He described how Metro—an agency with past difficulties—worked with its customers and learned from other industries to build a consistent image and move forward. Voters supported the initiative with 67.93 percent of the vote (tax measures in California need a two-thirds margin rather than a simple majority to pass) and, according to Raymond, their support remains strong.
“What we learned is to focus on your customers, find out what they want, then give it to them,” he said.
Thomas J. Costello, past APTA vice chair-marketing and communications and assistant managing director of the Champaign-Urbana (IL) Mass Transit District (CUMTD), also described an agency rebuilding a positive image after several negative events. The major problem, he said, was that media presented the agency in a not so positive light, which fed public opinion.
CUMTD began, therefore, by making safety its top priority: “It was important not only that our service would be safe, but that it would always be perceived as safe,” Costello said. Measures taken included installing audible turning signals and strobe lights on buses and integrating defensive driving instruction into operator training.
“We knew that the people who rode knew what we were doing,” he continued. “We invited our employees to speak out in an ad campaign. Then community leaders joined in, followed by the riders—including one who won a Nobel Prize in physics! As a result, the positive perceptions bounced back.”
Aaron Weinstein, outgoing chair of the APTA Marketing and Communications Committee and department manager, marketing and research, for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), discussed how his system is using social networking web sites to spread the word. BART originally used Twitter for service alerts and information in case of an employee strike, but has since spread out to more conversational tweets.
“We also use Facebook, which is a great way to literally show the face of transit,” Weinstein added. He explained that BART posts rider photos and comments on its site.
Alice Wiggins-Tolbert, the newly elected APTA vice chair-marketing and communications, and director, project development, Parsons Brinckerhoff, presented an overview of the association’s resources for the “Telling Our Story” initiative.
“We need to increase federal funding under the next authorization bill and the climate change bill,” she explained. “We’re providing APTA members with tools for use in their local organizations.”
The APTA web site offers a single, unified platform for all modes of communication. Materials available at the site include op-eds; fact sheets and brochures; ads; social media applications; the Transit Savings Report; and the “Go Green, Go Public” public service announcement campaign.
Wiggins-Tolbert also announced a Capitol Hill event and national outreach on Oct. 22, connected to the release of a nationwide study on the job impacts of public transit investment.
“We’re all in this together, and we’d all like to get there together. We greatly appreciate your help,” she added. “We’ve got to do this; this is our industry, this is our survival, and the stories have to be there.”