One of the challenges of creating a successful public transit system is simply convincing people to use it. That was a problem tackled by Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, and apparently also in LA by transit director Michael Lejeune.
According to The New York Times, Lejeune’s job was to “make transit cool.”
“Public transportation was in the blind spot in Los Angeles because we’re such a car-centric place,” Mr. Lejeune said in an interview on Thursday at the Hammer Museum of the University of California, Los Angeles, before delivering a lecture titled “Michael Lejeune: A Cooler Ride.”
The article mentions that with a staff of writers, photographers and “other creative hires” he has been trying to rebrand public transit. Evidence suggests that it’s working.
“After 18 months of advertising (the period after our new campaigns and increased exposure broke, nine years ago), discretionary ridership rose 8 percent,” Mr. Lejeune wrote in a follow-up e-mail. “At the time, that was double the national average increase. And we had not significantly added or changed our service over that period, so we do see the correlation between messaging and an increase in choice ridership,” he added. The mayor’s office, meanwhile, has noted that rail ridership has increased 38 percent since 2005.
I was a bit surprised by this entire thing. My feeling is that the best way to get more people on transit is to simply get more people (and to group them into denser areas). That’s certainly part of the equation; LA is much bigger and, yes, denser than most other places.
But this story also reveals that branding matters and being creative can change things. That’s a phenomenon that officials in Utah County may want to study (or, hopefully already are studying) as they beef up the transit system.