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Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Metro's 'Self' Ad Campaign revisited

MTA has invested heavily in ads on buses, bus stops, in pamphlets etc. Those ads are bizarre. The ones that glamorizes public transportation are. They likely resonate with very few people, and some of those people must be leaders and ad creators within the MTA.

It's just a sign of how out of whack they are with realities of public transportation in L.A. All issues, and more, addressed on this blog fly in the face of their idyllic little posters and pictures that imply strongly that MTA and their services are "great".
And moreover they can't be making much sense. Not until the MTA actually improves services and enhances standards will they lure new customers, since that must be what they're aiming for, partly.
They don't seem to get it. MTA's currently associated with 2 main things, probably, without being smug, to most bus riders who use their services. One is bad, unreliable and/or unpredictable services. The other one is MTA's ad-campaign. That means that on one hand there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, on the other hand there are self-glamorizing ads promoting the service that stands for those issues.
It's almost as if dumb dumber are running the MTA. How about focusing on improving services first, then promote those services without having to lie? Eh, not the other way around. Because as long as public transportation is sluggish, inefficient, overcrowded and more, people will take notice of that, and will continue to avoid it, regardless of what the arrogant oafs within the MTA think.
It's also suggests that to flash fancy self-promoting ads to a crowd that largely hates their service, means they don't take their riders seriously. But that's nothing new.
As if a customer who waited for the bus for 30 minutes, then came the bus and it was full, so he had to wait another 20-30 minutes for the next one, and it happens on occasion after occasion. How in hell is that person going to be appealed by their ads? That's like acting like a careless jerk, then go about and expect people to dig you anyway. That's arrogance.
If they really want to increase ridership, they should focus on providing excellent services that make up for a real alternative to the car. Trying to compensate for a lousy service with paper ads just won't cut it.
And since largely the same people keep viewing these ads over and over, the ads won't have the indented effect of attracting new riders. But, frankly the MTA makes up for that. By allowing to show those money-making schemes on Metro bus ad monitors, that prey on poor and low-income people. As if scams were just what these people needed to be presented with. Most riders don't care anyway, but in cases where they do, they will be ripped off.

The largely same revolving faction of people keep viewing the largely same Metro ads. An ad that's being shown to the same group of people over and over will lose effect, if it, in this case, ever had any. Moreover, it's the riders themselves who are the true insiders, and will know whether those ads reasonate with reality or not. Not the promoters behind them who never utilize the bus themselves.
This is similar to selling a brew that monopolized on the market, and then promote that brew to the people, who purchased it not because they liked the taste of it, but because there were no other choices on the market. Reminds of Communism in a sense, where some central government promotes a government-made product to the people who have no means of choosing something different. With MTA, people in Los Angeles who use public transportation do it mostly because they can't afford to drive. It's quite crude to launch a self-promoting ad-campaign to people in such a position.

Still, the ridership numbers are increasing... just take a look at the Rail ridership stats and Bus ridership stats.
But that may be a sign of an increase in the city population in general.

Or it may be other factors, like improved services on certain routes, but probably it wasn't the smug ads that caused the increase.

I just find the ads smug. That they don't relfect reality, and that public transportation in L.A. is a part of reality that needs fixing, not hype.
Increase in population might account for some increase, but only a very little bit. Los Angeles city and county population growth per year is 1.8%, systemwide Metro bus ridership increased 4.3%, systemwide Metro rail ridership increased 10.4%.

And check out this LA Times article. It's fairly balanced, with some criticisms of the campaign, but it still includes this interesting fact: "An MTA telephone survey found that people who have seen the agency's ads are twice as likely as those who have not to experiment with riding public transit".
Ok, so they may have some effect. The culprit is showing glamorizing ads to the same customers who're often sick of their services. Ads shown to new customers may well have an effect, but the point is, IMPROVE THE SERVICE, NOT THE ADS. Ads come After the service to promote is already there. Running a few buses and some trains here and there isn't something to promote as great, or with "love", like MTA does.

If services are improved alongside the ad campaigns, then it's alright.
Since you seem to spend a lot of your time complaining about inadequate service from the MTA, I'd thought you'd be interested in this report that will be presented to the MTA's Executive Management and Audit Committee on Wednesday (it's a PDF).

Key things in the report: even though they've increased the wages of bus operators (they can now make over $20/hour) they're still short around 300 operators. They've had to resort to paying overtime to current employees to make up the shortage (standard regulations--"time and a half" would mean up to $50/hour wage! and maybe the union contracts stipulate even more for overtime... I don't know). Anyway, they're paying a lot more money because of the shortage, and probably for worst service, since overtime operators are by definition, overworked.

But you can see from the report, that they've been trying--attending job fairs and neighborhood events, partnering with educational organizations, starting an ad campaign and even creating a DVD... in fact, they've even considered paying a professional recruiter $3000 per hire.

And they're still working at it.

So you've got to realize the constraints the MTA is working with--they're struggling with just maintaining current service--they can't hire enough operators, and they're spending *more* money than they should due to overtime.

The way to improve service is with more funding. If ads get more people riding, they increase fare revenue, which eventually shows up as service improvements.
Better be it the case that MTA is trying to improve, otherwise it wouldn't be worthy of the title transit agency.

But regardless of what they're trying to do, there's a plethora of issues that they don't seem to address still. You should see the faces on some bus riders who've been waiting long for a bus, that when arrives, doesn't stop to pick them up. That amounts to shame. The ads are seen from that context, not from some idyllic marketing context. The MTA has done a lousy job over the years, and it'll take time before that turns into something good. It's not enough to increase ridership, they've got to treat their customers worthily as well, but they often do not.

But sure yeah, they're improving. And they'd better.
I have not ridden on the MTA yet. I would be curious to find out the decibel level of the audio on the ads. I received a report claiming that the noise level is high. On the other hand, Professor Clifford Johnson of USC claimed on his blog that the noise level isn't high. I have an idea. I don't know if this would be a viable option for you, but I wondered if someone has tried using a decibel meter to measure the ambient noise level of the ads. If the ambient noise level is found to be too high, then perhaps you could present a report to the MTA with the evidence, suggesting that it be lowered or eliminated.

I have ridden on the OCTA. As of February, the OCTA buses were not playing ads within the buses, nor were there television screens radios, or sound systems such as Muzak, DMX, or Trusonic. And the regular use of the PA system on each bus was for stop notification only (A computerized voice says, "Now Approaching such-and-such Street.")

If you have a contact at MTA in marketing or someone who makes these decisions, perhaps you could post it on your blog so that interested parties could write to that person at MTA. Or perhaps the best person to contact would be Mayor Villaraigosa. I don't actually know.

Kind Regards,
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