Thursday, May 14, 2009

It Makes All the Difference (With Apologies to Al Gore)

Metro, the Seattle city bus service, started running a series of ads last summer that are deceptively simple. They each feature one person, smiling out at the world, with the words, "I do make a difference by riding the bus," printed in large type. At the bottom of the rectangular ads, posted on the outside of buses, are the words, "Travel Green. Get On Board."

Simple, right? Appeal to people's desire to help the environment AND feel good about the same time!

But do environmental concerns lead to greater ridership, and can they account for the motivations of current riders?

In Transit, the newsletter for King County Metro Transit employees, did not address these questions in its July/August 2008 article about the new ads. "We all benefit from cleaner air and healthier living conditions when people choose to use Metro services," the unattributed article states. (In Transit is edited by Anna Clemenger). True. But, ideally, riders can also save on car expenses, Metro can bring in more revenue, and transit operators can have greater job security when people choose Metro.

I want a name for focusing on one motivation for a decision to the exclusion of a far likelier motivation. Why doesn't Metro run a series of ads with smiling people proclaiming, "I do make a difference by riding the bus - I save money"?