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Weirded Out by Public Transit

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GM thinks you’re a creep and a weirdo if you ride the bus.

As the automotive industry ramps up its marketing efforts to target the emerging middle class in places like India, China and Brazil, it helps to crack open the old college history textbook and see how American car companies manufactured demand for their products. As it turns out, many car companies resorted to foul play when it came to promoting their vehicles. In the early part of the 20th century General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum colluded to form National City Lines, a holding company which bought up street car systems around the United States and systematically dismantled them to eliminate the competition that street cars posed to automobiles.

Skipping ahead almost seventy years, car companies have developed sophisticated marketing techniques to discourage the use of mass transit while promoting the use of the private car. The above add ran in 2003 in the Georgia Straight and plays explicitly on people’s darkest fears of public buses.

I would suspect that in the coming years there will be an advertising blitz in the developing world to slander the use of bikes, buses and other more sustainable modes of transport in order to elevate the image of the personal automobile. What this means is that mass transit advocates will have to compete in the marketplace of ideas by launching their own advocacy campaigns to win the hearts and minds of commuters. But more importantly they will have to provide high quality services so buses can’t ever be associated with creeps and weirdos.

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