What Are Best Practices in Transit Branding, Marketing and Communications?
You can see elements of LA Metro uniform design guidelines across various print materials. This helps maintain a unified brand so that the agency is easily recognizable to its customers and other stakeholders. Photo by EMBARQ

You can see elements of LA Metro uniform design guidelines across various print materials. This helps maintain a unified brand so that the agency is easily recognizable to its customers and other stakeholders. Photo by EMBARQ

EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, is preparing a new guidebook for cities and transit agencies about the importance of branding, marketing and communications when creating new transit services. This publication will be a very visual guide to best practices seen in cities around the world. We need your help! While we know of many good examples from cities we have visited or worked with, we wanted to give you, TheCityFix readers, a chance to tell us what great examples of marketing, branding and communications strategies you’ve seen for public transit.


As the world becomes wealthier and more urban, mass transportation will play an increasingly important role in combating climate change, public health epidemics and growing social inequality. In order to be successful, public transport has to compete with the private automobile on two fronts: it needs to attract riders out of their cars, and it needs to attract attention and investment from political leaders at all levels.

In the developing world, in particular, where cities are facing increasing motorization, public transport must fight for the hearts and minds of citizens and political leaders – a battle which is currently being lost.

York Regional Transit advertises it's VIVA BRT service, with a clever catch line.  The ad reads: "Some things are meant to be together" and features a ketchup bottle and french fries, a salt and pepper shaker, and then a YRT bus and a VIVA bus.

York Regional Transit advertises it's VIVA BRT service with a clever catch line. The ad reads: "Some things are meant to be together" and features a ketchup bottle and french fries, a salt and pepper shaker, and then a YRT bus and a VIVA bus. Photo by EMBARQ.

Each year, car manufacturers spend billions of dollars selling their products, cultivating their customer base, and creating and maintaining their images.  In 2009, major auto companies spent a whopping $21 billion worldwide on measured media advertising. Public transport agencies need to recognize this and get savvy in marketing, branding and communications, too.

For the guidebook, we’ve identified 8 main categories or “elements” of a comprehensive branding, marketing and communications plan:

  1. System brand – logos, color schemes, vehicle designs & wraps
  2. Internal communication – organizational action plans, brand training
  3. User education – special event outreach, school programs, free trials, user guides
  4. User information systems – maps & diagrams, timetables, wayfinding systems
  5. Marketing campaign – print ads, guerrilla marketing, TV & radio spots, “freebies”
  6. Public relations & external communications – press kit, media plan, neighborhood notices
  7. Feedback systems – call centers, comment cards
  8. Online presence – website, social media, mobile apps


Does your city do a good job in one or more of these categories?  Or have you seen a great example while visiting another city? Share it with us! We especially want ideas from cities in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

There are several ways that you can share your favorites:

Tweet us @TheCityFix with the hashtag #transitcomms.

Submit photos to our Flickr pool.

Post a photo on our Facebook page.

E-mail ideas to eweber@wri.org.

And of course, you can always just leave a comment, below.

Thanks for sharing!

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  • Anonymous
  • Megan

    How do I purchase the Guidebook?

  • Pingback: Honesty in Transit Marketing: Deliver on Your Promises | thecityfix.com

  • Pingback: Honesty in Transit Marketing: Deliver on Your Promises | TheCityFix.com

  • http://thecityfix.com/members/ericaschlaikjer/ Erica Schlaikjer

    Great point, Paul! Thanks for your feedback.

  • http://www.baltimorecommutes.com/blog Paul Day

    As a transit marketer, I will say that this is a good list of “push” techniques. But don’t forget the most important marketing best practice: delivering consistently exceptional service. If you do that, you’re riders will do the marketing for you.

    Branding, service maps, and comment cards don’t matter if you can’t deliver.

    Here is the response on my blog

  • http://thecityfix.com/members/erikweber/ Erik Weber

    Thanks for the point, Market Research Too. We have emphasized the importance of market research and segmentation in the publication under the Marketing Campaign heading, though it is introduced very early in the Brand section. We spent some time wrestling with how exactly to break down the elements and eventually decided that the market research was fundamentally a part (albeit a crucial one) of the larger idea of marketing and marketing campaigns. To some extent it’s semantics, but I appreciate the caution, and particularly the example of MetroLink’s successes.

  • Market Research Too

    Your eight elements are a good start, but the list is missing the most important element: market research. The foundation of any marketing effort is to know your customer, both existing customers as well as prospective ones, what their needs, habits, and likes/dislikes are to prepare an effective customer acquisition strategy.

    Most transit agencies seem to find this to be the most difficult aspect of marketing. One exception is LA Metro’s sister agency, Metrolink – metrolinktrains.com – a commuter rail service in Southern California that partners with programs like Groupon and Wild@Work to sell to corporate clients and improve its yield management on off-peak trips, filling otherwise empty seats. Just in the past year, Metrolink introduced holiday service, and by marketing it well, actually achieved near-peak ridership levels.

    An effective marketing strategy can reverse the vicious cycle of ridership declines and service cuts.

  • http://actransitcouncil.blogspot.com/ Ana

    This is a great post!
    In my opinion, each transit provider in US faces different challenges. But there is one challenge for most providers – the US paradigm is that one must have a car to be able to go places and commute to work. The widespread belief is that there is no realistic alternative and unless you are broke or severely disabled.
    So instead of starting with branding, i.e. positioning on the market with respect to competitors, transit agencies like the Port Authority of Allegheny County shall start with community outreach that does have as result branding.
    I will write you an e-mail with more details but in short – start with 2,3,4,6,8 (online communities are becoming stronger and are unique targets). If you can bridge communication with employees and communities equally and achieve a paradigm shift among users to where they would come to think about transit as a transportation alternative worthy to stay, you are already working on branding.

  • Eileen

    Hmmm… take a look at this from SEPTA: http://www.septalovestories.org/

  • http://www.twitter.com/transPR Darre W. Cole

    Excellent idea to get the best examples. Being in this business a while, there is a fine line that each agency must be wary of and that is when spending too much will create unwanted attention. In other words, the public is very cognizant about spending money in tight economic times. And when many transit agencies and others are cutting back funding projects and programs and reducing staffing, salaries or eliminating raises, the area of spending money for marketing must be done carefully given the times we are in. Having said that, the point about inadequate funding for marketing transit options is too low in general and should get more of a focus.

  • Eileen

    I’m a Green line rider in the DC area. I’m not a big fan of the “This is not a diner” scheme because my brain keeps trying to make a Magritte out of it. I am, however, lulled into submission by the “You gonna eat that?” rat poster. They also used to have a great one in the “Take your stuff” line of ads that read, “You wouldn’t believe what some people leave on Metro” and it featured a picture of dentures. I also really like the voiceover reminding me to take my newspapers that says, “In a town like this you never want to leave a paper trail.” These work for me because they are emotionally intelligent, witty and memorable, but they also get the point across in an uncomplicated way.

    Also, Selena Barlow at http://www.transitmarketing.com/ does great work for smaller systems.