Transit Superstars: APTA 2019 Recap

Christine Varela

Christine Varela

Mar 19, 2019

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Earlier this month I attended the 2019 American Public Transit Association (APTA) annual MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS WORKSHOP. I was there to keep tabs on the latest trends in public transit — and to spend time with friends! Last year, we had the opportunity to support a lot of transit agencies, including Sound Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Spokane Transit and Whatcom Transportation. APTA was a great place to see some of their work highlighted and learn from other transit experts around the country.

Each year APTA identifies and celebrates the best-in-class campaigns that engage communities, educate the public, communicate the value of transit, increase ridership and more. The full list of AdWheel Award winners will be publicly announced soon, but we want to give a shout-out to some of the creative ideas and campaigns from across the nation that caught our eye during this conference.

Advocating for a Vision: LA Metro

One of the most important areas of focus for transit agencies is building a shared sense of value within communities for transit. Not just value for transit riders, but with motorists, elected officials and the business community, showing how transit contributes to the economic, environmental and public health value in our communities.

Enter LA Metro’s “Join the Movement” campaign. The effort continues the agency’s crusade to “make Metro cool” while also creating a shared vision of success for the region by highlighting the role transit plays in making broader social and economic ambitions a reality. The campaign excels at targeting messaging to various audience segments (i.e., showing motorists how transit reduces traffic and environmental degradation, showing elected leaders how transit attracts employers and facilities to their cities, and showing the workforce how transit provides access to urban areas without needing to own a car).


Hot off the heels of national stories like the Amazon HQ2 selection with criteria dependent on robust public transit, transit agencies are realizing the power in communicating the myriad benefits their services bring to the regions they serve. You can read more examples about how agencies are communicating value in our blog from the State of Transit series.

Social Media Superheroes: BART

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is recognized as one of the best Twitter profiles in all of transit for its honed brand voice, detailed news updates, colorful promotions and real-time engagement with users.

BART’s team started by mastering their brand voice and getting buy-in with their leadership team for how it would translate into the culture of Twitter and social media. This resulted in an emphasis on humor and directness that might feel a bit bold for other transit agencies, but BART’s consistent use of this voice backed by their values have earned them credibility and adoring fans across the social spectrum. Check out an example of a great post, a negative user comment, and turning the frown upside down to the cheers of fans across Twitter:

Their team went through heavy training in social channels, brand messaging and the facts of their industry to speak as authorities and brand spokespeople, as well as marketers.

BART uses social media to celebrate its riders and the region as much as it promotes services. They also track engagement and conversation topics across their channels to identity trends and respond to them. This helps magnify positive themes and address negative trends.

Like many agencies, BART has also woven a podcast into their social media portfolio to great effect. Podcasts have made a huge comeback as rich content for consumers to dive deep into topics of interest, and transit is no exception. BART has steadily built a subscriber base of listeners discussing how to make the most of transit and fun topics for riders to build community around shared interests. Their steady stream of promotable content is highly consumed thanks to accessible conversations and host chemistry.

BART is a social media masterclass — take note.

Bold Marketing Pays Off: GO Transit

Not many transit agencies are eager to talk about some of the more annoying aspects of transit. GO Transit in Toronto, Canada, found a way to incorporate the good, the bad and hilarious in a creative way that creates an inclusive and realistic view into riding public transit.

Check out “The Unwritten Rules of Public Transit Etiquette Written Down.” The book shines a fun light on the previously unspoken things transit riders think and should expect when riding. The themes, taken from many rider contributors, celebrate transit without villainizing or demeaning any riders. It was a bold campaign that makes the idea of transit more socially normalized and accessible. It also creates an amazing hub of content that can be used across multiple channels including social media, collateral and environmental applications.

You can check out winners of the recent AdWheel Awards here.

Give us a call if you want to chat more about trends and best practices in transit marketing!

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