Assured of the operations, Cassidy proposed the decreasing subsidy telling the city, “I feel so strongly that transit will work, I will guarantee you that each and every year your subsidy will decline and that will force me — the operator — to work very hard at marketing and customer service.” As an example he points to tweaking the routes. “Nobody is right for every route that you start. There is always monitoring, evaluation and tweaking.
“I gave them a one-year declining balance in the subsidy for the city of Charlottetown and at the end of the fifth year we froze the subsidy, and it would increase for the next 25 years in cost of living allowance.” He continues, “He says the city said, ‘Well Trius Tours, it’s a pretty hard proposal to turn down.’” The second or third month they were excited to get 3,000 passenger fares and now they’re nearly 16,000 a month.
Today it has grown to six routes, five of them running 12 hours, Monday through Saturday, and one having extended hours, running for 16 hours. And it continues to grow. “We have a municipality next door to the city of Charlottetown, the community of Stratford. They are joining us September of this year with two routes,” Cassidy says.
Fitting in a Community
Selling the community on a new service took a lot of planning. One primary starting point was the vehicles themselves. “I wanted to make sure our buses were unique and different to the marketplace appreciating the fact that we never had transit before,” Cassidy stresses. “I weighed heavily on a marketing program and my marketing program was born of an image and I went with the trolley style.
“We purchased Blue Bird buses and Thomas Dennis buses and I had Dupont Trolley of Quebec city put a false copula on top of the bus.” He describes further, “We put a brand new trolley front, trolley back and I painted them yellow over blue and cream over blue and cream over red and all different colors so I’ve got this trolley look in the city of Charlottetown.
“We just thought it was so unique for our streetscape in Charlottetown. Rather than having 40-foot transit buses, to have our 30-foot bus. Smaller, cuter one could say, and with the trolley look it was a hit.” He adds, “Not only with the residents, but it was a hit in our first summer of operations with the tourists. They all wanted to jump on the trolley.”
It is more than simply the vehicles appearance, of course, it has taken a well-thought-out marketing plan. Cassidy comments, “It is so hard for people to give up their vehicles and in transit, your biggest challenge would be marketing.” He says it requires daily education. “The education that we are a very quick, affordable service for your transportation needs, whether you’re a student, whether you are going shopping or whether you’re a working commuter. Transit can provide a very good, reliable service.” He adds, “Leave your vehicles at home or sell them.”
A Little Friendly Competition
When asked what he attributes the ridership success to, Cassidy starts with, “We have good routes.” But then he goes on to explain several marketing initiatives done at Charlottetown Transit to get people on board. One program targeted a local school’s band class.
“We’ve gone to the junior high’s music program and they are always trying to raise money for their band and their music trips,” he explains. “We had an incentive.” The band class would meet every Monday at seven o’clock and Charlottetown Transit System had a route going to the school, through a residential area where many students lived.
“If you could get 40 students on the bus, I will give you $100 and the next Monday, get 41 or better on; I will give you another hundred. The next Monday, if you get 42 or better, up another hundred up to $500,” he says. “With an incentive going, you know what? We packed the students on.” He adds, “We treated it as a competition and it was just terrific how that can raise your profile and raise your ridership.”