Bob Gibbons, Metro’s director of customer service and marketing, says that the radio station, whose audience matched well with their system’s target audience, heavily promoted the event. It also generated significant local TV and print coverage.
Celebrating the Fourth
America’s favorite civic holiday is probably Independence Day. July 4th celebrations abound with fireworks and parades. However, in La Crosse, Wisc., they’ve turned the annual Independence Day celebration into a five-day music and food festival called Riverfest, which reflects the city’s location on the banks of the Mississippi River. According to Keith Carlson, manager of the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility (MTU), “People have come to expect that we’ll provide bus service to the festival, and we’ve been doing it for a long time.” Several thousand people use the service each year.
The service is marketed by the festival organizers, and its site is served by regular MTU routes so there is virtually no additional cost to the MTU. “It’s important to our community image and it provides us with an opportunity to serve people who ordinarily don’t use our service,” Carlson explains. “We hope some of that use will carry over to other times of the year.”
Each Halloween since 2001 the Metro in Cincinnati, Ohio, turns one of its buses into a rolling haunted house. According to Sallie Hilvers, chief communications officer for Metro, many lower income children could not afford, nor had access to safe Halloween fun. After establishing a partnership with the Cincinnati Public Library, Metro’s Haunted Bus has now become an annual staple of the city’s Halloween activities.
“It is specially decorated inside and out complete with witches and haunting passengers, but nothing too scary,” Hilvers says. The Haunted Bus visits a number of inner city neighborhoods in the weeks leading up to Halloween with Metro staff handing out donated treats and bus safety information. Hilvers’ enthusiasm for the project is more than passing. “When the kids come through the Haunted Bus, the last thing they encounter is a gypsy fortune teller, and that’s me!” she says.
Holidays that Give Back
Thanksgiving is traditionally the official start of the holiday season and in Riverside, Calif., it means the start of the three-week-long downtown Festival of Lights. The Riverside RTA runs special express service to the festival that helps many of the county’s elderly take advantage of a nighttime event they might not otherwise be able to attend. According to Jim Kneepkens, RTA marketing director, the service is so successful that advance tickets are sold and every seat is taken.
In addition, RTA has a long-standing tradition of providing a bus for children to paint at the San Jacinto holiday tree lighting ceremony. Using tempura paints, the children transform the bus into instant holiday art. It is used in service there for several days until the paint is washed off.
Kneepkens explains that RTA’s holiday efforts have also involved teaming up with a local mall, a TV station and the U.S. Marine Corps to fill an RTA bus with donated toys. This “Toys for Tots” promotion garners RTA lots of free coverage in Los Angeles’ competitive and expensive to buy TV market.
Back in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) and a local radio station have teamed up for the last 10 years on the day before Thanksgiving for a “Stuff the Bus” food drive. The radio station’s morning team promotes the event well in advance and then on the day of the drive they do their show live at the designated collection point, which has been a large supermarket.
“The response is so great that by the end of the day there are six or seven buses filled along with a couple of trucks,” says Jacqueline Janz, MCTS marketing director. More than 200,000 pounds of food or its equivalent in cash donations is collected and goes to Wisconsin’s Second Harvest organization which supplies many of the area’s food pantries.