Bus rapid transit (BRT) is a reconceptualized form of traditional city bus service. BRT typically includes: hi-tech, ultra-comfortable vehicles, which are usually brand new or souped-up rubber-tired buses; fewer stations (meaning fewer stops and faster travel speeds); connections between important regional destinations; as well as enhanced passenger comfort and convenience, including flexible fare structures, technology-friendly real-time arrival and departure information available on PDAs and mobile phones, and wireless (Wi-Fi) hotspots near stations. Undoubtedly, from a consumer perspective, BRT is a substantial upgrade from traditional (slow, polluting, unreliable) bus service.
Marketing research demonstrates a broad spectrum of rider “wants” from speed to comfort to luxury. This same data shows a high degree of rider satisfaction across a broad spectrum of desirable BRT amenities that include simple upgrades such as reliable, expedient service, plush well-appointed vehicle interiors, on-board “quiet” zones, and free coffee and refreshments. Many of these “extra” amenities are somewhat foreign to public transit managers. Marketing and design professionals involved with branding BRT systems often take a cue from successful airline branding efforts like JetBlue and Virgin: consistency of visual message, constancy in the deployment of the visual message across media, and completeness of the traveler “experience” from beginning to end of the journey. These brand “touchpoints” differentiate and highlight the service qualities that make a difference in a competitive field.
BRT integrates readily into a variety of urban and suburban settings and does not necessarily require significant construction or infrastructure changes. For this reason, BRT can be implemented incrementally, making it a realistic and attractive option for resource-strapped transit agencies. For example, BRT requires only about one-quarter of the up-front costs relative to light rail. BRT also provides an opportunity for alternative streams of funding. Public art is often integrated into a BRT system, helping to make station stops and the journey more interesting and engaging. Undoubtedly the lower capital cost of BRT strengthens its appeal, and the emergence of BRT is viewed by many in the transit industry as a unique opportunity to change negative perceptions regarding public transit, particularly in North America, but perhaps abroad as well.
Though often managed by a parent transit agency, BRT systems typically establish distinct identities which communicate different brand messages, among those most popular: “fast,” “new,” “convenient,” “eco-friendly,” transportation “value.” A number of transit agencies have in fact opted to use the surfaces on busses and near stations, as well as those along BRT routes (that would otherwise be sold to advertisers) to highlight the desirable features of high-speed bus service. This space now emphasizes unique aspects of the ride and helps to reinforce the brand message and BRT identity throughout a journey. The result is fewer bus wraps, more full-bus color painting, greater attention to design detail, prominently featured logos, usable graphics, and up-to-the-minute travel information, as well as better integration with other types of transportation as inter-modality is a feature of many BRT services.
The new approach for public transit is working. The branding success of the BRT MetroRapid line in Los Angeles has translated into a sharp increase in ridership. Users of the MetroRapid BRT are made to feel as if they are part of “a club” — one formulated for many out of choice, not necessity. Thanks to a steady influx of vehicles, stations, routes, and reduced travel times, ridership continues to surge. The Los Angeles MTA has taken notice. It has begun to decrease the amount of advertising space across the extensive Southern California network, and has opted to use this space instead for branding and advertising the benefits of BRT. The MTA has also begun to use similar branding strategies on non-BRT transit lines, such as the Metro Local.