What if You Had it to do All Over Again?
In 2000 we became a new agency. Literally. The Grand Rapids Area Transit Authority, or GRATA, ceased to exist and was replaced with The Rapid. The change was due to reorganizing under a different section of state law to allow for expanded powers, specifically the ability to levy local property taxes to support transit.
The new board felt very strongly in a fresh start. We were a new agency and we needed a new name and logo to reinforce that it was no longer "same old, same old." GRATA's reputation was less than stellar, if people even bothered to think of it at all. The system averaged between three and four million trips per year and provided only basic service. Choice riders were pretty much non-existent. At first we weren't sure what our new brand was, other than we're-not-GRATA-anymore. Eventually, the picture became clearer and we made a commitment to our new name — The Rapid — and the new brand of public transportation it represented.
The Rapid was able to offer new services to better meet people's needs. The Rapid had a special commitment to connecting employees to jobs. The Rapid made good on the promises it made to the voters. The staff and board were united in these messages, no matter whether it was in an ad campaign or in a speech to the local Rotary club. We reinforced these messages with employees, our community partners and customers. We understood that we had a unique opportunity to reinvent ourselves and we wanted to take full advantage of it.
As part of our new image campaign, we developed some new bus graphics. We've since used a similar treatment on our Web site, our printed materials, a Power Point template and even the side of our administration building. We have been very consistent about logo usage guidelines.
We believe that customer service is part of our branding efforts as well. We want all employees, but especially bus operators and other front-line staff like information center call takers, to have a positive attitude and a genuine desire to serve the public. We reinforce this with periodic customer service training and recognition for staff that does an outstanding job.
We have developed strategic partnerships so that others in the community are reinforcing the message that good public transportation is part of a healthy and vibrant community. We are active with our local chambers of commerce and have received their support in return.
Branding isn't a one-time initiative or just a new set of TV ads. It is really a way of doing business. It is consistently reinforcing what you want others to know about your organization through words and images, actions and interactions. Without high-quality services, transparency in governance, and more than a few community champions, we wouldn't be where we are today.
In the past 10 years, we've more than doubled our ridership and gone through a number of service expansions. But it started with a new name and logo and a commitment to change people's perceptions and expectations of what a public transportation system can be.