The Transit Social Experience

Sept. 22, 2014
Getting people to try transit the first time has always been a hurdle and events can offer that unique spark to draw a crowd.

Is it possible that transit could feel more like going to a party?  A sense of community builds around transit routes as riders gather on platforms and stops, board together and share space on their journey to common destinations. Just the opposite effect occurs among car drivers as they compete for highway space and parking. If the train is heading for a Stones concert, I can easily imagine there could be a certain sense of excitement on board. It’s time for transit to play to its strengths. 

Tampa is making that happen. A story on caught my attention today: Tampa launched their Streetcar Live concerts, billed as “a concert series like no other.” Starting Aug 2, and continuing on every first Saturday of the month, bands picked by the Gasparilla Music Festival will entertain passengers as they ride the historic TECO Line streetcars, all for the cost of the $2.50 fare. That's quite the deal, for the riders and for TECO.

"The goal of this new concert series is to have fun, make people aware of the fantastic TECO Line Streetcar System that Tampa has, and to bring new awareness about our urban center," said Michael English, president of the Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc. board of directors.

A check of the TECO Line Streetcar System Facebook page shows 2,995 Likes and plenty of information about the concerts as well as the fun to be had aboard streetcars. Among many postings, their Facebook page also promotes A Summer of Fun, renting a streetcar for weddings, and a full day at the Florida Aquarium, dinner and streetcar ride.

What they’ve accomplished is marketing not just transportation, but experience. This is a concept other industries have embraced. We know how restaurants sell the sizzle as not only a place to eat, but an entertainment experience. Getting people to try transit the first time has always been a hurdle — these social events are sure to attract new customers.

OK, we're not going to feel like we're going to a party all of the time. Passengers crowded into a bus or railcar at rush hour will hardly rejoice at being up close and personal on a daily basis with their new-found friends. But when there’s more to the ride than just arriving at the destination, it will be a whole different experience.