T, Keolis launch first-of-its kind ad campaign
Trying to entice leisure travelers, reverse commuters on to trains
THE MBTA IS TRYING SOMETHING NEW, launching an advertising campaign to convince leisure travelers and people who live in Boston and work elsewhere to give commuter rail a try.
Officials at the T and its commuter rail operator, Keolis, want to attract passengers to already existing train routes that currently have few riders. They say Census and other data indicate riders could be convinced to take the train rather than drive to a sporting event or a concert at TD Garden. They also see potential among Boston residents who are currently driving to jobs in the suburbs—places such as Framingham, Lowell, and Salem – and looking for an easier commute.
The ads – featuring messages such as “Enjoy the game. We’ll drive” or “Swap your drive for a ride” – are already running on sports talk shows targeting people likely to attend sporting events at the Garden. Ads are coming soon to online music services, followed by TV, billboard, and direct mail. The campaign is expected to cost around $200,000, and officials see that as seed money for a long-term plan to grow ridership.
Dave Walker, the director of marketing and revenue at Keolis, said the goal of the ad campaign is to drive traffic to routes that currently have little ridership. He said trains heading out of Boston in the morning typically carry few passengers, as do trains coming into Boston at night and on weekends.
“There are trains on Sundays that have almost nobody on them,” Walker said. “Because the cost of the operation has already been incurred, it makes perfect sense to try to increase the ridership. In other networks Keolis operates worldwide, you see a much greater leisure use on weekends. Where I come from in the UK, we would have very full trains on Sundays as well as weekdays.”
Rowe said North Station is the current focal point for ads targeting leisure travelers, but he said the focus could be broadened this summer to include trains that take people to the beach or parks.
T and Keolis officials are also considering offering special rates to entice people to try commuter rail at off-peak times. There is also discussion of customizing some routes to better serve customer needs – offering people attending a concert or a sporting event a bit more flexibility on when they have to head home.
“We don’t have any plans to announce right now, but it’s something we’re looking at. Pricing does matter,” Rowe said.
Walker said the current ad campaign plans to commuter rail’s strengths., “I’m not going to pretend we’re always cheaper. But what we try to do is target a message that when we’re cheaper that is the main point[of the ads] . When we’re more convenient, that’s the main point.”
“We’re strongly emphasizing helping people understand how to use commuter rail because a lot of people have never traveled on it. They’re not familiar with where they board, where their station is,” Walker said.“We refer to the Fitchburg Line or the Needham Line, but if you’ve never traveled on commuter rail you may not know that the station serving your community is somewhere along that line,” Walker said. “It’s one of those things that seems incredibly obvious, but it’s new to a lot of people.”
Walker said he expects the cost of the advertising campaign to be recouped over a couple years at least. “Since this is the first campaign, we don’t have any comparatives to know exactly how it will work,” he said. “Where I came from, we would do this all the time. It works. It’s an effective approach.”