T, Keolis launch first-of-its kind ad campaign

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.

“Most consumer-facing businesses allocate a significant percentage of their total operating budget to marketing, to advertising, to talking about their services to try to promote them. We’ve had a big goose egg on that,” said Evan Rowe, the T’s director of revenue. “This is a first step and we have a lot to learn. This first step is long overdue.”

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.”

Another goal of the ad campaign is just to familiarize more people with what services the commuter rail offers. Many of the ads link to a website called Massbytrain.com, which offers a primer on where commuter rail goes and how it works, including the mTicket app that allows customers to purchase tickets on their phone.

“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.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“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.”