Bikes on Buses are a PR Bust
Just recently, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was glad to announce that 91% of its buses will soon be equipped with bike racks for this Summer, and despite how little they may actually be getting used, during this ongoing and surprisingly slow adoption phase, the TTC remains upbeat on the service. At just over $2 million for the upgrade, most Cyclists and Mass Transit proponents consider this a pretty economical way to encourage new ‘multi-modal’ Ridership for years to come. Yet even the most positive pundits would likely have presumed that this initiative had already shown sufficient feasibility to proceed to this level of service though, so many people are wondering why the TTC has installed these racks right across their entire fleet before showing some early success on key routes. Most people didn’t even realize that Toronto had bike racks until they started seeing them for themselves. The resulting question then, is why has the adoption rate for this service been so sluggish to during this period? Is this simply a mishandled piece of Public Relations?
Obviously, the hardcore Cycling Commuters aren’t going to trade in their winter tires for metropasses, and all the existing TTC Riders probably won’t suddenly swayed into taking a bike along with them on their regular daily commute just for kicks. Yet surely there are all sorts of new possibilities and benefits that this service opens up for consideration, even though we’re left to find these for ourselves. At the very least, these Bike Racks would appear to be a simple and (relatively) economical way to either draw more Riders into the transit fold, or benefit current users with the option to cycle in or away from their first or last stop, all while laying some basic groundwork for the future of grass-roots growth in Transit ridership overall….So what’s the holdup in moving ahead with it?
Is there an issue with Public Perceptions?
Or does the problem start down at the source of most Mainstream Media Content nowadays ?
What the Media isn’t Saying
As anybody with eyes will tell you, these racks remain largely underutilized, and instead of promoting wider adoption through positive support, some of the more tabloid segments of The Press have chosen instead to take a typically incendiary approach to newsmaking and encourage the spread of any small flames to draw a wider general interest to the subject. So despite the Media’s appetite to pander to any public frustrations about fare hikes (etc), while slamming the TTC for it’s sundry expenditures, it seems that in the absence of a successful Public Relations campaign, we’re now being left to come up with our own reasons to take our bikes along for a TTC Ride…
Torontonians have clearly not been encouraged to consider how Cycling and Transit are natural partners when longer distances need to be covered, and the viability of this Transit option remains under-developed. Of course, anybody who was waiting for the Press or Mainstream Media to illustrate why Car Culture and Conspicuous Consumption might not be in their best long term interests, would likely be indifferent at best on this subject….at best.
Perhaps some factions of the Press remain prone to the politically motivated prejudice that can all too easily polarize Readership against any seemingly Left-leaning policies when it comes to solving the traffic and transportation woes of our Urban Condition. Regrettably, we not seeing many examples of this trend being balanced by progressive or truly sustainable (ie. ecologically viable) solutions coming from the Right-wing of the political spectrum, so by default we’re left to try and find our way towards a modern vision of urban transportation under the auspices of Left-Wing politics by default.
A quick word of defense for the TTC’s PR efforts…
It’s not like anyone in the beleaguered TTC was trying to shamelessly promote the bike racks as some revolutionary step towards truly multi-modal transit of the future, or put too much ‘environmental topspin’ on this small but beneficial improvement to the system. The TTC’s upbeat yet realistic handling of Public Relations was dignified, if not visionary in it’s future outlook. But surely The Media itself could have dug into the story to discover some of the potential, or at least stressed the positives of making Toronto more cycling friendly – one small incremental initiative at a time. At the very least the major media outlets could have taken a “if they build it, the Ridership will come” approach to their future outlook, and quoted representatives from Waterloo or Guelph transit where the rack services have seemingly met with success. Instead the response was either a lukewarm regurgitation of the official release material, or the typical crowd of naysayers and opportunists came out to beat around the underbrush and try and stir up negative public sentiments against this modest expenditure. Suffice to say, that as a result nobody was really being inspired to change their commuting habits at this early and rather pessimistic stage of the game, and we can probably stop waiting for the Media to help create a brighter vision of the Future, when there’s potentially ‘bad news’ to be trumped up into a story instead.
So What’s the Problem with Promoting Bike Racks ?
The obvious point of interest that the Media seized upon, and ran with was: Why do we so VERY rarely EVER see this amenity in use?
The racks obviously work properly, and they are now becoming available just about everywhere, so it’s clearly not a functional problem.
Were people reluctant to try them initially for fear of getting stranded with their bikes in Meadowvale without a piggy-back ride back when their legs got tired?
Are people still confused by how they work, or reluctant to give it a first try?
You can review a longer list of possible reasons HERE, or just take/review a quick survey of the top reasons of why “Rack It and Rocket” hasn’t taken off the charts …Yet
Even though the racks are clearly easy to use once you’ve seen the process in action , perhaps the TTC could have given the program a little shot in the arm by assuring the public that its Drivers would be willing to assist them (just as they currently do with baby strollers), at least during a clearly limited introductory phase. Though I’m sure the Drivers wouldn’t want this as part of their job description, a temporary show of goodwill by the Transit Workers Union (for a few weeks in the Spring?) would have done wonders for their increasingly tarnished public image as well. Such a small temporary measure would have provided widespread and immensely positive impressions of the TTC, and it’s Unions at a time when they both need it, while giving the new rack service a huge visibility boost during it’s slow rollout phase. But alas, good-hearted drivers who are already willing to help Mothers and their strollers, are left to do their own personal PR work with Cyclists as well, as it seems.
Since this service probably won’t encourage many people to suddenly go out and buy a bike, these racks are either going to be used by existing Cyclists, who are either aspiring or experienced urban Commuters, or by the more casual Riders who’s bikes are likely already spending more time parked in their garages than anywhere else. Among the growing ranks of Toronto’s road-hardened Urban Cyclists and Commuters, even if only a few were to ever break their own habits and start piggybacking on the TTC, surely there are more than enough casual Cyclists out there who could be targeted with some inspiring and informative PR messages.Once usage starts to pickup, it’s conceivable that the service might not only draw more new Ridership, but perhaps even encourage others to take up cycling as well for the first time, if they new there was a safe and appealing riding destination that they could reach via TTC, and enjoy with abit of help from a ‘Rocket’ boost!
So if we’re left to our own devices in determining the value of this service, does that beg the question: What are the benefits and barriers to usage?
Glad That You Asked !
Let’s take stock of what we need to make these racks really rock, by clicking HERE…