Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Where are the advertisements?

With gasoline increasing over 45 cents per gallon since the beginning of the year, the time is perfect to advertise and push for increased transit ridership. Yet all we hear are crickets. This is absurd when the riders own marginal costs, measured solely in terms of fuel expense, is higher than a transit fare. Toss in the normal free parking at suburban rail stations compared with the expense of parking in downtown Los Angeles or San Diego (or other urban areas) and the billboards, radio and television ads practically write themselves. "Save a hundred dollars a month and start enjoying your commute! Take the train today!"

Yet we hear nothing. I've only once ever heard a Metrolink ad, simply a brief mention after a traffic report on the radio, and the last Amtrak advertisement series was Amtrak California extolling "Wi-Finally" regarding the addition of (slow) wifi service aboard the Pacific Surfliner; an advertisement series which I consider rather poor and likely to have a very low return on investment. Given that the marginal cost to rail operators for increased passengers is nil until they need extra equipment, and even then low until they run out of equipment available, it is mind boggling why they do not capitalize on this opportunity to greatly increase their farebox recovery, increase their loyal customer base, and promote themselves politically. The more people that use Metrolink, Coaster, and Amtrak, the more people are willing to vote for and support political agendas that spend more money on passenger rail.

Similarly, with Mardi Gras occurring recently, Amtrak had a terrific opportunity to market the Sunset Limited, even with its thrice-weekly schedule, and increase its currently poor recovery ratio. Given the nature of Mardi Gras and the age demographics, this should be the easiest and cheapest marketing in the world; simply print out some flyers and post them across USC, UCLA, and other college campuses. But again, nothing.

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