– Months after strike, Ottawa works to woo back transit riders

Brantford Expositor

By DEREK PUDDICOMBE

Almost nine months after the city’s 53-day transit strike ended, Ottawa is launching an advertising campaign to get riders back on the bus.

“Transit Services intended to deploy this ad campaign once traffic patterns and congestion returned to regular levels in early fall, after people returned to school and work, in order to create the greatest impact on targeted markets,” says a memo to councillors from OC Transpo general manager Alain Mercier.

“Ads are to begin appearing in various areas of the city and on buses the first and second week of October 2009.”

The city said it worked with focus groups to design a strategy to get passengers back on the bus.

“The result of the focus groups revealed that one particular strategy would be highly regarded by the public; which would be to demonstrate the benefits of taking transit over a single vehicle and participating in traffic congestion,” the memo says.

“This strategy would be beneficial for both transit users and non-users, and communicate important facts, such as: reduce car congestion on roads; contribute to a cleaner environment ; allow riders to relax; provide a rapid travel option throughout the City of Ottawa.”

The chairman of the city’s transportation committee, River Coun. Maria McRae, said the message is “patronizing” and wonders why the ads are coming so late after the end of the strike.

“It’s unfathomable that taxpayers have to spend money to tell them that taking the bus will help them not sit in traffic congestion,” said McRae, who noted the cost “is mysteriously absent from the memo.”

Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Steve Desroches was also caught off guard by the timing of the campaign.

“I was expecting that the ad campaign be conducted in the immediate aftermath of the strike,” said Desroches.

Mercier said during the summer several ad concepts were developed and tested by focus groups “in an effort to determine what concept would most likely re-engage riders that have opted to no longer use transit, or increase the level of commitment of infrequent users.”

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Staff is recommending going ahead with the campaign message: “Taking transit is a much better option than taking a car, and that reducing congestion throughout the city leads to better quality of life for everyone in the community.”

Mercier noted that delaying the campaign would minimize the impact of the ads.

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