On top of a shopping center overlooking Yiling Park in the center of Yichang, China, is a nearly 100 meter long by 10 meter high screen announcing the city’s coming BRT system. Impossible to miss, the sign keeps the benefits of the corridor front and center. The billboard is just one of the ways that Yichang is fast becoming one of the best examples of public outreach to build support and understanding for its BRT as construction proceeds over the coming year. Around the world, cities are taking steps to make sure their high-quality BRT systems are supported by strong public relations campaigns, leading to a supportive political atmosphere and ensuring healthy system ridership.
From the earliest stages of BRT planning through to a fully operational system, public communication is a critical part of any BRT system. On the BRT Standard Scorecard, Communications is given 5 points, rewarding systems with strong branding and passenger information. Line 5 of Mexico City’s Metrobús was the city’s first Complete Street. Advertising in stations, brochures and the buses helped highlight the extra benefits of the high quality corridor and earned Line 5 high marks for communication. The BRT Planning Guide has additional information about how to use communications to maximize a BRT system’s benefits.
But public communication shouldn’t wait for the system to open to get started. Though BRT’s short implementation periods minimize the disruption to the city’s streets, some inconvenience is inevitable during construction. A robust public communications plan helps explain the benefits to come and justify the inconveniences. Successful cities have seen public support for a system actually rise during construction, as the public learns more and becomes invested in the project.
Though the system won’t open for nearly a year, residents of Yichang can hardly turn their heads without learning more about the BRT. Advertisements on shopping centers across the city and on buildings along the corridor broadcast the message “better streets, better mobility”, display corridor maps and station renderings provided by ITDP, and list the benefits the corridor will bring. Even the traffic police are on board, handing out leaflets with helpful routes and information as they manage the shifts in traffic flow caused by construction.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the city worked hard to make sure the public was ready to jump on board the day TransCarioca opened. Central to the campaign was a new character, “The Explainer“, a friendly, helpful traffic cone. The Explainer appeared in Youtube videos, advertisements on existing buses, and in newspapers letting city residents know how to use the system, and how they benefited. Following his success promoting TransCarioca, The Explainer has continued to be an important tool for Rio’s City Hall, now being used to spread the word about additional transportation infrastructure projects throughout the city.
In Johannesburg, South Africa, system planners engaged local residents by launching a naming contest for 16 Rea Vaya stations in 2012. As construction on corridor 1b continued, the city encouraged local leaders and area residents to suggest and vote on names for stations in their districts. According to MMC for Transport Rehana Moosajee, the contest helped local residents feel a sense of ownership over the system and boosted enthusiasm ahead of the corridor opening.
“Changing the general public’s perceptions about public transportation is fundamental to building project support” – the BRT Planning Guide
Building a successful BRT system has many steps. As BRT is adopted in city after city around the globe, educating the public on how and why to use the system is critical for keeping the image of BRT on the rise. And as these cities have seen, often a little communication can go a long way.