Through an aggressive advertising campaign, the UTA has been trying to change its image from a "poor man's" to a "trendsetter's" transportation choice.
"Many people say it's not OK to ride the bus. It's a good service, but it's for the poor people, not for me," says John Pingree, Utah Transit Authority General Manager.For the past three years, UTA has employed the services of an ad company to mold public opinion. The message sent via television, radio, newspaper ads and direct mailings is: Riding the bus is the smart thing to do. It protects the environment by lowering pollution and congested traffic, and improves the quality of life in Utah.
Judging from recent statistics, UTA's salesmanship is working. More professional trendsetters are taking the bus to work, said Pingree. An average of 70,000 persons living in Salt Lake, Provo, Orem, and Davis and Weber counties ride the bus each day. That reflects a steady increase of 5 percent yearly.
Before launching the media campaign, UTA officials hired professional pollsters to determine what could be done to attract riders. Research revealed that in Utah, 25 percent of the population lead the rest of the state in setting trends. Those 25 percent are professionals generally earning more than $25,000.
"We felt we had to change an attitude about taking the bus. We had to convince the public those they look to as role models ride the bus," said Pingree.
Four times a year, UTA commissions pollster Dan Jones to conduct a poll evaluating customer satisfaction. Latest figures show that 63 percent of the public believe the bus service is good to excellent. The goal of the tax-funded bus system is to have a 75 percent positive rating by 1990.
"We're seeing a very positive upward trend. It's a barometer indicating the community is seeing the changes we're making," said Pingree. The "pretty people" riding the bus on UTA's television ads convey the new UTA image.
"Our ads show the smart guy dressed in a business suit sitting next to a beautiful girl on the bus," said Pingree. "The dumb guy is the one who's in his car and gets stuck in the snow."
A recent letter campaign targeted downtown business commuters. Inside the paychecks of 3,000 employees was an invitation from UTA to receive five free round trips to-and-from work. The promotions enticed riders, promising savings of money spent on gas, maintenance and parking, time ("Your commute can be productive instead of wasted time.") and frustration. So far, more than 300 of the promotional tickets have reached the fare box. Pingree believes it has been a successful effort.
Currently, 70,000 letters are being mailed to the homes of those living along the Wasatch Front who could become future riders. Research has defined their habits _ down to the kind of toothpaste they probably use, said Pingree.
Does Pingree ride the bus to work?
"I ride the bus twice a week to work and frequently take different routes during the day to check the efficiency of our service," said Pingree.
"For me, riding the bus is an educational experience. I'm always looking at how we come across to our patrons. We have a good image, but we're getting even better."