In November of 2017 I posted a blog entitled “Add Color To Your Bus Routes.” Yesterday, I shared it on social media again, which stirred up some healthy conversations with fellow urbanists. The premise of the piece was urging that cities take 5-10 bus routes and give them a color designation instead of a number. These routes would have less frequent stops and straighter routes, but more regular service. The idea was, have routes that you can identify on a map or at every bus stop to allow the casual rider the opportunity to see where they are and what routes they need to take to get to where they are going… for example, taking the “red line to the yellow line,” just like you might in on the El in Chicago in order to go from The Loop to Skokie.
What I neglected to mention in the article is the other important plus associated with coloring your bus routes… marketing. Yes, even buses have to be promoted.
When we have an easy-to-see network of colorized, common sense bus routes, we can promote these routes to new riders, as well as potential tourists and visitors while still providing high quality, regular service to regular users. Internet ads, brochures, even TV spots highlighting “Routes You Can See” could give everyone a comfortable new “re-introduction” to the idea that our small to mid-sized city mass transit options can work for everyone. Imagine, in my home city of Rochester, you could avoid the traffic after games and take the “Blue Line To The Blue Cross Arena” on game days or special events, and it would cost you less than parking to do so. A simple marketing strategy could work to alleviate congestion before large downtown events.
Buses should always cater to those who need them first and foremost. But to encourage another generation of city dwellers and curious visitors to consider the bus a viable option, we need to be able to show why riding the bus makes sense, and that starts with a clear design and common sense marketing. Adding color designations to several bus routes and running these routes every 20 minutes while creating less frequent, simple but iconic stations makes this possible, and creates a better system for everyone.