(CBS) — The Regional Transportation Authority may not even be around in a few months, yet it has just signed a 38-month, $5 million advertising contract targeting markets that have eluded the area’s transit agencies.
CTA, Metra and Pace have a lot of empty seats off-hours and on weekends — and even aboard reverse-commute trains and buses during rush hours. And reverse commuters, retirees, tourists and other occasional riders are the targets of this heavily-localized campaign.
“We’re not targeting the traditional commuter,” said RTA Chairman John Gates. “If anything, we’re targeted everything but the traditional commuter.”
RTA Acting Executive Director Leanne Redden said the emphasis will be on digital ads, although cable, television and radio will remain a part of the mix. She believes it is worth the expense.
“This seems like a lot of money to us but it’s a relatively small amount of money in the advertising marketplace,” she said.
Redden said the flexibility of Downtown Partners, the firm that won the contract, is a huge plus. The firm already does business locally for Walgreen’s, the Lyric Opera, Shedd Aquarium and the Illinois Lottery.
The RTA’s point man, Market Development Manager Mark Minor, said the three agencies will have to increase ridership by between 2.5 million and 3.7 million over the three years to pay for the ad campaign.
The RTA’s own shelf life may be short. Gov. Pat Quinn’s Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force has recommended that it be disbanded, and that operations of the area’s transit agencies be rolled into one super-agency.
Minor said that the contract contains an exit clause if the RTA is disbanded.
Redden said CTA, Metra and Pace logos will appear in the ads, where appropriate, but said the goal is to improve mass transit ridership outside of traditional commuting patterns across the board, not on any one agency.
One RTA board member said getting retirees to use transit more often may prove to be difficult.
Former legislator Donald Totten, who is 81, said many senior citizens find mass transit intimidating — especially the vending machines that can be found in any CTA ‘L’ station.
“Most people my age are afraid of machines,” said Totten, who is a Metra rider. “I’ve never used a fare card machine. I don’t know how to use it.”