The Future Of Mass Transportation And BrandingPhoto by Dave Goudreau

Originally Posted On: The Future of Mass Transportation and Branding by Jay Lieske (


The future of public transportation faces daunting challenges plotting its future in a post-COVID-19 landscape. According to the National Transit Database, as shelter-in-place orders took effect and businesses shuttered, the number of public-transit rides plummeted 81% from April 2019 to April 2020 and were still 65% lower in July 2020 when compared to the previous year.

The effects aren’t likely to disappear once vaccination distribution widens and we approach herd immunity. According to a study published by Upwork in December, approximately 42% of American workers are currently working remotely. Further, 26.7% will continue working from home throughout 2021, and 22% of the workforce will be working remotely permanently by 2025.

This creates a complex problem. A declining need to use transportation, public and otherwise, to get to work will diminish revenue for public-transit companies. Yet, those who use public transportation most frequently tend to be low-wage workers who depend on it to commute to work. Loss of public-transit access will be devastating to these employees, and a ripple effect of economic damage inflicts diminished employment opportunities and a decline in productivity.

Simply put, a vibrant public-transit program is an essential economic and quality-of-life asset. How can these systems’ bottom line be strengthened, and public transit’s profile raised? Two words: transit graphics. And a full complement of products is available to optimize the performance of these applications.

Even if a greater percentage of the population is working from home, people will still venture out into the community. Most have COVID-19 concerns and aren’t yet comfortable eating in restaurants, but people are still picking up carryout and buying staples from grocery and hardware stores. So, transit agencies can facilitate advertising campaigns that will provide ample exposure at a cost-effective price point. According to an Outdoor Advertising Assn. of America study, the cost per thousand impressions (CPM) for a fleet graphics is 48 cents. By comparison, TV’s CPM is $23.70, and a billboard’s CPM is $3.56. So, wrapping a fleet of buses or subway cars provides tremendous exposure and value.

The quality of products graphics providers now have available will yield a far superior quality wrap than a generation ago. The films wrap shops use today are thinner, yet stronger and more flexible, with greater ink retention. Most now also contain an air-release layer that allows smooth application by expelling air and virtually eliminating the occurrence of tunneling and air bubbles beneath the film. Perforated films enable wraps to envelop an entire bus or train, which allows a seamless image for passing motorists or pedestrians but allows light to pass through the windows to allow visibility for passengers inside.

The printing process has been continuously improved (intense competition between printer and ink OEMs has translated into industrywide innovation) and yield more resilient inks with greater color gamut and performance. Printers themselves have better hardware and components that yield a more attractive and durable finished product.

Many cities prioritize eco-friendly processes for public utilities, including public transit, and providers can offer products that support this agenda. High-quality wraps can be produced with “eco”-solvent inks, which have fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than conventional solvent-based inks. Further, there’s now the increasingly viable option of UV inks, which contain no VOCs. Early-generation UV inks were rigid and not well suited to contoured or deep surfaces, but newer formulations offer ample flexibility for a public-transit vehicle’s compound curves and corrugated surfaces. Improvements on accessories used to apply films to their surfaces, such as soft-edged felt squeegees that mitigate any nicks or abrasions on the surface and compact, efficient heat sources that help smooth vinyl into position, make the process simpler and more fiscally efficient for providers, who can then deliver competitive pricing to their customers.

Vehicle-wrap films’ adhesives are aggressive in bonding to their substrates underneath, but most also offer relatively easy removal, which enables simplified campaign turnover. This makes transit-graphic wraps an excellent candidate for seasonal and temporary campaigns that promote tourist destinations, special events and other functions that play a vital part in creating community. Advertising is an investment in a business, institution or a city’s future, and transit wraps offer an economical way to deliver strong ROI that translates into economic growth.

In addition to its cost-effectiveness, transit graphics offer a broad reach that is unmatched. TV and radio shows not only carry a much higher price tag, but they also only reach particular demographics. A classic-rock radio station is unlikely to meet many Generation Z ears, and a TV talk show will only reach devotees of that particular host. Everyone is on the move to various destinations, so everyone is a candidate to be a motorist or pedestrian who sees a transit-graphic ad.

And even though transit graphics offer a highly effective campaign, they don’t need to exist on an island. A transit campaign can coordinate with graphic elements used for a billboard campaign, a TV spot, a digital banner ad, or any number of commercial formats. In an increasingly connected world, customers are accustomed to seeing a message across several platforms, and a campaign often requires heavy saturation to reach intended targets.

Local-government budgets are tight. The loss of jobs, tax revenue and economic productivity have created a perfect storm that’s inflicted considerable damage. But all is not lost. As more people vaccinated, anxiety about coping with COVID-19 will wane, and the pent-up economic demand caused by months of quarantining at home will be unleashed. The marketplace is likely forever changed, but cities will regain economic vitality, and people will congregate in urban areas. They will be a prime target for advertising messages. Transit advertising provides a powerful format for helping companies reach their prospective audiences.