"Fifty percent of our ridership are millennials. The biggest challenge I face as a transit marketer is staying relevant to this tech savvy market..."
Ever wondered how marketers keep passengers interested and engaged with their public transport services in this era of an instant digital connection? Or how you get people's attention when there's so many distractions? It is not an easy task but if it works the rewards are significant. This week SmartRail World reporter, Sarah Wright took 5 minutes with Tim Healy to find out more about his role as Marketing & Creative Services Director at Sound Transit. Based in Seattle, Sound Transit runs light rail, commuter trains and bus services carrying over 150,000 passengers a day. Infact, in the first quarter of this year they increased their ridership by 10% - helped, we like to think, by some great marketing. Talking to Tim we discovered more about the challenges faced by operators keeping customers happy, engaged and aware of all that is on offer…
SW: How did you get into the rail industry?
Tim Healy (TH): I had an internship during my senior year of college in 1982 doing marketing communications for a major bus tunnel project in downtown Seattle. After graduating, I was offered a temporary job on the project. I remained with the project for eight years! Although the tunnel was initially used only by buses, it was designed to eventually accommodate rail. I then moved on to a major transit planning project with a long-term goal of bringing rail to the Puget Sound region. That project evolved into a ballot initiative that was approved in November 1996, creating a three-county regional transit authority – Sound Transit. The agency was charged with building an 81-mile commuter rail system and the first part of a light rail system connecting downtown Seattle with Sea-Tac Airport.
In 2009, light rail began running through the bus tunnel I’d started my career on in 1982. This year we added a new line serving Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood and the University of Washington. The entire line now carries more than 80,000 people a day. January 2017 will mark my 20th year with Sound Transit and my 35th year working in public transit.
SW: What do like most about your job?
TH: Changing people’s lives. One of my most gratifying moments was monitoring our Twitter feed on opening day for the University of Washington light rail line and engaging with people who were telling us what the new line meant to them. People were ecstatic to be able to shave hours off from their commute and escape from Seattle’s traffic – some of the worst in the country! On opening day, we were trending #2 on Twitter in the Seattle market!
SW: What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
TH: Fifty percent of our ridership are millennials. The biggest challenge I face as a transit marketer is staying relevant to this tech savvy market. Traditional marketing channels alone no longer cut it when we develop marketing plans to attract new riders. We’ve had to carve out our place in social and digital channels and deliver content that engages existing and potential riders.
The other challenge is just getting people to consider transit. Our research shows that more than 70 percent of commuters in our market don’t even think about public transit when then think about getting around the region. Building awareness that the services exist is the first obstacle. Then comes the challenge of overcoming the barriers to transit use: perception that the auto provides freedom and flexibility that transit doesn’t, perception that transit is confusing to use and the perception that it is a second class form of transportation.
SW: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in 10 years’ time?
TH: I don’t think the rail technology itself will change drastically in ten years. But the on board and station amenities will. Customers expect to be connected constantly. So, W-iFi is becoming a necessity, not a nice to have. Real time schedule information is also a must and customers want it at platforms and on board. Transit agencies will need to adopt more user-centric design methods as they create new facilities and purchase new vehicles.
SW: What’s your favourite rail journey?
TH: My favourite rail journey is the one I take every day, to and from work on our Sounder commuter line that travels along the north shore of the Puget Sound. I see views no car driver can including breath taking coastal views, and wildlife sightings including bald eagles, sea lions and if I’m lucky a whale! My 30-minute train ride eclipses the 45 minutes to an hour I’d spend if I had to drive the same route. Plus it drops me off right next to Sound Transit’s headquarters in Seattle’s International District. I’m a spoiled commuter!
SW: Firstly Tim, I have to say your commute sounds enviable! Secondly, thank you very much for making time to talk to us.
5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World will bring you a great new 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
The last 5 minutes with... Azmi Abdul Aziz, President and Group CEO for Prasarana Malaysia.
Next week's 5 minutes with... Allyson Teevan, Marketing and Communications Manager at Alexandria Transit Company (DASH).