Last week, one of Toronto’s regional public transit services teased a radical, futuristic mode of transportation on Twitter. In a dramatic video full of lightning strikes and movie trailer music, GO Transit asked viewers to imagine this scenario: you hop in a vehicle, slide into a comfortable seat, and text or browse cat memes until you arrive at your destination. Best of all, you never even need to input where you’re going. The vehicle just gets you there.
And then pow! Another lightning strike! Surprise! It’s a bus!
The cheeky video makes a decent point. Mass transit already offers some of the benefits we’re trying to wring out of not-quite-here-yet technologies like self-driving cars. Yes, there are problems with even the best mass transit systems, like poor infrastructure, lack of funding, political infighting, or even raccoons. But when it works, it works really well! Which is why it’s a shame that ridership in major cities throughout the US has been struggling.
I don’t know whether irreverent commercials for buses will solve a transportation crisis. But hey, Toronto’s solid public transit ridership figures seem to imply that our neighbor up north is on to something! It’s not the first transit agency to try this strategy, either. Sweden’s Västtrafik released a (very similar) video in 2017, and guess what? Their public transportation system also looks a lot better than what we have in the US.
Maybe we’ve been thinking about this all wrong. We’re a country that loves visual entertainment, and we’re reading less and less anyway. Would it be so bad if our transit agencies got a little saucy and made some splashy video ads, as long as it bumped up ridership? At the very least, I’d love to see them try.