Commentary: New BUS name is 'lipstick on a pig'
Commentary

Commentary: New BUS name is 'lipstick on a pig'

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I was shocked to read your article about rebranding The Belle Urban System (BUS) in your June 13 edition. “Rebranding” the BUS is misguided and here’s why.

First, rebranding the Belle Urban System by giving it a funky face and a misspelled name misses the underlying problem — why ridership on the BUS is declining. There are only 24 buses on the streets of Racine today, compared to 36 just a few years ago. The Belle Urban System doesn’t need a new name and new logo. The BUS needs more riders and the way to get them is to decrease wait time from the current 30 minutes (1 hour in some cases) to a rider-considerate 15-20 minutes. This rebranding effort creates a lot of commotion that focuses on senseless, costly rebranding instead of increasing ridership. Rebranding will cost the taxpayers of Racine a lot of money for no return on the investment. Let me explain.

The current BUS logo and name stands for something. Six previous transit managers have stood by the name and logo, just as McDonald’s, Coke and Mercedes Benz have stood by theirs. Creating a new name for the system confuses the public. There are good things happening with the BUS, like trained, courteous drivers and newer energy-efficient buses. Why not spend marketing dollars promoting this?

Ridership is still declining and squandering thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to put a circus face on the system, calling it “rebranding” is like putting “lipstick on a pig.” I hope City Council reigns in this runaway waste now.

The fact remains that only about 13 percent of the population of Racine rides the BUS. These riders all share a common situation — they don’t have a car to get them to work, to the doctor, to school or to the shopping mall. They may be too young or too old to drive, or are disabled or just too poor to afford a car. These riders depend on the BUS. Good city governance dictates that we provide a workable system of transportation for those that ride the bus out of necessity.

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So new riders will have to come from one of two pools: those of us that have a car choosing to ride the bus, or from an increase in the number of bus-dependent riders. What would prompt us to choose to ride the bus instead of taking our car? We might — if it were cheaper than driving his/her car. That’s true in big urban areas like Chicago or Milwaukee. We might — if it were more convenient. In Chicago, buses run every 8 to 15 minutes and connect all parts of the city to other transportation and destinations. But in Racine that just isn’t the case.

This is what the Belle Urban System needs to concentrate on: First, making the service more convenient to all riders; and second, promoting it, not renaming and glitzing it.

The new branding campaign seems to pretend that we can make people want to ride the bus if it’s as fun as a circus. Let’s be honest; it’s not “fun” to wait for a bus for up to an hour in winter. It’s not fun when the BUS almost gets you to where you want to go then you mooch a ride or walk blocks to finish the trip. So instead of wasting its money on a senseless “rebrand” which will cost many thousands of dollars by its rollout completion, the BUS needs to invest in making buses available every 15 or 20 minutes instead of every half hour at best.

Then, think about cost. Based on experience, my rough calculations say at least a hundred or more signs per route will have to be created, printed on metal, and installed by actual workers (Public Works). There are nine routes. At approximately $20 per sign. that’s $18,000 before installation. The real problem remains unsolved — no new riders.

Add in all the route maps and schedules that have to be remade and printed — several thousand dollars. Bus shelter graphics must be remade and reinstalled. And don’t forget the graphics/decals on the buses themselves. Several hundred dollars per bus times 24 of them on the road plus the spares they keep in the garage in case of breakdowns. To what purpose? Wasted tax money. Any new riders? No.

I’m convinced that city taxpayers will be paying for this branding misstep long after John Dickert is settled in his new job and Tom Friedel is enjoying his city pension. My only hope is that City Council wakes up from this nightmare and prevents this fiasco from draining more tax dollars from an already declining tax base. Urge your alderperson to stop it while you can before the rollout happens.

Alan Bagg is the president of Corporate Images in Racine. Corporate Images was the agency that managed marketing efforts for the BUS through six transit managers over a period of 30 years — from 1985 to 2015. The current BUS logo was designed in 1978 by a Racine agency Bagg worked for.

This is what the Belle Urban System needs to concentrate on: First, making the service more convenient to all riders; and second, promoting it, not renaming and glitzing it.

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