Greater Greater Washington

Another ad denigrates transit

There's a long and ignoble tradition of tone-deaf advertisements that portray buses as the domain of poor people and crazies. In many auto-dependent cities, the bus is often indeed a last resort for those unable to afford a car. In walkable cities like DC, on the other hand, while some people do perceive class distinctions in bus versus rail, the bus is the main mode of transportation for many people in many wonderful and desirable neighborhoods. Those residents seek not to dump transit for a car, but to improve their bus service even more.

The latest "Creeps & Weirdos" award goes to DeVry University, which is running this ad on bus shelters including the one for the northbound 42 bus at Connecticut and Q:

John doesn't need to take the bus anymore because he was just given a company car because he got a job with a big-time contractor because he studied game and simulation programming at DeVry University.

Do any big-time contractors give residents of DC company cars? Is that even what a resident of Mount Pleasant (where this bus goes) most wants? How about a nicer house instead? Or a college fund for the kids? It's easy to take the cheap shot when putting an ad on a bus stop. But it denigrates the transit system that's a big part of what makes the area great.

Tip: David G.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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In a frighteningly educated city like DC, how many residents (not to mention employers) would be impressed with DeVry anyway?

by Steve on Mar 10, 2009 3:04 pm • linkreport

To stay in the metaphore:

Isn't DeVry "the bus" under the universities?

[Whereas state school would be Toyotas and Hondas, and private schools Jaguars and Rolls's?]

by Jasper on Mar 10, 2009 3:17 pm • linkreport

Three months later John started taking the bus again because he had to give the car back because no one at DeVry taught him about grammar.

by EdTheRed on Mar 10, 2009 3:17 pm • linkreport

UVA's at least an Acura.

(faux-smug chuckle)

by Joey on Mar 10, 2009 3:32 pm • linkreport

Any college that has to advertise is not worth going to.

by Kevin on Mar 10, 2009 3:36 pm • linkreport

People (like you and me) who probably have a car, or could afford one if we wanted one, maybe don't see it as really necessary. We also probably can afford to live and work within walking distance of a metro station. If we didn't we'd probably drive to work rather than take a 90 minute bus-to-metro trip.

But someone who has no choice and is riding the bus out of necessity -- and maybe their job at a construction site in Hyattsville is actually a real pain in the butt to get to by bus and metro but that's their only option -- might see it a little differently. That message probably speaks loud and clear, regardless of how obnoxious and/or inaccurate it is.

There are definitely demographic differences between the average busload and the average trainload of people. The reasons why should be obvious. Well-off people will be able to afford to live closer to the metro, and much of the central part of the metro system serves the white-collar downtown DC. It's not so outlandish to have this kind of at at a bus stop, really.

by Jamie on Mar 10, 2009 3:44 pm • linkreport

That looks like one of the old shelters, not one of the Clear Channel Adshel operated ones, but I asked almost exactly this question at one of the public meetings on the Clear Channel Adshel meetings. They mentioned something along the lines of DDOT needing to approve all ads on the shelters, and I asked whether DDOT could reject in a hypothetical case where a car company wanted to say "aren't you tired of waiting for the bus, buy our car instead." The response was noncommittally affirming something like "all ads will be appropriate."

This type of ad shouldn't be accepted.

by thm on Mar 10, 2009 3:46 pm • linkreport

run-on much?

by rob on Mar 10, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

Probably the most patronizingly insulting one I ever saw was this BMW billboard ad in Metro Center back in '05. You could almost hear Nelson from the Simpsons pointing and going "Haw haw!"

by Paulo on Mar 10, 2009 4:04 pm • linkreport

@ Jamie: Well-off people will be able to afford to live closer to the metro, and much of the central part of the metro system serves the white-collar downtown DC.

You are thinking in stereotypes. There are many reasons why people use transit. For instance when more than one person in a household has a job.

by Jasper on Mar 10, 2009 4:11 pm • linkreport

It would be a stereotype if I said "you are white, so you must ride metro and work downtown." What I said is a generalization, which is not at all the same thing.

It is indisputable that housing prices are higher near metro stations and that people who are better off live in more expensive places. It is also indisputable that the average white person in DC makes more money than the average non-white person. Tell me how many white people you see on an typical bus in DC.

I agree there are many reasons why people use transit, but if you want to understand the situation at a high level, then it's not especially useful to point out a hundred exceptions while ignoring the rule. My point is simply that if you're targeting lower-income people, without advanced degrees, then advertising at a bus stop isn't stupid.

by Jamie on Mar 10, 2009 4:23 pm • linkreport

Translation: You are taking the bus because you need to. If you had a better job, your employer would give you a car so you can drive.

I guess DeVry has the right to be dickwads but I should would love to be driving a Metrobus when John the DeVry Grad toodles by in his company car. CRUNCH!

by Ward 1 Guy on Mar 10, 2009 4:29 pm • linkreport

This is absurd. First, where the 42 goes through Mt. P, is only 2-3 blocks from the metro stop in Columbia Heights. Second, much of the housing near here is expensive, though I admit that when I take the 42(which I often do from the GW campus as it's dramatically more convenient to get on 1 bus than transfer trains), there are many people on the bus who are different demographics than people who live in, say, Georgetown.

by Mt.P CoHeights Resident on Mar 10, 2009 4:31 pm • linkreport

I doubt that when you advertise at a bus station, you get to pick exactly which ones your billboard goes on.

But regardless, this is about averages. I ride both buses and metro a lot. Anyone who denies that the demographics are different -- even on relatively upscale lines like the 42 -- is deluded.

by Jamie on Mar 10, 2009 4:35 pm • linkreport

@ Jamie:

If you want to argue that the demographics change from line to line, that makes sense, because DC is a very segregated city, and different lines cross different areas. Yes, the average public in a bus through Georgetown will look very different from a bus through SE.

Same goes for metro. Get on in NoVa and you'll get a different public than in PG county. Again, due to the segregation in this city.

by Jasper on Mar 10, 2009 4:58 pm • linkreport

I am arguing that there is a difference in demographics overall between the bus and the metro, not just line by line. I already made my points as to why. If you don't believe me just go ride a bus, or, even better, read this post, actually from this blog.

"Metrobus riders are more likely to be poorer, more transit dependent and less likely to have full time employment"

by Jamie on Mar 10, 2009 5:06 pm • linkreport

The logic is completely nonsense.

The seniority level you need to reach at most companies to be rewarded a company car is high enough that you could also afford to live at a place where you could take metrorail instead.

A better more accurate ad would say: Johnny doesn't take the bus anymore because he got a raise and can now afford to live right on top of a Metro station.

by Reid on Mar 10, 2009 5:07 pm • linkreport

@ Reid. Advertisers don't sell reality, they sell a dream/fantasy. If you are truly "stuck" riding a bus, it's a nice thought.

by Local on Mar 10, 2009 5:20 pm • linkreport

@ Kevin,

Montgomery College advertises, and it is one of the better public institutions in the area. Their adds on buses, however, are not pejorative to the riders.

To continue a pun, Montgomery College could be athe "Smart Car" of colleges.

by Dave Murphy on Mar 10, 2009 5:37 pm • linkreport

Harvard on the Pike!

by BeyondDC on Mar 10, 2009 5:59 pm • linkreport

Offtopic, but is anyone else such a transit nerd that you're watching the WMATA oversight hearing?

by Michael Perkins on Mar 10, 2009 6:21 pm • linkreport

@ Kevin: I have seen Georgetown advertisements on buses, so that would seem to ruin your theory. Unless, of course, you were suggesting that no college is worth attending, in which case - considering the economic climate and current job market - I would consider agreeing with you.

by Jimmy D on Mar 10, 2009 6:31 pm • linkreport

They're talking now about the bus driver who punched McGruff.

Catoe: I was told I wouldn't be asked about this incident. I don't have any reasonable or any explanation as to why this bus driver would do that.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 10, 2009 6:38 pm • linkreport

23rd of this month, Google Transit data will be published, according to Catoe.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 10, 2009 6:43 pm • linkreport

For what it's worth, all other things being equal, car ownership and income are highly correlated and car ownership can is often used as a proxy for quantifying living standards.

This pattern holds true for western as well as non-western (China) societies. Even in China with a history of communalism and the absence of sprawling highway-driven suburbs, the recent rise in automobile ownership has been coupled with growing incomes.

by MPC on Mar 10, 2009 7:30 pm • linkreport

@ jimmy d -

those georgetown/jhu/gw ads you see are most likely trying to get people to do their nighttime ma/mba programs. good revenue for the schools, convenient times for professionals. I doubt you'd see an ad for the full time SFS or SAIS programs.

I have seen this ad many times and every time it pisses me off. Not because of the transit bashing, but because you can do waaay better by going to UDC, NVCC or MC for like no money and a way better education. Jeebus.

DeVry: would you like fries with that?

by JTS on Mar 10, 2009 8:59 pm • linkreport

I went to DeVry for the really cool frat parties and their great intercollegiate athletic tradition. Nothing like homecoming at good old DeVry. Beats University of Phoenix every time!

Knowledge is good.

- Faber

by Mr. Snark on Mar 11, 2009 4:07 am • linkreport

i see this as 'truth in advertising' -- it's just a statement of fact for some significant percentage of bus riders. we can argue about whether that percentage is 10%, 90%, or somewhere in between -- but it's significant. we should work to change this _real_ feeling that some (many? most?) people have about bus travel in DC. we can scream at people to 'Shut up!' a la Bill O'Reilly, or we can stop giving them so much ammunition to work with.

i say 'Thanks!' to Devry for publicly shaming us self-described transit activists in this way. our job, as i see it, is to use our white skin and/or our relatively-privileged status in society to get real transit for ourselves and for those who don't have the political power to do so on their own - for whatever reasons.

keep in mind, this ad probably won't be showing up at a metro (train) stop anytime soon -- if it did, we'd probably think Devry was really out of touch. that's because us white and/or relatively-privileged folks have looked out for our own interests - so we got trains and stations and all sorts of amenities - and left the bus people to suffer. i say everyone deserves dignified transit - even black people, latino people, working-class people, poor people.

is that flimsy, ugly, tore-up bus shack what dc residents deserve? or just the less-privileged residents?

i don't know if i'd agree with the new attorney general on much, but on class and race - yes, we have been cowards, and it's time to change.

i don't doubt that marketing and pr can work wonders -- that's how we get all our modern wars, after all - but i prefer a more honest approach.

by Peter on Mar 11, 2009 4:17 am • linkreport

This ad is stupid and not funny. I mean at least the "creeps and weirdos" ad made me laugh my ass off the first time I saw it.

by SA on Mar 11, 2009 8:39 am • linkreport

Why would the transit agency ever approve this ad? Transit wants to sell itself as a CHOICE, not a necessity; why reinforce the idea that people should only use transit because they HAVE to? What a boneheaded ad.

And yes, you can target which bus shelter you want to place your ad on. Just like when you order an ad in a newspaper you can pick which page you want to put it on.

by Jenniferwhatnot on Mar 11, 2009 9:51 am • linkreport

All transit-related outrage aside, my first and (still) most prominent thought when I see this ad is: Why the hell would you give a programmer a company car? So he can drive around... checking out code in other towns? Sales guy, yes. But this ad makes no sense.

by Erica on Mar 12, 2009 12:22 am • linkreport

Companies providing cars to their employees have intentionally located themselves in low-tax exurbs with lower property values and no public transit access. I hates them for distorting urban geography!

by Dale on Mar 14, 2009 4:40 pm • linkreport

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