- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rising gasoline prices have prompted Metro to start an advertising campaign promoting its buses as an affordable option for commuters tired of seeing their wallets drained at the fuel pump.

The ads feature a fuel gauge registering below empty, with the caption, “A trip to the pump is no vacation.”

“We’d love to see people stuck in traffic watching their gas gauge dwindle toward ‘E’ while they have a bus in front of them that shows the ad,” said Candace E. Smith, a Metro spokeswoman.

Gasoline prices have been inching upward. At the start of last week, a gallon of self-serve regular averaged $2.56 in the Washington region. By Friday, it had risen to $2.67, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Some consumers have said they are cutting back on travel spending and recreation because of fuel costs.

“If you’re spending more than $2.55 a gallon, it costs you $1.25 to ride the bus. Base rail fare is $1.35, so it’s cheaper to take mass transit,” Ms. Smith said. “Ridership traditionally declines in August from July levels due to a decline in tourism, but ridership has been up all summer.”

The new campaign is focused on buses instead of Metrorail stations because those who use subways already are transit riders.

“We’re targeting people who are sitting in their cars, because they’d see the buses,” she said. Twenty-five buses carry the ads.

A follow-up ad, which will begin running in mid-September, will feature a purse with a gasoline hose coiled around it like a snake.

“It says something like, ‘Feel the squeeze?’” Ms. Smith said.

“That’s great marketing by Metro,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which has been encouraging members to car pool and use mass transit to help offset rising fuel costs.

“As the price per tank becomes more expensive, if Metro doesn’t increase its rates, mass transit can be a real advantage,” he said.

Other area transit agencies, with much smaller budgets, said their marketing plans for fall were set long before the recent gasoline price increases.

“We’ve noticed a large increase in ridership, partially due to gas prices,” said Carol Smith, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax Connector.

Officials in Prince George’s County are considering ads focused on the affordability of the Bus, a countywide transit service. The ads could be displayed on bus shelters and the system’s Web site, a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, officials in Montgomery County said more people are using the county’s RideOn bus service, but they are not doing anything special to attract riders.

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