Bringing Hispanics On Board

The county's Connector service has adopted a new look for its buses. In addition, two will carry images of historic sites.
The county's Connector service has adopted a new look for its buses. In addition, two will carry images of historic sites. (Courtesy Of Fairfax County Connector)
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 1, 2005

Fairfax County's public bus service has launched an advertising campaign geared to Hispanic riders, sending coupons written in Spanish for a free ride to 25,000 households and distributing written information at churches, stores and community centers.

The promotional campaign, along with a new yellow and reddish-orange logo and bus design, comes as the Fairfax Connector, which will carry about 8.5 million riders this year, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The county also has unveiled two "anniversary buses," wrapped in material decorated with images of some of Fairfax County's recognizable sights, including the Woodlawn Plantation and Mount Vernon.

Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock) said the new design and marketing campaign will help ensure that residents know they have the option of getting around using mass transit that is dependable, safe and clean. Plus, she said, increasing traffic congestion makes it important that county and state officials work to make all public transportation, including bus service and the Virginia Railway Express, more accessible.

"The branding gives a positive message to riders that this is their bus service, it's something they recognize," Bulova said. "There are some road projects and road widenings that will still happen in Fairfax County, but for the most part I see our transportation growth happening in mass transportation . . . so it's important that people view our mass transportation modes as something positive and something they feel comfortable riding."

Katharine D. Ichter, acting director of the county Department of Transportation, said the number of riders has grown dramatically in recent years, with about 8.5 million people taking trips in fiscal 2005, up from 4.8 million in fiscal 1999.

On a given day, about 30,000 people ride Connector buses. There are 57 bus routes in the county. Each trip costs $1.

As part of recent efforts to improve service, a new transit station is under construction near Reston Town Center and is scheduled to open early in 2006, Ichter said. In addition, sometime next spring or summer, passengers will be able to use SmarTrip cards -- used to pay for Metro trips -- to ride the bus.

Ichter said the county also is focused on reaching out to Hispanic residents, who represent a growing number of riders. While the Transportation Department provides information in several languages, the coupons and attached fliers sent in October and November mark the broadest effort by the agency to reach a non-English speaking audience.

The bright yellow and green postcards include a number to call for information on routes and note that Spanish-speaking workers are available to answer questions.

"Many of our riders are Hispanic," Ichter said. "We wanted to make sure they knew the services were here and available, and we wanted to be speaking in their language."

Ichter said her department also has been offering free lunchtime classes for employees who want to learn basic Spanish.

County officials hope the new paint scheme and logo also will help attract riders, particularly people who are concerned about traffic congestion or rising gas prices and are seeking an alternative. The new look isn't costing taxpayers any additional dollars, officials said, because it will be phased in as new buses are ordered and older vehicles need to be repainted.

Carol Smith, chief of the Transportation Department's marketing section, said the design will help travelers recognize a bus as a Connector bus, as opposed to one of Metro's, and to know where to call for route information or to make a complaint.

"We think the new design gives a fresh look to transit," Smith said. "It's the kind of bus that makes you want to get on. It denotes movement. It's fun. It's hip."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company