As for the tag line, Holzer said, “that literally came from riders.”
NBC4’s Adam Tuss, who first reported the cost of the campaign, said the funds were derived from Metro’s marketing budget, constituting about 0.02 percent of Metro’s operating costs — a portion offset by ad sales.
Still, some were surprised at Metro’s decision to spend six-figures on a PR campaign during a budget crisis, when the agency is considering raising fares and reducing service to offset a $290 million shortfall. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on repairs and infrastructure, they asked?
The agency’s board voted last month to shorten Metro’s late-night hours through 2018 as part of a long-term preventive maintenance plan. The agency is in the midst of a yearlong repair program called “SafeTrack” aiming at restoring the 15 most dilapidated stretches of the 40-year-old system.
In a November speech at the National Press Club, Wiedefeld unveiled a service-oriented plan for his second year at the helm of the agency: Back2Good, which includes a beefed up railcar maintenance regimen, improved service through the accelerated removal of unreliable cars, and an overall bid to win back customers who have fled the system due to chronic service problems and safety lapses. Metro ridership is down about 100,000 from its 2009 peak, according to recent ridership figures.
Holzer said that while TV and theater spots will end sooner, other parts of the campaign are expected to run until February.
For Metro, 2017 starts on rocky ground, as the agency comes off disciplining nearly half its track inspection department in connection with a pattern of neglect and fabrication that led to a derailment in July.
Back2Good isn’t the first time in recent history Metro has forked over a pretty penny for public relations. Weeks after a smoke calamity took a woman’s life at L’Enfant Plaza in January 2015, Metro hired two high-powered public relations firms to assist the agency with image control. The cost of those hires: $250,000. In that case, the costs were covered by Metro’s insurance carrier, AIG, according to an agency spokeswoman.