Data-driven, equitable communications strategies for transit agencies

Target Audience: As a rider-facing app, Transit is positioned not just to share information from agencies to their customers but also the other way, from customers to agencies. Armed with results from our quarterly survey of riders, we were able to take an in-depth look at how riders recall receiving communications from their agencies. By breaking down the results by income level and racial group, we were able to share insights not just for transit agency leadership, but also for agency communications staff and advocates looking to refine their approaches and improve equity in transit communications.

Strategy Objective:Staff at transit agencies have limited time and resources, and are working hard to bring relevant information to their riders — whether it's about a delayed bus, a planned service change, or opportunities to provide input on the future of the system. There are lots of tools at their disposal: social media, apps, customer support phone lines, local media, in-system signage, public meetings, and more. But not all forms of communication reach all audiences equally. Our mission with this project was to provide a data-driven analysis that could help agency staff ensure that their communications are reaching low-income riders or riders of color.

Situation Challenge: Since the onset of pandemic, the makeup of public transit ridership has changed dramatically as many people shifted to working and attending school from home, while "essential workers" in healthcare, pharmacy, retail, and other in-person industries continued commuting to job sites. So we began quarterly surveys of our users to help agencies better understand their shifting ridership. Among the questions we asked: demographic information such as race and income, as well as how riders receive information from their transit agency. By looking at crosstabs of these results, we were able to uncover insights that revealed which communications channels are best for agencies to reach low-income riders and riders of color.

Results Impact: We immediately shared our analysis (available at with thousands of staff at partner agencies, and also presented at the annual TransitCon virtual conference. Firstly, we showed that Transit app users are representative of, and in many cases even more diverse than, public transit ridership overall: riders in households earning less than $50,000 (60%), as well as Black (28%) and Hispanic (30%) riders, make up the majority of Transit's users. Then, we dove into the stats: social media is 3.5x more popular with high-income riders than low-income riders, for example, and White riders were 4.4x more likely than Latino riders to say they had attended public meetings. These types of insights are hugely important to agencies as they develop communication strategies.

Why Submit: AdWheel is traditionally focused on celebrating innovative marketing campaigns. It's important for communications and marketing professionals in the public transit industry to make sure that those innovative campaigns are built upon a data-driven approach that ensures those messages are reaching low-income people and people of color, which are traditionally important constituencies for public transit and are historically underrepresented or difficult to reach in public outreach efforts. So while our entry is not a specific campaign, per se, we hope that it can help inform all communications and marketing campaigns across the industry and be recognized for its contribution.