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updated: 1/15/2014 5:08 PM

Will $600,000 sell suburbs on transit?

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  • Daily Herald File PhotoRTA Director Pat Durante, left, and other board members approved a contract with a marketing firm to grow ridership in DuPage County Wednesday.

      Daily Herald File PhotoRTA Director Pat Durante, left, and other board members approved a contract with a marketing firm to grow ridership in DuPage County Wednesday.


RTA leaders hope $600,000 will sell DuPage County commuters on transit.

The agency will be buying radio ads and paying a consulting firm to coordinate a marketing campaign to grow ridership in the county, officials said Wednesday. Directors approved a two-year $600,000 contract with Wisconsin-based Staples Marketing.

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"Our primary goal is to increase ridership and we will do that via promoting the transit system," senior deputy executive director for planning Leanne Redden said. "It's not just an ad campaign, it's a public information effort."

One RTA director was dubious. "This is one reason people are skeptical of lobbyists and public relations firms," Director William Coulson of Glenview said, adding he feared there was no way to measure if the investment was successful.

He estimated the agency would need to add 100,000 riders paying $6 a ride over two years to recoup the spending. "The BNSF Line is over capacity," Coulson said referring to the line that serves southern DuPage. "I was almost trampled at Union Station (today). Do we want more riders on that line?"

Redden said the campaign would be targeted at encouraging transit trips within DuPage and at reverse commutes, which refers to trips from the city to the suburbs. She also said the agency would set goals for the contractors to reach.

The plan has the support of the DuPage County Board and local mayors, said Director Pat Durante, who represents DuPage on the board.

"This project's been a long time coming," Durante said, adding that federal funding was secured in 2004 by the county as part of its transit plan. DuPage later transferred the initiative to the RTA.

Federal pollution-relief grants will pay for $480,000 of the work, and the RTA will pay $120,000.

"There's a lot of empty seats going to a lot of places where there are jobs," Chairman John S. Gates Jr. said. "This could help us fill empty seats."

DuPage is served primarily by Metra and Pace. However, Pace already spends about $1.3 million a year on marketing. Pace's marketing department is required to generate $4 million annually in revenue from ads on buses and bus shelters, spokesman Patrick Wilmot said.

Metra also budgeted $390,000 on a marketing campaign to increase ridership in 2013.

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