How Metrolinx is encouraging people to Go again

With people doing more leisure travel than commuting, the transit operator is helping people reach those nearby locales.

As pandemic restrictions start to lift and more Ontarians are considering regional travel again, Metrolinx wants to bring riders back to GO Transit.

That is the main objective of a new campaign from the crown corporation that oversees public transit in Southern Ontario. Called GO Beyond, the campaign draws on “pivotal” insights that Metrolinx gleaned through research it conducted in early spring, according to Mark Childs, CMO for the organization.

“We checked in with a substantial number of our customers, both who had been riding with us through the pandemic and who hadn’t, to ask them what their needs and expectations would be when traveling again,” he explains. “What we heard loud and clear, particularly from people who hadn’t traveled with us in a while, was that they anticipated their first trips would be throughout the summer and even going into the fall, and mostly for leisure.”

Driven by those insights, Metrolinx and creative agency Rethink, which won the business in March, developed a “full 360 campaign” that would incorporate branded content, owned assets, email communications and paid media across various platforms to generate consideration among people in the region by “really bringing to life for customers all of the places they could go,” says Childs.

As an “anchor tactic” for the campaign, Go and Rethink staged a “travel agency” activation that ran on three weekends in late August and early September. The pop-up was staffed by GO brand ambassadors who offered passersby trip ideas and help with planning, the travel agency appeared during the day at three Toronto locations: Yonge and Dundas Square on Aug. 21, Trinity Bellwoods Park on Aug. 28 and the Queens Quay Ferry Terminal on Sept. 5.

The goal of the travel agency was to bring the campaign to life, says Loretta Lau, a CD with Rethink who is working on the campaign.

“Bringing this travel agency out into the world allowed us to reach out to all of those people who hit up those places on the weekends, capture their attention, bring them in, interact with them and walk them through all of the different places they’re able to go with GO Transit,” she says.

The strategy isn’t limited strictly to marketing, either, says Childs. Instead, it is an “organization-wide effort” that has brought back many of the services GO offered prior to the pandemic, as well as introducing new product offerings – including weekend passes and routes to the Toronto Zoo – that are “all very much anchored in listening to our customer and what they need in today’s world.”

The campaign “has been successful” so far, says Childs.

“What we’ve seen is that the e-tickets promoting weekend travel have become much more significant than they were prior to the pandemic. What used to make up about 1.5% of our fares is now just over 7.5%,” he says. “So we’ve seen people taking up on all of these ideas that we’ve been promoting through a variety of channels.”

In fact, “weekend ridership is the fastest growing on our network right now,” notes Nitish Bissonauth, a spokesperson for Metrolinx, with ridership levels currently sitting at anywhere from 40% to 50% of pre-pandemic levels.

Bissonauth attributes that recovery both to the marketing strategy and heightened confidence in the safety measures Metrolinx has put in place, including a mandatory masking policy, improved ventilation, safety barriers and a mandatory vaccination policy for employees.

Metrolinx isn’t totally focused on weekend leisure travel. Content released through the summer was centred on helping travellers find more time by using GO Transit for trips and family meet-ups, but also for heading back into the office.

Metrolinx is also building on its “GO Beyond” campaign with marketing efforts designed to remind customers how much time they save by taking the GO, as well as a new campaign for the UP Express line that parodies a traffic report – “talking about the fact that there is no traffic on the route from Union to Pearson,” says Childs.

“We’re really trying to encourage people to come back to transit,” he says. “We know it is the faster, easier and better choice for travel around the region, particularly as the roads become much more congested than they have been before.”