“Paris subway’s lovebirds” or the art of communicating about transportation without seducing the users

Launched in 2011 by the RATP (Paris’ subway and suburban rail operator), the awareness campaign “Staying civil right down the line” stages animal-headed humans being unmannerly in the subway or in the stations. The campaign’s fourth edition just came out. It aims to raise passengers’ awareness of the problem of impoliteness in Paris’ subway. It is visible on the subway’s walls and the “bestiary” keeps growing.The use of zoomorphism enables the attribution of animal features to human beings. Each of these creatures is staged performing an incivility that the animal embodies. Thus, the buffalo-man pushes people to enter the subway, the wild boar-man eats messily, the hen-woman is too loud on the phone, etc. Each scene also includes the outraged reaction of the people bothered by such behaviors.

Beyond the moralizing or even stereotypical component (businessmen are buffalos, youngsters are lazy and spit like lamas, women talk too much and too loud) of the campaign, already debated by the media, the posters’ content can be the basis for a reflection on the way the rail operator conceives the time we spend travelling.

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One of the posters particularly caught our attention. It stages two lovebird-headed creatures. We see them stand side by side, in a posture that suggest tenderness, in an escalator, while the users standing behind them look extremely upset to be forcer to slow down. According to the RATP, this poster symbolizes « the need to leave the left side clear, so that the movement is fluid». What can be surprising is that, one the most basic ways of travel time appropriation, i.e. spending your time with someone, is considered as an incivility that should be banned on the name of travel fluidity.

Whereas travel time appropriation is already the focus of a growing attention from mobility stakeholders[1], one can worry about RATP’s orientation. It is indeed commonly admitted that public transit in Paris and its metropolitan region are saturated. Doing something with one’s travel time is of course complicated when the lines are so crowded that it is even impossible to read. Nevertheless, by giving the priority to the fluxes, the RATP is de facto rejecting the logic of conviviality, pleasure, and, in the end, leaving aside a strategy of seducing the user so that he/she keeps or starts using transit.

Are travel time appropriation and transport fluidity incompatible? The question is worth being clearly asked.  To conclude and to further feed the debate, let’s quote the example of some municipalities that have bet for a seduction strategy to promote transit use. Last year, the city of Prague launched a marketing campaign proposing in each subway, a “communication wagon”, meant to foster the meetings between single people[4]; the Greater Lyon’s campaign states with mischief that carpoolers would rather « do it in group »…

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[1] Our latest publication: 6t-Bureau de recherche, Les usages de la mobilité, Pour une ingénierie des modes de vie, Ed. Loco, 168 pages, 2013.

Photo credit: RATP (http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/r_111288/staying-civil-right-down-the-line-begins-its-4th-season/)

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