Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, or Reconsider?

Over a decade ago, I inherited my grandmother's 1977 Plymouth Fury. That was a fun car. I used to drive it around with my elbow out the window, blasting the soundtrack from Shaft, and feeling pretty retro cool.

But that car was also a pain in the ass. It was difficult to street park in the Byward Market, where I lived at the time, it used a lot of gas, and the bouncy '70s suspension made my girlfriend (and future wife) slightly queasy. It wasn't long before I sold it off.

While I knew the gas guzzling was bad for the environment, I really didn't drive it all that much. But as we now know, the worst thing about old cars is the exhaust. Exempt from emissions testing because of its age, that Fury was a major polluter. According to the owner's manual, it didn't even meet SEVENTIES emission standards in California or Colorado. I hope it has since been scrapped.

But your car doesn't need to come from the disco era to be nasty. According to Environment Canada the average pre-1995 vehicle in Canada produces 19 times more smog forming air pollution than newer models, which have to meet much more stringent emissions standards. They estimate at least five million of these nasty old burners are out on our roads now. Clearly, the time has come to retire them (at least, the ones without true vintage value).

The current initiative is incentives for vehicle scrappage, Retire Your Ride, which offers cash, discounts on new or used cars, and sustainable transportation options like bikes, car-sharing, and public transit.

That's where we come in.

As a member of — and social marketing agency for — the Canadian Urban Transit Association, our job is to try to reduce the number of cars on the road and increase transit ridership nationwide by persuading Canadians to trade in their old cars for transit passes.

Here's the campaign, which is running on busses and bus shelters in cities across Canada right now:

Yeah, I know. It's a tough sale. People love their old cars, and if they feel they depend on them for work, personal errands, or even just a sense of self worth, we realize that we probably won't get them to trade it all in for transit.

But that's not how social (or cause) marketing works. We don't preach to the choir, but we also don't preach to the parking lot. We are talking to the people in the middle, who have a car or an extra car that they don't really need. This campaign is designed to help them break up with that tired old ride by showing them that there's an option that also supports sustainable transportation.

It's talking to the guy with the rusty Fury and the queasy girlfriend.

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