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Marketing and Customer Communication in Rural Public Transportation


The synthesis will document the diversity of current practices that rural transit organizations engage in through their marketing and customer communication endeavors, documenting audiences, platforms, approaches, considerations, and lessons learned.

The realm of modern marketing and customer communication consists of an intricate array of print, television, radio, and phone advertisements and communications, onboard and external signage and kiosks, promotional items, in-person and virtual events, free and fee-based online marketing, and more. Technologies and approaches are changing so rapidly that marketing campaigns that were considered state-of-the-art five or ten years ago may seem obsolete now.

While a small amount of literature on this topic was published largely in the 1980s-1990s, practice has evolved such that these case studies and manuals serve no purpose other than historical interest. Even since TCRP Synthesis 99: Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation was published in 2012, marketing and communications platforms and approaches have changed dramatically. Due to cost of hiring an external marketing agency, small transit systems without a dedicated marketing team member might rely on someone in-house without a marketing education or skills, which could lead to poor marketing. Most rural transit agencies in the 2020s engage in a variety of marketing and public communication activities, but there are no standards, national guidelines, or programs on effective public communication in transit settings.


The synthesis will document current practices by rural transit agencies including outreach to their communities through marketing, advertising, and public communication.

The synthesis will document current practice in print, online, television, radio, and phone advertisements and communications, onboard and external signage, promotional items, in-person and virtual events, and other forms of customer outreach as identified by this research.


Meeting customer needs and building ridership, which are the goals of effective marketing and public communication, are areas of practice that are common to all transit agencies and of general interest to public transit. The topic is timely and will result in higher-quality and lower-cost transit agency marketing and customer communication programs.

Related Research:


Brown, Lloyd. Web 2.0 Tools for Customer Communication: Strategies and Practice at the Washington State Department of Transportation. TR News. November-December 2010.

  1. Cutler, Marc R. The Idaho Rural/Small City Cooperative Transportation Marketing Demonstration Project: Final Report. U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1987. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/492

  2. 3.

Cutler, Mark R. Impact of Marketing in Small Urban and Rural Transit Systems. Transportation Research Record. 1987. 1144: pp 78-86. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/trr/1987/1144/1144-010.pdf

  1. Jones, Jordan, Sweeney, Matthew and Joseph Hoereth. Recommendations to Enhance Quality Engagement. University of Illinois at Chicago, Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, University of Illinois at Chicago, Urban Transportation Center, 2016. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/37480

  2. 5.

Kihl, Mary. Marketing Rural Transit among Senior Populations. Transportation Research Record 1338 (1992): 60-64. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/trr/1992/1338/1338-008.pdf

  1. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2012. Uses of Social Media in Public Transportation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/14666.

  2. 7.

National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Best Practices and Marketing to Increase Rural Transit Ridership and Investment. 2018. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP20-65(73)_FR.pdf

  1. National RTAP. Advertising Best Practices: Bus Wraps and In-Kind Advertising. 2017. https://www.nationalrtap.org/News/Best-Practices-Spotlight/Archive-Advertising

  2. 9.

National RTAP. Leveraging Social Media: Spreading the Word and Enhancing Community Participation. 2018. http://nationalrtap.org/Resource-Library/Advanced-Search/?fid=278

  1. National RTAP. Social Media Best Practices. 2018. https://www.nationalrtap.org/News/Best-Practices-Spotlight/Archive-Social-Media

  2. National RTAP and National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM). Advocating for Your Transit System. 2021. http://nationalrtap.org/Resource-Library/Advanced-Search/?fid=122

  3. Peter Muller-Munk Associates. Transit Marketing in Pennsylvania: A Handbook of Effective Transit Marketing Aids. Revised Edition. 1984. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/643

  4. Transportation Research Board. Marketing Rural Transit. Unpublished Report. 1980.

  5. Urban Mass Transportation Administration. Rural Transit Marketing: Survey Analyses and Case Studies of Transit Marketing Programs and Information. Final Report. 1987.


This synthesis will be conducted through a systematic approach:

· A comprehensive literature review will focus on research conducted to date on marketing and customer communication in public transportation, focusing on rural transit agencies.

· A survey of agencies will be developed, conducted, and analyzed.

· Follow-up interviews will be conducted with selected agencies for the development of case studies.

· Knowledge gaps will be identified and suggestions for research to address those gaps will be provided.

Sponsoring Committee:AP055, Rural, Intercity Bus, and Specialized Transportation
Research Period:6 - 12 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Cara Marcus
Source Info:Relevant Organizations and Individuals
 Tenley Borchman, Program Manager, California Association for Coordinated Transportation (CALACT)
 Julia Castillo, Executive Director, HIRTA Public Transit
 Cara Marcus, Resource Center Manager, National RTAP
 George Levitsky, CCTM, General Manager, Fairmont-Marion County Transit Authority (FMCTA)
 Danny Schnathorst, Mobility Outreach Coordinator, HIRTA Public Transit
Date Posted:04/30/2021
Date Modified:05/28/2021
Index Terms:Marketing, Rural transit, Traveler information and communication systems, Public information programs, Social media,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Public Transportation
Administration and Management
Data and Information Technology

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