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City’s ‘SmartTrips’ marketing program shifts focus

Posted by on April 9th, 2014 at 9:51 am

linda ginenthal
SmartTrips program manager Linda Ginenthal in 2006,
surrounded by “doodads, goodies, prizes, swag.”
(Photos by J.Maus/BikePortland)

After 12 years of bike maps, blinking lights and walking tours, one of Portland’s most innovative transportation programs is shifting direction.

Starting next week, the city’s residential SmartTrips program, which gives Portlanders customized packages of free resources to help them get around by walking, biking or taking transit, will stop targeting specific neighborhoods and instead focus on reaching people who’ve recently moved.

The city’s website will continue to offer the free bike maps that adorn thousands of local refrigerators. But as it manages a 17 percent budget cut, Smart Trips is focusing its outreach and its free mail-order goodie bags on 45,000 or so households that will move to new homes in Portland this year.

“We’re trying to identify those opportunity moments. People are already changing everything about getting from place to place. So their minds are open.”
— Linda Ginenthal, SmartTrips program manager

“We’re trying to identify those opportunity moments,” program manager Linda Ginenthal said in an interview Tuesday. “People are already changing everything about getting from place to place. So their minds are open.”

The program will tap the same direct-mail database gleaned from Post Office records and utility bills that commercial companies use. But the product being marketed is low-car transportation: bike, transit and walking routes, nearby carsharing services, rideshare matches and so on.

Households can request a family biking guide that “starts with pregnancy and goes through riding with kids to school,” a carsharing brochure, coupons to local businesses, visibility lights, a book of local walks and hikes, a pedometer, and maps of all sorts.

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  • Lillian Karabaic April 9, 2014 at 10:02 am

    I <3 Smart Trips but there's sort of a logical fallacy in the MAX/Smart Trips ROI comparison: if it weren't for the light rail, I bet Smart Trips wouldn't have been so successful, as it's part of the network that Smart Trips is trying to shift people to.

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    • Michael Andersen, BikePortland April 9, 2014 at 10:39 am

      That’s true, and I’m sure Linda would agree. She said a couple times in our conversation something I’ve heard her say before: she can’t sell a product that doesn’t exist. It’s the combination of new infrastructure and direct marketing that seems to work.

      Under the new behavior-based (rather than geography-based) system, the product she’ll be trying to sell is the whole package of existing infra rather than any new stuff in particular.

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      • Dan Kaempff April 9, 2014 at 2:21 pm

        I think another nuance to the “chicken and egg” dynamic is how SmartTrips impacts utilization of infrastructure investments. Sure, if you build a light rail line or a multi-use path, people will use it. But MORE people use those investments if they get the proper combination of information and encouragement. It’s not just about mode shift; it’s about maximizing the investment in our infrastructure. But Linda’s absolutely right, people can’t/won’t use a choice they don’t have.

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    • Jessica Roberts April 10, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Lily, I don’t think Linda is saying that SmartTrips is better than transit investments, just that it’s a small additional investment that can amplify the ROI of transit investments many times over.

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  • kiel johnson April 9, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Does Smart Trips ever get any funding from big transit projects? I love leaders who are guided by science!

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    • Jessica Roberts April 10, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Kiel, the 2004 Interstate program Linda mentions was funded in part by TriMet, but I don’t believe subsequent rounds have been. The 2010 Green Line project would have been a good fit for TriMet to contribute to as well, but I don’t believe they did.

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