Portland plans ad campaign to diversify transit picks

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PORTLAND — There are many ways to get into the city, and several agencies are ready to pay $30,000 to encourage people to use them.

A city request for proposals due Sept. 21 seeks bidders for an ad campaign designed “to promote multi-modal transportation access to Portland’s downtown.”

According to the RFP, the city hopes to have the research and marketing and advertising “collateral” in place by March 1.

The RFP lists funding of $30,000, with half of that committed by nonprofit Portland Downtown. The city will add $10,000. Also contributing are the Portland International Jetport, $2,000; METRO, $1,500; Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, $1,000, and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, $500.

“This is common in growing cities,” Portland Downtown Executive Director Casey Gilbert said Monday. “It is a reality (that) we can’t just focus on the automobile and getting automobiles into town.” 

Portland Downtown, a nonprofit funded through additional tax assessments to property owners within the downtown district (essentially bounded by Commercial, State and Franklin streets and Cumberland Avenue), promotes commerce and hosts events, including the Old Port Festival and Light Up Your Holidays. 

The target of the ad campaign goes beyond the city’s nearly 67,000 residents to include people working in Portland, as well as tourists, visitors and students. The RFP estimates there are 100,000 people in the city on weekdays, and the combined metropolitan area extending through South Portland to Biddeford has a population of more than 500,000.

The ad campaign needs to address concerns about cost and availability of on-street and garage parking, the convenience of METRO bus routes, and the introduction of new user-friendly technology to improve service and outline the benefits of using public or alternative transportation to visit downtown.

Experience will count as the city evaluates the RFPs: 45 points of 100 possible points on the applicants’ track record count towards “developing effective, comparable marketing and informational campaigns,” with 35 points for the responsiveness of an applicant, and the remaining 20 points on “demonstrated design aesthetic and communication skills.”

The campaign itself will not be glamorous.

“There will not be a large media buy,” Gilbert said. “This is a grassroots (effort) through our media channels.” 

The campaign will have a social media presence because it looks to reach students and people working in the city, she said. Public service announcements will also be used.

With materials for the campaign gathered by March 1, 2018, Gilbert said the actual campaign could begin next spring as the weather improves and people may be more ready for bicycling, walking or taking the bus.

The campaign will continue through tourist season, with some encouragement for visitors flying in to rely on public transportation to get downtown from the Jetport and then walk around the city.

“We felt it was important to do the campaign because we have a lot of great options for getting into Portland,” Gilbert said.

Portland Downtown has also commissioned a study on downtown parking and the results are expected this fall, Gilbert said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The city and five other agencies are ready to spend $30,000 on an ad campaign to encourage the use of alternative forms of transportation to reach the downtown district.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.