As the Mayors' Council issued yet more mathematics-rich news releases and held yet more events to explain those releases this week to make the case for the Yes side in the upcoming transportation-transit-anti-congestion referendum/plebiscite thing, I found myself wondering whether I need to do a Costco run this weekend, whether it's too early to seed the lawn, and whether I finally need to see a podiatrist about that toe.
The point being it was all sound and fury signifying nothing. There were lots of numbers – really big numbers, mind-numbing really, like millions and billions. But there was not a single point that captured my imagination. Nothing to put a picture in my head to illustrate why the status quo isn't acceptable or why voting yes would bring a brighter future whether I rode transit or not.
For the Yes side, this campaign, such as it is, has been all head and no heart.
My head is sore from all the numbers, and my heart remains ice-cold. If I hear one more mayor mansplain the cost of congestion, or the economic activity that could be generated by more transit, or break down benefits by municipality, I'm going back to bed. I get it. We all need to be educated, but instead of telling me, show me something.
A GIF was making the rounds a while back showing a typical Toronto street with 40 cars on it. The next frame showed the drivers out of their cars. The third frame showed what the street would look like if all of those drivers boarded a TTC streetcar instead. It was a mesmerizing and incredibly effective illustration of how more transit could reduce congestion.
So I'll throw out some ideas for the Yes side. How about this: a girl, in her early teens, slumped hopelessly on a suburban bus shelter bench on a rainy night, waits for the next bus to arrive. Let's up the ante and throw in a couple of sketchy-looking dudes leering from the edge of the frame, and you have a pretty good illustration of why more frequent bus service in the suburbs might be appreciated.
Or how about this: actual footage of people trying to jam their way onto a downtown-bound train on the Expo Line on any given morning, with a guy (we've all seen him) getting his massive backpack caught as his tries to force his way in as the doors are closing. You don't even need to include the shoving match that ensues inside the train.
Or an anxious mother or father in a car explaining (handsfree, of course) why they're late picking their toddler up from daycare as they try to make their way over the packed Pattullo Bridge.
Each spot could carry the caption, "We Deserve Better." Or something like that. (I am clearly no Don Draper.)
Much has been said and written about the successes and failures of various pro-transit campaigns. In the United States, the Dukakis Center for Regional and Urban Policy at Northeastern University has looked at various campaigns and the lessons learned and come up with a top-10 list.
Number four on the list: Target people who will never use transit. A campaign in Washington State's King County appealed to non-transit users by physically showing the possible impact that a lack of funding could have upon traffic. Without public transit, hundreds of cars would be added onto highways, thus worsening congestion, and increasing commute times.
A St. Louis campaign featured nurses who needed transit to get to work so that they could help their patients, which in turn helped the public to understand that everyone depends on public transit.
Lesson six: When the public doesn't trust the transit agency to use fare, toll and/or taxpayer dollars efficiently, campaigns have a far more difficult time persuading voters to provide additional resources to the suspect agency. The solution is working to improve the reputation of the agency or, in a worst-case scenario, make it invisible.
In our case, given the time restraints, I would suggest making it invisible is the preferred option.
But please, Yes side, stop with the cold logic of numbers. I have added and subtracted, divided and multiplied them. You have given me a lot to think about.
Now you need to make me feel something.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.