A sultry-voiced female with lots of sass, sexually suggestive comments and a Twitter account is changing the way Haligonians commute to work.
Edgy, humorous and borderline inappropriate, "Bridget" is the star of a new $50,000 month-long public-awareness campaign by Halifax Harbour Bridges aimed at reducing fender-benders and minor collisions that tie up traffic during the morning and afternoon drive.
A steady traffic flow on the two bridges is essential to commerce and tourism in the Halifax Peninsula, the region's economic centre. The structures – which represent about half of the road capacity for entering the peninsula – are at their maximum. The hope is Bridget will help reduce the gridlock that is shrinking the region's productivity.
"Bridget likes a driver who takes it slow, so watch your speed on our roads, fastboy," she says in one of her radio spots, which began airing on Monday. In another, she refers to tailgaters as "dirtbags," and says: "Driving fast doesn't impress me. A heavy foot doesn't flip my kilt."
Already Bridget has more than 100 Twitter followers – and her tweets are racy.
Billboards at the approaches to both bridges feature a fierce-looking Bridget (a dark-haired model from Nova Scotia) with the text: "i like a driver who takes it slow" and "hey you, eyes on the road." There are also Bridget banners at the bridges, and she is featured on "toll plaza coin basket bounce pads" – when a driver throws in a loonie it bounces against a picture of Bridget and into the toll basket.
It's a bold strategy meant to break through the "clutter," said Alison MacDonald, HHB spokeswoman. "We believe that using this edgy humour will help us … make people aware about how they drive on the bridges has a direct impact on the number of collisions."
There are about 110,000 crossings every weekday over the two bridges, the A. Murray MacKay Bridge, built in 1970, and the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge, built in 1955, that span the harbour linking Dartmouth to the peninsula.
Crossings were just under 25 million a year in 1981. By 2001, the number was more than 30 million – about 88,000 a day. And 2007 was the first year with an average of more than 100,000 crossings on a weekday. By 2011, there were 34 million crossings a year.
Over the years, a third lane was added to the Macdonald Bridge, and an electronic pass system was introduced to ease congestion at the toll booths.
But that is not enough. A 2008 study said a third crossing, either a tunnel or new bridge, will be needed sometime between 2016 and 2026. It would cost $1.1-billion to $1.4-billion.
Not surprising then that given the amount of traffic, any little fender bender can provoke congestion. And 10 to 12 minor incidents every month – including vehicles running out of gas – can add another 30 minutes to the commute. The HHB estimates that traffic flow does not return to normal for 45 minutes if it takes 15 minutes to clear up a collision.
An accident on the bridge causes not only frustrating delays but has a ripple effect on the roads in the rest of the city, Ms. MacDonald notes.
The campaign was designed by St. John's ad agency M5. Its creative team was mostly young women.
Vicki Murphy, one of the team members, said the ads target – mainly – young male drivers who are "going to rev the motors in their big trucks ... who's going to tailgate and who's going to rush to the other side."
As for being provocative, Ms. Murphy says the issue is important enough to warrant a little pot-stirring.
"We could do something tame, safe and conservative and have nobody pay attention," she said. "Or we can do something with balls."
110,000 crossings a day
34 million crossings in 2011
10 to 12 accidents a month – or more than 100 a year
$26 million – annual tolls paid on the A. Murray MacKay Bridge and the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge
60 per cent of traffic is on the MacKay Bridge and 40 per cent on the Macdonald
Source: Halifax Harbour Bridges