How the Paris Metro woos riders

Visitors to Paris this summer will see an extensive advertising campaign urging them to ride the Metro subway system or climb aboard a bus to make their way around the city. The promotional efforts were begun some 15 years ago by the Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP). Combined with new stores in the subway stations, a variety of live and recorded entertainment, and a computerized destination-finding system, they have increased ridership by 33 percent.

The beginning of the traditional travel season also marks the start of an extensive new campaign to boost ridership, says George L. Hern Jr., advertising and public relations director at the French government's tourist office in New York.

The latest campaign is a series of newspaper ads, posters, and radio and television spots. The hero of the animated TV commercials is the little yellow high-tech bus and subway ticket.

``The Metro is the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to get aroung Paris unless you want to walk,'' Mr. Hern says. ``With so many stops, you're never more than 500 feet from where you want to go.''

Dilip Subramanian, editor-in-chief of Medias, the Paris-based trade publication covering advertising and marketing, gives the new ads high marks in the area of creativity.

``They managed once again to recycle their basic concept,'' says Mr. Subramanian, ``and develop a refreshing new approach that retains the spirit of the original campaign.''

RATP says the Paris Metro is the only urban transit system in the world that has a yearly schedule of events, including music and dance concerts, art and scientific exhibitions, circuses and sports events, fashion shows, theater, and movies. A rider on the subway might see a hippopotamus, enjoy a classical orchestra in full swing, or examine an Egyptian artifact - all meant to entertain waiting passengers.

In addition, riders can stop at subway shops for an espresso, snack, souvenir, or even a perfume. RATP has lured some 500 shops underground. At the Ch^atelet-Les Halles stop, for instance, riders can shop at the Chic et Choc boutique for glassware, wallets, T-shirts, and umbrellas.

More recently, RATP introduced closed-circuit television at various stops. Dubbed ``Tube,'' it is made up of 1,000 monitors on 111 platforms in 26 Metro stations and carries a 20-hour program of music videos, news, sporting events, and weather. Special programming has included, for example, highlights of the Paris Auto Show and the Cannes Film Festival.

This year, RATP unveiled ``SITU'' (Syst`eme d'Information sur les Trajets Urbains), a computerized information system to aid riders. With SITU, one can push a button to indicate destination and in less than 10 seconds an itinerary is printed out. Each slip spells out alternate routes and estimates travel time by bus, metro, or suburban train - or even by foot if the rider happens to be close to his destination. RATP expects to have 100 SITUs in place within three years.

With all the promotional efforts and services, it's not surprising that the Paris mass transit system has a ridership 50 percent larger than New York City's. During the week, New York's MTA carries about 5.5 million riders, while the RATP carries some 8.5 million. It's a fair comparison since Paris and its surrounding suburbs have a population of just over 7 million people, about the same number as the five boroughs located in the New York City area.

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