June 24, 2010

Applying the Fun Theory to Public Behavior: Could it Affect St. Louis Transit?

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The folks over at Volkswagen have been having a good time with their “The Fun Theory” ad initiative, which states that by introducing fun to public spaces, you can change behavior for the better. So they asked people all over the world to submit their ideas for using fun to change how people act. Not surprisingly, several of the best submissions (including Volkswagon’s own) involves public transit spaces.

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

Using the piano stairs, stations goers used the stairs 66% more often than usual. It’s a healthier alternative, and saves wear and tear on the escalator.

Volkswagon’s latest ad initiative: “Fast Lane: What Drives You?” uses the addition of a candy-red slide in an otherwise pastel Alexanderplatz Transit Hub in Berlin, Germany subway to show how childlike fun improves the mood of entire transit experience.

(Click here if you can’t see the video.)

City Museum’s slide is more impressive, but this one looks fun too.

When you have public shared spaces, you inevitably have to address public health concerns. A group of Yale University students tackled the prevalence of illness on college campuses by encouraging students to use more hand sanitizer. With a little help from a few of our favorite childhood Nintendo sounds (we guessed Mario Kart!), the student experimenters successfully increased the number of students using hand sanitizer by seven times.

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1-Up for using hand sanitizer!

This video, called “Enjoy My View”, installed a periscope at one of the New York City MTA bus stops, allowing transit riders to look down the street for their bus. Anybody who’s waited for a bus has played the “Step off the curb, squint your eyes, look for the bus” game. The designers not only wanted to provide a fun diversion from the tedium of waiting for the bus, but to also raise awareness of the need for real-time system information at stops.

(Video not visible? Click here.)

Planetizen has a great review of Tim book My Kind of Transit: Rethinking Public Transit in America looking at the way the emotional factors affect how people are both drawn and stay away from public transit. He argues that public transit still has to be about the unique, place-making aspect of transit in addition to travel efficiency.

The Fun Theory award entries page hosts many other creative means to influence public behavior such as recycling, littering, even the performance of public works employees. What would you do to encourage good behavior on public transit and in public spaces? Get people to walk more, ride bikes, recycle, respect each other’s space? Have you seen any creative means of influencing behavior or creating place in St. Louis that could be applied?

13 thoughts on “Applying the Fun Theory to Public Behavior: Could it Affect St. Louis Transit?”

  1. MIKE says:

    I think what will make people happy with Metro right now is to get the transit system healthy, and up and running efficiently. How can most cusomers have fun with the system in its present state. The concept of adding fun and enjoyment in using a transit system is great.

    Right now I feel we need to focus on the mechanics necessary in getting the system back to where Metro will become more user friendly, like it was with its predecessors Bi-State & and the Public Service Company. The voters approved Prop. A, which has now made it possible for Metro to take real steps in upgrading its transit system from a penny-ante system.

    Note some of the comments posted in response to the June 21 update.

    1. Courtney says:

      I do appreciate your sentiments, Mike, and passion for the system. Ultimately user-friendliness is the goal to strive towards in all aspects. But I think we can also have creative conversations about the social and fun nature of public transit at the same time. People like to try transit for a variety of reasons, but yes, usability is always important.

  2. Patrick Richmond says:

    Yes, creativity is great. But right now with the tax just being passed, Metro has to get enough money to make such creations. And also right now, we are in the middle of restoring the routes that were cut last year. People who ride the bus knows not to litter and things like that. I like the user friendly system. I remember when we bought the Neoplan MetroLiners and we had a superior turnout in ridership. I like the double-decker buses we tried out and the double-decker buses are attractions in themselves. A little taste of England here in the U.S. Some cities went to double-decker buses. Dallas went to over-the-road buses for their super busy lines. They do come with wheehchair lifts. Routes like the #258 could really benifet from them. This is what we should have done a long time ago on many routes. Yes, with the double-deckers, you have a height limit of 14 foot clearance, but that is THE only downside to them.

  3. Isaac says:

    Put a device on train platforms that starts telling a joke about staying on the platform until people from the train get out and doesn’t finish the punchline until enough time has passed that to in fact happen?

    1. Courtney says:

      Ha ha, that seems to be a concurrent theme…how to keep passengers from entering the train before others have exited. I like the punchline idea!

  4. MIKE says:


    The thought of running double-decker buses sounds very appealing. But would it actually be feasible for Metro to invest in those types of buses at this time when most of Metro’s bus routes would probably justify using smaller vehicles than they’re using now, to serve their routes? Cities that employ double decker-buses, have both the ridership and level of service to support using these buses. We do not.

    Metro would first have to restore service to its previous level, and than build on that level to make it strong enough to justify investing into adding double decker buses to their fleet. It wouldn’t be very economical for Metro to run empty double decker buses once every half-hour or hour on its typical route.

    I agree in creating an attractive transit system. However, it should go hand in hand with providing efficient and reliable transit service. The end product would sell itself and draw people back to using public transit, and generate new customers.

  5. RTBones says:

    A relatively easy thing to implement would be a voice reminder at the same time the, “next train arrives in 30 seconds,” warning goes off. Just add a line that says something to the effect of, “please allow passengers on the train to disembark before boarding.” So your new message would be: “The next east/westbound train will be arriving in 30 seconds. Please allow passengers onboard to disembark before boarding.”

    I also think Mike is correct – before we focus on getting cute and happy and fun, how about we focus on getting a safe, healthy, easy-to-use system in place. People, in general, dont ride transit to have fun. They ride it to get where they want to go, when they want to get there, in a safe manner. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a little levity when riding (and in the long run, its a good idea), I’d rather get the mechanics of a good system in place first before I worry about having fun using the system.

  6. MIKE says:

    RTBones’s suggestion regarding train arrivals and passenger courtesy is a simple and practical approach on how to run a transit system in a professional manner. It’s the kind of approach major transit systems would uae to ensure a swift,smooth and safe discharging and boarding of passengers.

    I would like to see more future updates showing the progress Metro is, and will be making in rebuilding its transit system in a work-in-progress type format, and the progress that’s taking place. I would like to see how our tax money is, and will be working in the upgrading of our transit system.

  7. Patrick Richmond says:

    MIKE, yes I do agree with that. The only attractive bus we once had but don’t anymore is the Orion II. The downside to the double-decker buses, due to their super large size, they do cost twice as much to operate than a regular bus. And if we buy any, we have to train the mechanics we have on how to repair them as they have more lights on two levels and in the staircase that runs from the lower deck to the upper deck.

    At the stations, they do say “For Your Safety” on the announcement, “Please stay behind the grey area on the platform”. But it should say the same thing for the “No eating or drinking onboard MetroLink trains and MetroBuses”. The reason why I say the “no eating, no drinking” annoucenemt is for your safety, is to prevent you from choking for incase if there is a sudden stop.

  8. MIKE says:


    Good point about safety concerns on eating and drinking aboard Metro vehicles. In addition to the safety issue, we all should do our part in helping to keep Metro clean, so it can remain appealing to the public. That could be another reason to encourage more people to hop out of their cars to use Metro.

  9. RTBones says:

    Patrick – regarding the “For your safety” announcement: you are correct, but timing is everything. The best time to hear that reminder is right before you board (an example is the famous “mind the gap” announcement that gets made on the London Tube when the train doors are open; doesnt make much sense to give that announcement when the train is not there) Unless its a service disruption or an arriving train, people seem not to pay as much attention to the announcements.

  10. MIKE says:


    You and Patrick are both correct. I see nothing wrong with safety announcements during waits between trains, as well as upon train arrivals. One can never over-emphasize safety.

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