The Bus System – Quebec City Public Transit Network

Off to a Good Start (SILVER)

Client Credits: Quebec City Public Transit Network (Réseau de transport de la Capitale RTC)
Michel de Mauraig, Director of Communications & Marketing
Hélène Drolet, Marketing Advisor

Agency Credits: lg2
Luc Du Sault, Partner, Vice-President, Creative Director
Nicolas Boisvert, Partner, Copywriter
Catherine Darius, Mireille Côté: Strategy
Alexandra Laverdière : Account Manager/Director
Claudia Lemire: Electronic Production
François Lallier: Director
Richard Tremblay: Director Photography
Nova Film - Dominik Beaulieu: Production
Marc Couture: Photography
Boogie Studio - Andres Norembuena: Sound
David Boivin: Infography
Touché! - Alexandre-Pascal Lamoureux, Mylène Fortier: Media


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):June 1st to Oct. 31st 2012
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: June 1st
Base Period as a Benchmark: June 1st to Oct. 31st 2011

a) Overall Assessment

The Quebec City Public Transit Network (RTC) had to increase bus ridership in 2012.


The RTC was under pressure. It was confronted with an increase in the cost of its contracts as well as in the cost of fuel. Quebec City decided at the end of 2011, for the first time in 10 years, to freeze its financial contribution, close to half of the transit network’s operating budget. This was in spite of calling for a 3.2% increase in the frequency of buses, kilometres covered and hours of operation.   At the time, RTC rates were due to increase 2.8% on March 1st 2012.


At the same time, Quebec City planned to analyse the effectiveness of services in relationship to the ridership level on buses. The city had just finalized its new mobility plan to structure, consolidate and develop the urban territory using public transit (transport en commun - TEC) (Footnote 1) for the next 20 years, though automobiles remained the preferred method of transportation for residents of Quebec City and its suburbs (Footnote 2).




Breakdown of Modes of Movement (2006)

Orange - Car

Green - Public Transit

Blue - Walking

Pink - Cycling

Yellow - Other

To deal with the city’s decisions, the RTC has to increase ridership on its buses because that was the key to helping it optimize bus use and of generate revenue. This was to attract new users as well as to increase the usage by existing bus riders.


Increasing ridership, however, was quite a challenge!


During the previous five years the population of Quebec City increased by 5.25% and car traffic was increasing at rush hours, thereby generating more congestion and increasing the risk of accidents.


While 62% of Quebecers said they were in favour of developing mass transit, 28% favoured developing the road network in late 2010. These figures meant support for mass or public transit had dropped by 11% and support for developing the road / autoroute network had increased by 9% since 2007 (Footnote 3). In other words, support for public transit was waning.


At the same time, ridership on buses had stagnated year after year – and was even losing occasional riders (Footnote 4). This was in spite of the facts that many lanes had been reserved for buses to reduce travel time, Express lines had been introduced to quickly link downtown to the suburbs, numerous bus shelters had been set up and Parc-O-Bus parking lots were made available at the suburban ends of bus lines. In spite of economical single ride, daily, monthly and annual passes, ridership stagnated.  This was in spite of significant efforts by the RTC in communications in recent years, including the introduction of Nomade, a software bus information service, available remotely on mobiles with apps and screens of information. (SMS).


In fact, the first drawback to bus ridership did not rest with the offer of services, the price of a ride or with the product. The leading drawback rested with the perception of the bus.


In Quebec City, the bus was far from being viewed as a good method of daily transportation. The majority of riders stated they took the bus because they were obliged to (52%) and not by choice (43%), according to a survey carried out by the RTC. Even students – a natural captive clientele – abandoned the bus for the car, as soon as they finished their schooling. Another drawback was the media environment which was hostile toward buses. Local radio stations fed the car-bus rivalry, claiming that buses hindered the flow of traffic at rush hours because of the lanes that were reserved for them.


Increasing ridership on RTC buses required enhancing the positive appreciation of buses, both by riders as well as by non-users. In other words, all Quebec City residents because the RTC marketing effort would target people of all ages and all profiles, women as well as men, students, workers and retirees (Footnote 5).

b) Resulting Business Objectives

The overall growth objective for ridership by the end of 2012 set by the RTC, all lines and client profiles together:

-       + 4.5%, or 2 million additional riders, taking into account the RTC would start two new lines or routes with high additional potential during 2012.


The objective of improving the overall perception of buses at the end of the 2012 campaign:

-       Increase the number of people who choose to use the bus (43% in 2011) as opposed to those who are obliged to take the bus (52% in 2011).

Because we were starting from so far down, no specific percentage was set by the RTC: a couple of points gained would be considered significant progress.



c)     Annual Budget:

A budget of $405,000 apart from taxes, including agency compensation, production and media buys.



d)    Geographic Area:

Quebec City

c) Annual Media Budget
$100,000 - $200,000

d) Geographic Area
Quebec city

Footnote 1
In Quebec City, public transit is carried out exclusively by bus: there is no metro, tramway or suburban train.

Footnote 2
In the metropolitan Quebec City region there are approximately two million trips per day to work, to school, to shop or for entertainment. Two-thirds of these trips are by residents of the greater Quebec City area.

Road congestion problems have gotten worse over the years: time travelled on major arteries in Quebec City has increased from 35% to 102% between 2003 and 2007 during morning and evening rush hours. The trend has gotten worse since then because of development and the urban sprawl that has increased the population’s dependence on peripheral highways, thus on cars.
Source: Quebec City (Ville de Québec),

Footnote 3
Source : Le Soleil, December 2010.

Footnote 4
Source : Quebec City Public Transit Network (Réseau de transport de la Capitale) (RTC.)

Footnote 5

Profile of Clientele
0 – 19 years 28.5%
20 - 34 years 32.4%
35 – 49 years 17.2%
50 – 64 years 15%
65 and more 6.9%

Women: 58%
Men: 42%
Source: The Quebec City Public Transit Network (RTC)

a) Analysis and Insight

To reach them with a meaningful message, we felt we had more to gain by launching a successive series of ideas and claims throughout the campaign as opposed to a single cannon blast. Changing perceptions and behaviours always requires that messages be hammered home over a period of time.


Therein was the theme of our campaign: “There are a lot of good reasons to take the bus.”

This theme had a lot of assets because it allowed us to be innovative and surprise people. No one had used this theme in prior campaigns. This would bring the bus into positive territory and into everyday life. It would promote an array of opportunities to use the bus on several fronts throughout the campaign, thereby contributing to the integrated effort. Finally, we wanted to position the bus as a way to get around that was complementary to the car, depending on the need. 

b) Communication Strategy

The communication strategy had the goal of having people end up viewing the bus as an ally in everyday life, week after week, month after month, everywhere in Quebec City..  


The strategy multiplied the contact points to distribute the full range of unexpected reasons to take the bus, in the media and on the ground at the most popular local events, to generate a pounding effect and get the message home. Repeating the message everywhere gave it strength and impact.


This also aligned with the public relations and press initiatives of the RTC such as the announcement of the RTC Master Plan, communiqués on local public transit news, etc.


June was selected for the campaign launch because it was the start of a period that was appropriate for trying the bus for the first time or for the first time in a long time.

Footnote 6
Communauto is a Canadian company that saw the light of day in 1994 and is based in Montreal. It provides a car-sharing service in four Quebec cities: Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau and Sherbrooke.

a) Media Used

-       Television with local buys

-       Print:

  • Advertising: bus panels, interior and line or route signs on buses, bus shelters, cinemas, restaurants and bars
  • Local dailies (Le Soleil, Le Journal de Québec) and the local editions of specialized weeklies (Voir)

-       Local Radio

-       On the ground activities

-       Social Networks

-       The campaign site.

b) Creative Discussion

A bus ride is a bubble in time between two locations.  “Taking the time to think.” allowed us to drive home the message with each and everyone, by associating the bus with a truly desirable benefit. And we surprised people because the message had never been used in Quebec City, in the province or elsewhere. We gave ourselves a good chance of capturing positive attention and cutting short the neutral or negative perceptions.


To give it the leading role, the bus itself was the signature for all the campaign messages while its exclusive visual and audio codes were integrated in all of the executions. This included the typography, colours, the sound of a call for a stop, images of names and numbers of routes, etc. In this way we brought the bus out of the shadows so it could be its own positive spokesperson, month after month, throughout the city.

c) Media Discussion


Television was the mass driver of the campaign launch for six consecutive weeks, which included a respite of one week. Four 15-second messages were aired. 

Two messages put the focus on reasoning, “Taking the time to think”, were positioned as priorities during the first weeks of broadcast.

Buys were carried out for local broadcasts on the general networks (SRC, TVA and V) 70% in peak times on the most popular shows to get the best reach/frequency ratios of all the audience profiles.


Print (posters and ads in local daily and weekly newspapers):

Two groups of messages/reasons for taking the bus were distributed alternately throughout the five months of the campaign:

-       A series of generic messages/reasons were distributed around the dates of local events ($1.39 for a litre of gasoline, when we drink we don’t drive, texting and driving, learning Czech, not expensive for graduates, etc.);

-       A series of specific messages/reasons during each sizeable local event (getting to the Saint-Jean Baptiste celebrations, the Nouvelle-France Festival, the Summer Festival, to the shows by Madonna, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, the Bordeaux Wine Celebration, etc.).


Several approaches were carried out:

-       Posters: in shelters in all neighbourhoods served by buses, bus panels, the interior and route or line indicators on buses as well as in cinemas, bars and restaurants to get the most attention possible when people were out and about.

-       Local dailies (Le Soleil, Le Journal de Québec) and the local editions of a specialized weekly (Voir): full pages and half pages, black and white and four-colour with contextual placements (Actualités magazine for the generic messages/reasons and cultural supplements for the messages/reasons related to local events.



We had a presence on all the most-listened-to local stations, combining talk radio where the car-bus rivalry was hotly debated, and the music stations (NRJ, ROUGE, FM93, CFOM, CKOI).


Activities on the Ground:

In synergy, squads were deployed in targeted neighbourhoods, service points, companies and busy sites such as shopping centres and malls. The squads exchanged with people on the assets of buses and distributed information leaflets as well as free bus tickets.


Social Networks:

Social Networks were used in two ways: first of all to distribute the television messages on YouTube during the campaign to help the messages go viral; then to feed the conversation around the campaign messages/reasons in the RTC’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.


The campaign site:

We had to push the idea that the bus was at the leading edge of communication. The campaign did not redirect Web surfers to the RTC site, but rather, to a site that was identified as “le bus”. - a site where one could find the full range of messages/reasons.


This site was linked to the RTC site to facilitate in-depth information research because the RTC site was a portal that brought together all bus logistics information for Quebec City.

a) Sales/Share Results

+ 3.8% Ridership Increase at the end of 2012

-       Close to 1,700,000 additional riders/passengers vs. 2011, coming from all the different targeted profiles (students, workers, retirees, visitors, etc.), using single ride tickets and passes. And this in spite of the fact the RTC delayed the introduction of two new lines or routes until 2013, when its traffic or ridership objectives had been set taking into account the two new lines.

The increase of 3.8% (vs. the 4.5% initially planned) was a success because the available service was the same as in previous years when the traffic or ridership stagnated.  


Better Appreciation of the Bus

-       Taking the bus as a choice became the 1st reason given by respondents: 52% of riders vs. 43% in 2011, for a 9 point increase. (source: Post-campaign Léger Marketing, 2012).


More Positive Perception of the Bus

-       With 92% of people exposed to the campaign (source: Post-campaign Léger Marketing, 2012).

-       73% stated they were moved to reflecting on their use of the bus (source: Post-campaign Léger Marketing, 2012).

-       There were more conversations, in a positive sense, on the Social Networks: + 36% on Facebook, + 97% on Twitter and + 88% on YouTube compared with 2011.


Additionally, the campaign was well-rewarded on the publicity front.

-       The Cannes International Publicity Festival 2013: one television message was selected for the short list in the Film Category.

-       One Show 2013: a Merit Award, Television Category / Small Budget.

-       Marketing Awards 2013: three Gold Prizes, Television Single and Television Campaign / Small Budget categories.

-       Applied Arts 2013: three Prizes, Television Category.

-       Luzer Archive: two television messages among the Best Publicity 2012.

- one television message in the Top 5.

-       Créa 2013: one Publicity Prize - Television / Service, one Campaign Prize - Television, one Print Prize / Newspaper Campaign and one Campaign Poster Prize Exterior or Transit.

Francopub 2013: Prize “Serge Tougas Bursary”, Category Radio.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

The results obtained by the RTC at the end of 2012, following a five-month campaign and without the planned addition of two new lines, were recorded in a market recognized for its heavy use of the car, regardless of fluctuations in the cost of gas.

Statistics from the Quebec Auto Insurance Corporation (SAAQ) reveal an increase of 12% in the number of cars and light trucks in the Quebec City area between 2006 and 2011, while the population increased by only 6%. Now in Quebec City there are two cars for every three people of driving age.
This trend isn’t only found in the Quebec City region. According to La Presse last April 14th, the fleet of cars in the Greater Montreal Area has also increased twice as fast as the population during the same period. The figures are the same for the entire province.

Étienne Grandmont, Executive Director of Access to Viable Transportation (Accès transports viable) an organization that promotes active mass transit, attributes the “everything for a car” mindset to the urban-suburban sprawl. “Between 1971 and 2006, while the population in metropolitan census regions of Quebec grew by 62%, the surface area of living space ballooned by 261%,” said Mr. Grandmont.

“Thus, the more we increase the surface living area, the more cars we need. And the more cars we have, the more we feel justified in expanding the living area.

“In the Quebec City region, homes are being built farther and farther from the employment centres, Sainte-Foy and the National Assembly, which remain the same,” concluded Mr. Grandmont.  

In this perspective, it should be noted that bus and metro ridership in Montreal increased by 1.9% between 2011 and 2012, an increase which the Metropolitan Transit Corporation (STM) considers to be excellent. (

During the same period bus ridership in Quebec City increased by 3.8%. 

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:



The price of single bus tickets and passes increased by 2.8% on March 1st 2012. 

Distribution Changes:


Unusual Promotional Activity:


Other Potential Causes:

The period of the campaign deployment was the same as that in previous years.

The local events that generated significant movement of people were similar to those of previous years.