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Metra Rail branding doesn’t really fly

August 4, 2010 - 1:07 pm

metra_logoOk. So a new brand for Chicago’s commuter rail won’t necessarily make the trains run on-time, and its probably pretty far down the list of priorities for the troubled transit agency. After all, they have a massive and aging infrastructure to maintain and upgrade, very high labor and liability costs, and are forever struggling to obtain federal and state funding. This would no doubt explain why the Metra brand still looks like this.

But come on, is this really the way that Metra wants to portray itself here in the 21st century? Sure, the whole thing is rendered in italic, which represents MOTION. (set in either Friz Quadrata or Crillee) And sure, the logo is UNDERLINED to give it more importance (and perhaps to represent a train platform). And you can almost hear Ben Stein saying the tagline, “The way to really fly.” Is it REALLY the way to really fly? Not really.

rta_cta_metra_paceThis is too bad, really, because Metra has a great story to tell, and has the potential to increase ridership and gain significant numbers of new customers as Chicagoland drivers become increasingly disgusted with congested expressways and 2-hour commutes. Not that long ago, Pace (the Suburban Chicago area transit agency under the Regional Transportation Authority) was able to pull off a moderately successful upgrade to its brand. But considering the fact that all of these agencies are under the same governing authority, are supposedly interconnected physical systems serving the same general purpose in the Chicago region (transit), one would think there would be some effort made to portray these different brands as parts of a whole.

Of the three brands (CTA, Metra, and Pace), the Metra logo is obviously the outlier, and most in need of attention. Its also unclear, by the way, why the RTA itself needs such a graphical logo in the first place. This disjointed brand architecture could be the result of these four agencies having grown up separately as insular silos that don’t get along well, having to compete with one another for resources.

Who knows. But from a customer perspective, a person needing to get from point A to point B, the Metra brand sure doesn’t convey itself as part of the well-oiled machine that is, or should be, mass-transit in Chicago. Can someone help them get their brand house in order? Please?

(Update: Changed title and added links not included in original post)



Chris Hartman

August 5, 2010 1:07 pm

In the mid 1990s the various transportation agencies and formerly private companies providing transit in and around New York City were all brought under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority brand. Nowadays they all share the same blue circular MTA logo, followed by the name of the sub-agency in Helvetica, also in blue. For example, [LOGO] New York City Subway or [LOGO] Long Island Rail Road.

In Boston, it’s even simpler. Bus, subway, trolley, commuter rail, and ferries are all under a single agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or MBTA, denoted by the classic T in a circle logo. Colloquially, however, referring to “The T” means you are talking only about the subway/trolley system. The colloquial terms for the bus, commuter rail, and ferry systems are generic: “bus,” “commuter rail,” “ferry.” The bus and commuter rail are also distinguished from the four subway/trolley lines by color: yellow for bus and purple for commuter rail.

I imagine that of the four Chicagoland agencies, the RTA has the weakest brand, since apparently no one actually “rides the RTA.” If the goal is to raise the profile of the RTA since that is the body that is actually having to go to voters to get funding and to get bond issues approved and so forth, you could follow New York’s lead and go with a single RTA logo followed by text denoting the particular system you’re talking about. Of course, that means probably dumping the colloquial brand names “CTA” and “Metra”, which could be confusing, if not emotionally wrenching for people.

How about harmonizing the three sub-agencies’ logos… so that they all used the same basic shape and typeface? Color could vary if desired. And then somehow add the “Regional Transit Authority” name to the logo somehow? It would be a challenge, to be sure.


August 6, 2010 1:07 pm

Thanks for the comment. Either of the examples you cite here are preferable to the situation in Chicago with the RTA and its sub-agencies; in that there is some effort apparent in developing a system and brand hierarchy. Here we have four brands with nothing visually in common.

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