Photo of a new billboard by John Greenfield. 

My Streetsblog Chicago partner John Greenfield writes about Metra’s new push to get more riders: free tickets.

The transit agency will be giving away two free tickets to any destination in the system to 500 people per week for fourteen weeks – a total of 14,000 tickets, good for the next 90 days. The recipients, who must be 18 or over, will be randomly chosen from those who register at

While there doesn’t seem to be any method for preventing current Metra riders from scoring free tickets, the hope is that the lion’s share of the winners will be newbies. To promote the giveaway to people who currently commute by car, the agency is spending roughly $390,000 on marketing, including billboards visible from expressways and radio spots in English and Spanish following traffic reports and gas price updates, as well as Internet advertising. The billboards emphasize the financial, time-saving and relaxation benefits of making the switch.

It’s about time that Metra got serious with its marketing and used messages that actually sell the service. Focusing on the kind of marketing that actually convinces customers – of any product or service – is the right move. That focus? Our product costs less than the alternative.

Metra’s current marketing consists of boring-looking billboards on its tracks as they cross expressways with things like, “Fly to work”, “We’re on time, are you?”, and “Easy come, easy go” (what does that even mean?).

There was no call to action, and no information for drivers to respond to immediately (or when their call is stuck in bumper to bumper traffic).

An example billboard over the Kennedy Expressway, south of Grand Avenue. This sign says “Easy come, easy go”.