Friday, May 16, 2008

New Jersey PATH Shut-out in Public Transportation Branding Romp

"If you're old enough to ride the subway, you're old enough to brag about it! Your toddlers can declare the MTA allegiance with one of these simple yet stylish t-shirts. Available in sizes 2T, 3T and 4T. New York City Subway Line designs are printed on heavyweight 100% cotton short sleeve tee shirts. Each is devoted to one of NYCs famous train lines, and has the NYC Subway Line logo printed on the back."
- New York Transit Museum online store

The New York Subway, despite its filthy stations, crowded cars, interminable repairs, and unpredictable waits, has a built a potent brand image. The rainbow of icons that represent the various alphabetical and numerical lines have slowly transformed into a fleet of high impact identity badges. This family of circles now appears as a group or individually on umbrellas, apparel, and even condoms. No matter how frustrated we may be when a train unexpectedly goes express, or when the indecipherable garble of the loud speaker fails to deliver pressing travel information, we continue to celebrate the cute subway circles and the friendly yet authoritative Helvetican characters that inhabit them. The subway lines are like small candy-coated chocolates one might toss in the air and catch in one’s mouth.

The New Jersey PATH train has not been so lucky in the branding department. Carrying 242,000 passengers across state lines every weekday, and completing 71.6 million passenger trips in 2007, New Jersey’s PATH train is a major league public transportation player in New York’s metropolitan area. And yet, its logo is a branding effort derailed. While the PATH sports a handsome “P” made of arrows (signifying movement of a commuter to and from), the truncated italics don’t connote movement and progress so much as they suggest…Arena League Football. This effect is magnified given that “New Jersey PATH” recalls the collective singular noun team names that predominate in the most unfortunate professional sports leagues, such as the AFL, Major League Lacrosse, and Major League Soccer. Their singular nouns employ the aggression and transitive verbage more commonly found in energy drink brands: the Colorado Crush, the Detroit Fury, and the Georgia Force. Below I have put together a selection of these team logos to illustrate the eerie similarity to our beloved PATH train. Gooooooo PATH!

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