Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Our tax dollars at work

This morning's commute was a prime example of government waste and PR cluelessness.

The first indication of the MBTA's new blunder was the MBTA employee insistently shoving a flyer into every passerby at the underground ticket area in North Station.  Since he seemed so intent on getting the flyer into people's hands, I stopped and took one from him.  It was the orange one in the picture to the right.  I quickly digested the contents; a quick re-hash of the MBTA's slogan since 9/11, "If you see something, say something."  Since it was nothing new, I thoughtfully deposited my copy in the trash, noting that a great deal of my fellow commutants were far less considerate, as the turnstile area was littered with discarded flyers.

It wasn't until I reached Back Bay that I realized this was more than the usual MBTA make-the-commuter-feel-safe handouts.  This was apparently a full-fledged, alert-the-press and press-the-flesh media event for the MBTA, because as I topped the escalator and passed through the turnstile, I nearly tripped over a photographer who was taking pictures of Mayor Menino as he was handing out this flyer as well.  Politely declining the proffered flyer, I paused briefly to snap a pic, and headed off to work.

On the way into North Station during my commute home, I realized that I would probably want to write this post about why, in this time of financial uncertainty, the MBTA would spring for 4-color, tri-fold, heavy stock flyers to hand out to simply repeat the "If you see something, say something" slogan that Boston has been inundated with since 9/11, so I stopped by the ticket window to snag a flyer.

I pulled up short, however, when I reached the window.  What's this?  A red flyer?  Weren't the flyers orange this morning?  Maybe these red ones are old ones, and the orange ones contain new information, hence they are handing them out to commuters.  But a quick look inside both amazed me.

The content of both flyers was, for all practical purposes, identical.  The same layout, the same bullet points, the same saccharine sentiments from Dan Grabauskas on the back.  Could they really have done this?  Months of news articles about how the MBTA is swimming in debt, that they going to have to not only raise fares, but cut back on services to stay in business, and they went and printed up two different 4-color, double-sided, heavy stock, matte-coated flyers?  To tell us the same damn simple-minded slogan that they've been hammering into us since 9/11?  How many different committee meetings did it take to decide how many and of what ethnicity should be represented by the people in the photographs?  How much was spent on a design firm to decide on the right color scheme for the flyers?  How much was spent on the on-location photo shoots to get just the right lighting for the "suspicious packages" left in innocent locations at commuter locations?  How much was spent on the crafting of the bullet points and the words of care and concern from Grabauskas?

This was an opportunity for the MBTA to score a PR homerun.  They could have churned out this same PSA with black and white laser printer output, and put an explantory paragraph on it saying that in order to save money, this message was being done on the cheap instead of with slick, 4-color flyers.  What a collossal waste of my money.

I guess I should be glad of one thing.  Seeing as Mayor Menino was handing out flyers at Back Bay before business hours, at least they weren't paying an MBTA PR flack overtime to do it.

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