I have recently wrapped up a six month journey that I started at the end of November, 2011 when I submitted a campaign proposal for an innovative project around stories, specifically, rider stories from everyday users of public transit in BC. It was a dream project because there was no template and I really went for it and designed a Transmedia campaign that had a lot of bells and whistles (cyphers, story capture maps, story device treasure hunts on bus routes) that in the end, got left on the props table for another show, but what did go forward and succeed was an exciting place of discovery where rider stories found a ‘voice’ online. For several months, it was my pleasure to wake up each morning and find a new story submitted from an everyday rider who took a particular route in with her reading buddies or a young student who had a driver that gave her daily kudos or drivers who were changing people’s lives everyday for the better.
Transit often gets a bad rap. The fact is, there are profound experiences going on in the bus community and every route has its own culture, and the stories contained within are important to the fabric of that community.
One day while I was filming on a bus in Nanaimo, just shooting from the driver’s perspective and hanging out with Dale, a bus driver for 17 years, I had turned to put my equipment down and a man shouted at me from the back of the bus: “Hey! I know you!” I turned around to see if he was talking to someone else. Nope. It was me he was yelling at. I was wearing a Transit Hero shirt I’d made for the campaign and he had recognized it. He came forward, and with him came a few more people. They sat around me and immediately started telling me stories about their lives, with the bus experience woven in here and there. It was an extraordinary moment. All the reasons I had wanted to do the campaign–to profile community, to hear ‘real’ stories, to get a sense of who the ridership was–were realized in this moment as I chatted to this small group. One of the women said, “Why don’t you get more buses on this route? I’m always late for my bus then have to wait a long time.” In my naivete, I gently suggested that a rider’s best tool is the bus schedule and planning ahead. She looked me in the eye and gave me a long stare I will never forget and flatly said, “I’m broken.”
I felt ashamed at my simplistic answer to clearly, a complex and challenging situation for this rider. As her story unfolded I realized just how important public transit was to these people and how they depended on their bus community to support one another. Bill, another talkative rider, was telling me such great stories I asked him if I could turn the camera on him for a moment? He agreed and I was thrilled because to be honest, a lot of the interviews at that point in the campaign weren’t spontaneous rider stories and this was a chance to just get a live, unedited, honest snapshot into someone’s reasons for taking, and his feelings about, public transit.
As Bill says, the bus isn’t always a direct route; it is more about the conversations and people you meet along the way that make up the story of transit.
A funny thing has happened with this campaign and that is that riders are still submitting stories, long after advertising has stopped, and winners of the Hero Rewards were announced. That is an exciting development to watch because for a story architect, it’s like building a bridge and not knowing if it will be used or not: will storytellers come across? To see that not only did they use the media to share their stories, they continue to, for no reward, no recognition, no reason other than to share their experience.
That one action is why I do what I do: Bridge builder, hand-holder at the edge of story, translator, conduit. It is has been a privilege to have been a part of this process and I am thankful to BC Transit for taking a risk and trusting me with this design. I’m pleased to see their faith paid off when they were recently recognized with the CUTA award in the category of marketing and communications for the Transit Hero campaign.
As we gave out our own Hero Rewards the other day to some amazing storytellers, Tess Wixted and Tara Coultier, I was so elated to see the campaign idea come to its full realization as they accepted their awards with huge smiles and some new technology in their hands to read and create stories with.
I’m onto a new story project now, working with the British Columbia visitor centres on connecting the IRL (in real life) visitor with their digital stories. I can’t wait to discover the travel stories and I hope I can, once again, provide digital bridges for storytellers.