At Port Authority, 'gold standard' is old standard

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When the Port Authority adopted the "gold standard" as a new corporate theme in 1998, it ballyhooed the color as akin to the black-and-gold of the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins. And the gold of the Golden Triangle.

It celebrated by rolling out a gold-painted minibus at a ceremony at Gateway High School in Monroeville, where goldfish swam in glass bowls and a gold treasure chest spilled over with candy wrapped in gold foil.

Now that the nation's 15th-largest transit agency is in the red, as in deficit, and facing the most troubling financial challenge in its 42-year history, it is abandoning the gold standard.

The biggest sign of a marketing change from riches to rags came this week, when its longtime Web site, www.ridegold.com, automatically switched computer users to a parallel site, www.portauthority.org.

In addition, www.portauthority.org has been totally redesigned and no longer displays references or logos symbolic of the gold standard.

"It's much cleaner and easier to navigate," marketing and communications manager Judi McNeil said. "All work on the site was done in-house. It has all the bells and whistles to help impaired people."

The "cost calculator" is a new, easy-to-use feature that shows new and existing riders how much money they save by abandoning their cars and riding public transit. It can be found under "Fares and Passes."

Ms. McNeil attributed the new marketing plan more to changes in leadership and direction than to the authority's budget situation, which she said was a recurring problem well before the 1998 campaign was launched.

"This is just getting back to the basics," she said. "It was time, with a new chief executive officer, with new people on the board and with new plans."

The new approach quietly started this summer with the arrival of the first of 90 new buses. The exteriors no longer sport quirky looks, such as gold swooshes, words like "ride" and "go" and sayings of "welcome to the neighborhood" in 13 languages. They now have a single identifying logo: "Port Authority."

As a result of such a variety of decorations, the authority had to keep numerous decals in stock. Replacing them proved especially time-consuming and expensive when windows had to be changed out.

No wholesale repainting of the 1,000-bus fleet is in store. Rather, when buses are repaired, they'll return to streets with the standard design and uniform color of the new Gillig buses, without frills.

Ms. McNeil said the authority will continue to use stationery, business cards and other items bearing the gold standard logo until the current stock is gone.

Old promotions also included public appearances by "Gold Pan Dan," a character costumed as a prospector of the mid-1800s Gold Rush era. The costume has been placed in storage.

"Gold Pan Dan has retired," Ms. McNeil said.


Joe Grata can be reached at jgrata@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.


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