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Can Good Design Lead to Good Deeds in Auto Obsessed L.A.?

For 10 years now, Michael Lejeune, Creative Director for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (M.T.A.), has made taking transit in L.A. seem a lot cooler. These re-branding efforts have contributed to a 38 percent increase in ridership since 2005.
November 1, 2012, 8am PDT | Erica Gutiérrez
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As Los Angeles' car culture flourished, public transit in the city became somewhat of a pariah -- that is, until Michael Lejeune stepped in. Armed with a small legion of writers, photographers and creatives, at 49, Mr. Lejeune "began chipping away at the blind spot he perceived" in how Angelenos thought about public transit, reports Azadeh Ensha. "Unless you had to take public transportation, the majority of people thought that's not for me," said Lejeune in a recent interview.

For Lejeune, giving public transit a face-lift, at least in the public eye, meant making it seem friendlier and even playful, to appeal to more potential riders, says Ensha. He started with a basic name change, "Metropolitan Transit Authority? Oh, please. Just say Go Metro." He also targeted neighborhoods like Crenshaw and West Hollywood, using personalized slogans such as, "Crenshaw just got Rapid" and "Ride with Pride."

"Mr. Lejeune and company are also responsible for the M.T.A.'s billboards, mobile applications, public arts program, television commercials, merchandising and even the office security badges," writes Ensha. They even re-painted white buses into eye-catching reds and "California Poppy" oranges. The results have been astonishing, "with discretionary ridership [rising] 8 percent" after the initial 18 months of advertising, and rail ridership increasing 38 percent since 2005, according to the mayor's office.

So, how does Mr. Lejeune feel about his regular morning commute on the L.A. Gold Line today? "I read and I pay bills and I work and I talk to people," Mr. Lejeune said. "I used to drive two hours a day, so this job is karma for me." It looks like it's good karma for all Angelenos.

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Published on Friday, October 26, 2012 in The New York Times
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