Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The changing colors of the MTA

There is little continuity in the way how Baltimore buses have been painted over time. Under the old local transit company streetcars and buses had the same two tone solid green scheme. When the MTA was created the brand color switched to blue and looked very similar to New York's MTA. The blue was also used on the subway cars and on light rail. Bus Stop signs were blue and so were the pylons signifying the Metro stops. Not a very striking theme, but it tied all the modes together.

New  MTA Local Link bus wraps: The Maryland flag motif
Then things went on an ever more rapidly changing cycle of new schemes that were randomly applied to buses and light rail vehicles without much consideration of the brand identity of the overall system or overhauling the service instead of the colors.

The buses lost their blue and were just white with black stripes and a waving Maryland flag slapped above the rear wheel wells. Then that still somewhat plausible scheme went by the wayside as well to give way to a completely generic scheme of blue and green waves that had no local connection.
New MTA City Link bus wraps

Now all of this goes out the window for Baltimore Link which comes in two flavors, one for City Link and one for Local Link. Of the total of 750 buses about 250 will be colored as City Link, the premier routes that will be color coded with 12 different colors. The bus wraps are manually applied by a vendor in the bus maintenance shops which takes a bus out of service for a minimum of 12 hours. The about 6,500 bus stop signs also will get a color coordinated make-over. Some of the new signs have already been mounted with a temporary "bag" sign covering the new signs up with the current route info. The colors for light rail vehicles are yet to be applied. I suppose that will come as part of the midlife overhaul that the trains are undergoing. The design of the new Metro cars has not been presented.

The new buses look livelier and less dull than the mostly white designs before, but the vinyl wraps applied over top of the white paint somehow lack the crispness of real paint and don't quite stack up with the new MTA buses in New York, the new WMATA bus colors or those in Seattle, all of which use large splashes of strong identifiable colors.
Baltimore bus company buses

How much color can brand a transit system is known from London's red buses. They have been this way and pretty much remained that way, in spite of silly black "eye patches" that showed up on recent models.

The matter of bus branding looks simple enough, but it isn't. A really convincing graphic design needs first rate professional designers, it can't be done by committee.

In the end, though, what will matter most is whether the new Link bus system will run more efficiently, more on-time and with more predictability after the new system will go into effect during the night of June 17, 2017.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore streetcar colors: Matching mode branding

MTA buses in the seventies: Blue fronts and stripes

MTA blue stripe buses lasted for decades

The last MTA high floor buses with the flag emblem over the rear wheel

The generic blue-green waves, the most recent overhaul before Link

new bus colors WMATA

New bus colors London

Forever yellow: Stuttgart's transit picking up State and City flag colors

New NYC MTA buses

1 comment:

  1. Three things:
    1 - Perhaps the most cohesive and longest lived effort to create a brand was the "Flying T" of 1971. Initially its colors were a dominant light blue with complementing chartreuse green, and everything was modeled after this scheme. Buses were attired in it (such as in your Howard Street shot), while full time bus stops were signed in blue and part time stops signed in green. Timetables even came in 3 paper colors - white for crosstown and feeder, and blue and green for each side of the thru-radial routes going through Downtown. While the colors may not have had the flag-related historical colors or red, black, and yellow (which was used for the Downtowner buses), they worked well, and the scheme generally lasted for 10 years, before being simplified to a dark blue and white that lasted another 5 before the angular MTA logo debuted in 1986, as seen in your shot of the Artic bus.

    2 - The green and cream bus is actually a McMahon bus, not the direct descendant of today's MTA, but rather a smaller private operator of service out to Cockeysville and Perry Hall absorbed in 1973. The BTC buses wore a two-toned green scheme, often complemented by a white or silver tone depending on the model that was more reflective of the standards of the parent company National City Lines.

    3 - The Streetcar pic you show, nice as it is, is of a Philadelphia trolley.