The Oregon road user charge program, OReGo, has a huge challenge. It is leading the nation in implementing a road user charge program, one that is often hard to understand for people accustomed to paying a per-gallon tax at the gas pump.
And in researching ways to connect with their customers, the team at OReGO came to a realization.
“People just don’t get road user charging when you write about it,” said Michelle Godfrey, education and outreach coordinator with the Oregon Department of Transportation, in a recent phone interview.
What people need, Godfrey said, is storytelling. They need a way to have a conversation. And the outreach campaign in support of this new road user charge program, according to Godfrey, needed to answer a single specific question that should very much resonate with anyone working in transportation communications: “What matters to people?”
Said another way … “What’s in it for me?”
I was on the phone with Godfrey because a recent video series, Keep Oregon Connected, posted by Oregon DOT on YouTube had caught my attention. The main video was a rare find in the world of transportation communications. It was filled with people – their faces, and pets and children. The people in the video are shown using the transportation system to visit family or explore Oregon’s natural environment. The narration covers ground that transportation experts have heard many times, but the images and background music help create an emotional connection that draws in the viewer. The video has garnered nearly 11,400 views since it was posted in early August.
Godfrey explained that everything in the video was carefully considered to strategically evoke a sense of “Oregonians talking to Oregonians.” She said the video, and the outreach program, is trying to address peoples’ connection to roads and why they matter.
And according to focus group research, “In Oregon, people view their roads as a connection with family and friends … the roads represent a sense of freedom,” she said.
The video is “absolutely the centerpiece” of the OReGo campaign, which includes a web site and collateral materials, as well as social media and in-person events. The outreach team has been to the state fair, and other special events in the last few months, a strategy that will continue through the next year.
Many research reports have shown how opposed most people are to the road user charge concept when they first hear about it. But the opposition wanes somewhat when people actually learn about what road user charge is and how it works.
That’s why Oregon’s focus on people and what transportation means to those people seems like a sound approach.