The 2003 GM bus ad. Image via rllayman on Flickr.

Every so often, someone marketing cars or car-related products decides to do so by mocking public transit. The latest example comes from an unexpected quarter: the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union.

Advertising that reinforces the tired cultural stereotype that bus riding is just for losers is nothing new. GM turned to the trope in 2003 with an ad characterizing all bus riders as “creeps & weirdos,” which resulted in a firestorm of controversy.  GM then pulled the ad.

Despite public transit drawing strongly from all income levels, there’s still a pervasive attitude in many communities that getting away from riding transit is a sign of affluence. Arlington, Virginia is not the kind of place you’d expect that, but even there it remains persistent in some quarters.

Arlington has built tremendous economic success over the past 35 years around its transit system, and is recognized as a national leader in smart growth. Unfortunately, the people running Arlington Community Federal Credit Union don’t seem to have gotten the message. The credit union, which serves Arlington County employees and residents, is running ads that perpetuate the anti-bus attitude:


Image from Arlington Community Federal Credit Union.


The Arlington credit union seems to be missing the boat in more ways than one. Their two branch locations are nowhere near Metro, which seems odd considering so many Arlington employees work within blocks of the Court House Metro station. Space near Metro may be more expensive, but shouldn’t Arlington’s own credit union set a good example? Shouldn’t it locate near its customers in the county government, which are intentionally clustered around Metro? More importantly, why would Arlington’s own credit union advertise in ways that undermine Arlington’s significant investments promoting alternative transportation?

This may seem like a minor issue, but eliminating anti-transit cultural stereotypes is important in the fight to change how Americans think about cities. ACFCU should rethink this misguided campaign.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.