Transit Commuters Are Stinking Low-Lifes, Subaru Tells Transit Commuters

Think transit commuters are unwashed, uncouth bums? Subaru does. And the carmaker doesn’t mind telling them so.

In recent Canadian editions of Metro — the free daily distributed at transit stops — Subaru ran a two-page spread spouting just about every negative transit, and transit rider, stereotype you can think of. The ad was brought to our attention by Sabrina Lau Texier, a transportation planner in Vancouver.

“While you’re sitting on public transit, just imagine your commute in a new Subaru Impreza,” the copy reads. “No weird smells, no overhearing awful music, and nobody asking you for spare change.” Classy.

On the first page are “coupons” for an “odour free ride to work” (nothing but that carcinogenic new car smell), “less chance of being asked for money” (except by Subaru and Exxon), savings on “obligatory transit conversations with coworkers” (down with human interaction!), “free confidence” (for $19,995), and our favorite: “half off arbitrary and inexplicable transit delays.” As opposed to the gridlock-free ride we can expect if we all ditch transit to drive a Subaru to the office — alone, of course, to avoid those unpleasant conversations with co-workers.

The ad implies that the Impreza has a better safety rating than transit. Canada had 6.5 traffic fatalities and 500 injuries per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the latest available figures.

Think the folks at Subaru don’t know transit ridership is booming, and not because commuters just need to be sold on “symmetrical full-time All-Wheel Drive”? Ads like this one, as Lau Texier puts it, are “a desperate attempt to stay relevant for an industry with declining sales.”

Maybe a campaign based on the premise that your target audience is a bunch of losers is not the most winning strategy.

  • guest

    This is not worth wringing your hands over. Just folks trying to make some money.

  • Who’s wringing their hands? This Subaru campaign is just spectacularly tone-deaf, ripe for mockery, and good for a laugh.

  • Jared Rodriguez

    You can also insulate yourself from anyone that’s too dark a shade! Buy one get one free! Hooray!

  • Joe R.

    Here’s my alternative version:

    “While you’re sitting in your new Subaru Impreza, just imagine your commute on public transit. No weird exhaust smells, no overhearing awful horns, no gasoline pump asking you for spare change, and no inexplicable rubber-necking delays.”

  • Mark Walker

    The ad is playing on the misperception that going from transit to driving is a step up, a social promotion. A possible counter campaign would point out the many ways in which the decision to drive impoverishes the driver and wrecks the built environment, making it dysfunctional for any purpose but driving (and sometimes not even for that). The health consequences alone are scary.

  • donald rainwater

    a monthly metro card is $112. the base model of this car, minus gas, tax, insurance, parking, tickets and maintenance is $20,000. 20,000 / 112 = 178 months or over 14 years.

    anyone who is capable of falling for an ad like this isn’t very bright.

  • HighNoon

    Oh, the things that are justified by “folks trying to make some money.” I hope you take that view with individuals and laborers, like you do with car companies.

  • Bolwerk

    What’s this I smell? Desperation?

    This is really great, and I hope we see it more often. Forget for a second that even the stereotypes would only resonate with the Boomer generation, they’re basically insulting all the economically vulnerable (or jobless), transit-dependent, educated twenty- and thirtysomethings who might, in a few decades, be able to actually afford a car.

  • Joe B

    I think this ad is pretty sleazy.

    At the same time, I wish that transit were more comfortable, cleaner, less stinky, more reliable, less crowded, and quieter. We’re not doing ourselves any favors by painting a picture of transit that’s far rosier than reality.

  • Bolwerk

    If we don’t defer transit maintenance, how are we going to afford roads for the nice Subaru drivers?

  • Driver

    These stereotypes are ridiculous. Everyone knows the subways are always clean and pleasant.

  • Driver

    Yes, but in your Subaru, there are (most likely) no stinky homeless people, no piss corners, no dirty tunnel smell or brake dust, no rowdy schoolkids, no squealing steel on steel sounds, no psychotic people, no gropers, and if someone wants to sit in the car next to you with their dick out, you probably won’t see it.

  • Jeff

    I got a chuckle out of some ZipCar ads I saw on the Subway which depicted people carrying absurd items (canoes, drumsets, etc.) on mass transit, with the tagline, “sometimes you just need a car.” Because, hey, all modes of transportation have their time and place, right?

    Or you could play on social class divisions. That works, too, I suppose.

  • FWIW, they pulled that after a lot of similar criticism. (I was one of the critics, and I got a response from them pretty quickly.)

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t the issue that they portraying driving as some amazing, utopian experience that doesn’t have its own downsides? Like, oh, I don’t know:

    – getting stuck in horrendous traffic sucking exhaust fumes

    – continually getting angry and frustrated with other drivers (and those pesky pedestrians and cyclists always trying to take away your “right” to the road)

    – being at risk for being of the millions maimed or killed in auto accidents every year (often by distracted or drunk drivers) … and if you have kids, exposing them to their #1 killer

    – getting fatter and sicker as you sit on your butt barely moving your arms and feet

    – spending more time completely isolated from human contact

    – paying thousands of dollars more per year than taking pubic transit.

    – and literally killing the planet

    So if we’re going to be honest about transit, let’s be honest about cars. In doing so, I think it’s pretty easy to see how transit is a much better deal.

  • voltairesmistress

    Has anyone noticed the number of car ads that feature pedestrians and bicyclists looking benevolently on car drivers? There’s one where a line of cyclists give the high five to a startled driver. Another where beautiful rainbow colored strings stream from cars along a park-like street in a mythical Detroit, all the while dog walkers et al. look on with appreciation. Not like the reality of drivers failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, driving too fast to stop for the unexpected, being aggressive toward cyclists, etc.

  • Anonymous

    I see this as a good sign. It is a sign that for perhaps the first time in a long time, automakers are actually scared of public transit in North America.

  • Anonymous

    Yup. The ZipCar ads are tastefully done, and actually make sense.

    Of course, it helps that ZipCar is a more socially responsible, environmentally friendly, and most importantly, far cheaper, alternative than the 1 car/person status quo.

    The only issue with ZipCar is it isn’t everywhere yet.

  • btpayson

    my quick note to Subaru. You can also contact them here:


    Hello there.

    I recently read about Subaru advertising in Canada that is discouraging use of mass transit. As a Subaru owner and ardent lover of my Legacy, I wanted to express my concern over this advertising. In my crew of guys, 8 of 10 drive Subaru’s because we love the outdoors, we love the mountains, and we need wagons to pack all our gear. It’s like a Subaru posee when a couple are parked outside our ski cabin (of course we carpool because that’s somewhat more environmental0. But I did want to point out one thing — we are all equally ardent mass transit riders. As much as we love our cars, we love the ease of urban mass transit. We are environmentalist at heart, which i imagine is common across a higher percentage of Subaru owners than other cars (even though it’s totally hypocritical to be a true environmentalist and still own a car).

    I’d encourage you to reconsider this advertising campaign as i think it is counter to your target audience (do you really want urbanites to get out of mass transit and into a car, or do you just want them to get out and enjoy their car exploring somewhere outside the urban jungle). Your ads about the guy with his dog, wife and family growing old with their car, the mud ladden cars, and adventure promoting convey an emotional attachment to the Subbies and are much more representative of your brand.

    I hope you can reconsider your Canadian advertising.

  • Ian Turner

    I would amend that to read, *some* zipcar advertising is tastefully done.

    And then there’s this:

    And this:

  • Joe R.

    True, but when you look at all the negatives of car use in urban areas, I’ll take everything on your list hands in a heartbeat. I happen to like the sounds trains make, including squealing on curves. And I’ve only encountered most of the things on your list a handful of times, even though I used to ride the subways back when things were much worse.

    Never saw anyone on the trains with their dick out. I did see a few people with it in their partner, however. Who cares? Inappropriate, yes, but if they want to put on a show it’s their business.

    I was only groped once, ironically on a NJ Transit train.

  • Ryan Brady

    Excellent restraint. My quick note would just read:

    Hello there.

    Fuck you.

    Someone who will never by a Subaru

  • Joe R.

    Eww, that’s nasty! Look, I know sometimes nature calls, but can’t these people get out at the next stop and discreetly do their business in the far corner of the station. Still gross, but at least you’re not stinking up an entire car, or leaving your droppings where others might sit on them. How the heck did he wipe his behind? Gross, no other word for it.

  • davistrain

    Transit riders who (for whatever reason) do want a car are much more likely to buy a third-hand clunker than a new Subaru (or other brand). Indeed, back in the old days (1950s) the availability of thoroughly depreciated vehicles for $100 to $200 was one of the factors leading to the demise of most trolley lines. No smog checks and no expensive repair parts either.

  • SubaruFan

    Wow, you must be a typical New Yorker. So let’s see – you want to go outside of your big city to the nature? You know, like say camping in upstate NY? Or perhaps New England? Just see how far your Metro card will get you there. Or skiing? Or perhaps just carrying heavy loads like moving? I’d pay to see you move from place to place using only your Metro card.

    I hate living in a large city and I love my car which incidentally is a Subaru. I’ve taken public transit in larger cities such as NY and Boston before and I hated it with a passion. That goes especially for NYC. It was dirty, barely anybody spoke English and there were tons of characters I would prefer not seeing on my daily commute. I do NOT want to communicate with these people.

    As for the idiot who posted this amazing pearl of wisdom that this is all “a desperate attempt to stay relevant for an industry with declining sales” I would highly recommend taking a look at Subaru sales in the past few years. They more than DOUBLED and keep on growing. How’s that for desperate?

  • Bolwerk

    Is there a point to that at all besides shocking people with a picture of someone pooping? I’m sure I could find pictures of drivers pooping next to their cars or pissing on things. Hell, Rule 34 pretty much dictates there is porn of that.

    Nobody said the transit doesn’t have problems with cleanliness. However, thumbing your nose at transit users for being dirty, smelly, and poor is chauvinist.

  • Andrew

    You do realize, I trust, that cars can be rented? No need to own a car for an occasional out-of-town trip if there’s a better way to make far-more-common local trips.

    If you you don’t like New York, then I’m glad you left. More room for the rapidly growing numbers who like it.

  • Unlike driving a car, when I take transit I can use my iPad or iPhone to read news, listen to whatever music I want, while not worrying about other drivers who are going to run their car into mine, and since the Chicago Transit Authority added more buses to the busiest routes, the bus got a lot less crowded.

    And the bus came with a free bike rack!

  • Bolwerk

    OMFG, how scary! Characters! History lesson: it used to be trivial to get out of the city to enjoy some nature on foot, or at worst by interurban. Then we decided to “develop” the natural spaces nearby cities because chauvinists like SubaruFan wanted more room to park. Priorities, right?

    Though, in all fairness, @f5438de041646189f9ca1ee7a62ba01e:disqus, I really doubt the MC will stay that cheap. The good news it will still be cheaper to just rent a car when you need one to do the stuff SubaruFan talks about than to own a car outright in the ‘burbs.

  • Bolwerk

    no dirty tunnel smell or brake dust,… no squealing steel on steel sounds, no psychotic people

    Have you ever driven outside of Hazard County? Seriously, @SB_Driver:disqus’s comment is just someone groping (har) for a rationalization. Certainly, if you are a frequent biker or pedestrian, you would know how wrong you are about the lack of “psychotic people” behind the wheel. And I don’t mean just the usual harmless crazy people you occasionally encounter on the subway, but actual sociopaths who see other human beings as nothing more than objects obstructing their paths.

    Plus, you can hardly pretend there isn’t brake dust and other particulates that result from driving. It ain’t subways that are responsible for probably most local air quality problems. It’s cars.

  • Bolwerk

    Nobody is ever groped in suburban parking lots or subterranean garages, either, obviously. And when they are held up at knifepoint, it’s ALWAYS because some brutha took the bus in to rob ’em. There is absolutely no antisocial behavior surrounding driving. None at all!

    Seriously: transit and subways are also safer than driving yourself. It’s not an argument carheads are going to win.

  • My wife’s commute improved when she ditched transit and switched to using a private vehicle. It’s faster, more flexible, more fun, and healthier. She rides an electric bike.

  • Bolwerk

    Concur Ian Turner’s point. I wouldn’t say they’re environmentally friendly, either. They’re….an improvement. A big one, over 100% car dependency anyway.

  • Joe R.

    You totally lost me at the “perhaps just carrying heavy loads like moving” part. I mean seriously, how often do people move? When they do, they just rent a moving van, or pay the movers to do everything for them. This is like saying I should own an airliner for the few times in my life I might fly. For that matter, if all a city dweller might do with their car is take camping trips once or twice a month, they’re far better off just renting a car instead of owning one. And you do know Amtrak can get you near quite a few wonders of nature, don’t you? Maybe not all the way there, but often close enough to go the rest of the way by bike, or by local public transit (if it exists).

    The irony here is 75 years ago you could go a lot more places by public transit than now. It’s thanks to people like you buying private cars that a lot of public transit went under. Remember quite a few people can’t physically drive, or can’t afford to drive, or just plain don’t want to drive. These people are growing in number, and need decent alternatives. I look forward to the day when people say I’m getting rid of my car because I just can’t go as many places in it as I can by train.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll second that. No shortage of people who would love to live in NYC. Anyone who really hates it should leave.

  • Miles Bader

    What’s truly obnoxious is that these ads are not just tone-deaf and slimy, many of their claims are simply false—no way is driving safer or more reliable than a good transit system (scheduling and grade-separation have advantages…).

    Hmmm… aren’t there laws about truth in advertising…?

  • I expect used car dealers to use more of such strategy (but they don’t have as much ad budget). Competition for new cars isn’t really transit but mostly cars already on the road.

  • GuestCommenter

    This seems like an act of desperation.

  • Wanderer

    It’s obnoxious and annoying and factually wrong. But it shows that they’re afraid of us. It reminds me of the ads GM ran a few years back where they photoshopped a headsign saying “Creeps and Weirdos” onto a Vancouver city bus.

  • Anonymous

    I wish I had known that you were paying people to watch them move. I just moved at the beginning of the month and I did it all with a couple of friends and a skateboard.

  • guest

    I don’t see how this ad is different than the past 70 years of automobile ads. like, get all worked up if you want, but this is the littlest of all the molehills in the transit/bike/auto divide.

  • Anonymous

    This was just posted for discussion, and it seems to be achieving that. If the issue is so inconsequential for you, you needn’t read it or post comments…

  • Anonymous

    @SubaruFan seems to be a successful troll. At any rate, the person said the INDUSTRY was declining, not Subaru in particular. Plenty of evidence to suggest this is true:

  • think about it

    The ad works perfectly… 43 comments and counting. What’s that saying about no such thing as bad publicity?

  • JamesR

    It was dumb of Subaru to insert themselves into the cars vs sustainable transportation culture war with this lame ad, but that said: I was just at a bike race last Sunday and saw lots of Subarus with bikes mounted on top sitting in the parking lot. Make of that what you will.

    I’m as big of a bike advocate as you’ll find, but those of you in the comments who think that this represents a defensive posture by ‘Big Auto in Fear of the Cycling & Transit Revolution’ are deluding yourselves.

  • GuestCommenter

    One of those ads had a guy with nothing more than a blueprint tube and some file folders—an assortment easily carried without a car.

  • Bobroberto

    Most curious considering how Subaru touts it zero land fill domestic assembly plants. How an agency could get so behind the curve, head have rolled by now. Or is that just Canadian Rob Ford humor?

  • Subaru can’t insult the transit riders by putting this ads
    On the other hands, many rail riders say they don’t want to take buses because they don’t want to sit with low life people on the buses. Train are more classes
    How did that happen/ At least in LA train systems are designed that “low life” people can’t get to rail station easier
    Am I exaggerating? Check MTA pages, you will see a lot messages, i can’t take buses because it is not safe or …..
    Does Street Blog do something about it
    Yes, by promoting rail only measure R/J, so low life people continue to suffer
    I am a life long transit rider. It is hard for many bus riders to get rail stations. I talk to many bus riders, and they’ll agree it is hard for them utilize train
    I talk to many car drivers. They will take train so they don’t have to deal low life (except me since they are talking to me)

  • I agree with everything they say, it is the reason why I pay an extra $600 + gas a month just so I don’t have to take public transit every day.

  • Not Fan

    call me Korben–we are a meant to be together! spew blech blah blah unwashed progressives sputter spew blah blah snarl


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