Dean Horn felt just a little pressure designing a vinyl wrap for the C-Tran bus celebrating his hometown of Camas.
“It wasn’t the easiest, because I felt like I was under the gun,” said Horn, C-Tran’s graphics coordinator and web designer. “Family and friends knew what I would be doing.”
The finished product, one of six city-themed buses C-Tran created this year, was unveiled July 27 for the Camas Days Grand Parade. The bus pays homage to the city powerhouse high school football team on one side and features picturesque scenes from the community on the other.
“I’m surprised that Camas hasn’t called to get another state championship bus,” C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy said after the Papermakers defeated Bothell, 35-14, on Dec. 7 for their second Class 4A title in four years.
Horn played in the band while attending Camas High School, so he made sure to get the marching band, cheerleading squad and Doc Harris stadium on the bus, along with football players.
While Camas is winning championships on the field, C-Tran is stepping up its game and visibility in the community. That includes participating in parades and working with sponsors to offer free service for events, including New Year’s Eve, and promoting it through television commercials.
“I think as a public agency, we have a responsibility to be really a bigger part of the community than just transit,” Donaghy said.
“C-Tran’s brand is our community,” he said. “We would not be here if it wasn’t for a strong and vibrant community. We are well aware of that.”
Chris Selk, C-Tran’s communication and public affairs manager, said since 2017, her agency has more than doubled its participation in community events.
“It’s been a complete change in the way we see our jobs in public affairs,” she said, adding that the agency has noticed a marked decrease in criticism on social media.
C-Tran has a financial reason for its community focus since tax dollars, not passenger fares, provide its largest revenue source. In 2018, it received $56.3 million in sales taxes, which accounted for 79 percent of total revenue.
In October 2017, the C-Tran Board of Directors voted to remove exterior advertising from buses. Selk said there was no firm decision made on interior advertisements, but the agency currently uses the space for messaging specific to C-Tran.
The revenue loss was modest. For the agency’s 2017-2018 biennial budget, C-Tran had expected its advertising program to net a little more than $857,000.
Two more buses in 2020
The Camas bus is one of six highlighting different cities. C-Tran unveiled its first bus, with evocative images of Battle Ground, on Jan. 7.
Its final bus of 2019 was revealed on Dec. 11 outside a La Center City Council meeting. The bus features historical black-and-white photos on one side remembering La Center’s past, along with color images on the opposite side representing the community today.
All of the city-theme buses are 40-foot long hybrids. Photos of the six buses are posted on C-Tran’s website, www.c-tran.com/bus-wraps.
C-Tran still has two more community-themed buses, for the town of Yacolt and for Clark County in general. Vinyl wraps for those two are scheduled to be installed in early 2020.
The designs and much of the photography is done in-house at C-Tran. Ballyhoo, a large format digital printshop in Camas, produces and installs the vinyl wraps, at a $9,400 cost for each bus.
Selk said the vinyl wraps should last for at least five years. All community-themed buses rotate through different routes in C-Tran’s service area, which means it’s not uncommon to see a bus with Washougal or Ridgefield images rolling through downtown Vancouver.
Horn said he felt a twinge of fear when he was first asked to design bus wraps. He had done all kinds of graphics for the agency, including exterior ads, but nothing on this scale.
“Never full wraps, and now we’re going to do seven or eight of them,” he said. “Once I got into it, it was really a lot of fun.”
C-Tran develops the designs largely on its own with surprisingly little community input. In the case of Vancouver’s bus, which features a quote from Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, C-Tran cleared it with the mayor before adding its rolling tribute. In most cases, community leaders don’t know what will be on the bus until the big reveal.
“We’ve been pretty good about keeping the secret,” Donaghy said.
“It was incumbent on us to make sure that we had all the details right,” Horn said.
Reaction to the buses has been positive.
“So far, it’s been good,” Horn said. “Cross my fingers. Two more to go, and then this project will be complete.”