John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Colorado metro's Regional Transportation District goes irreverent with its “Don’t Be Jimmy” campaign, starring a boorish rider who just dodged a sexually transmitted disease.
A loud man talking in public about his close call with an STD is the new face of a major mass transit system. Denver’s Regional Transportation District has just unveiled its new rider-behavior campaign, which revolves around the central character of “Jimmy,” a cartoon commuter with several behavioral problems.
"Jimmy’s the name…. Ruining your ride’s my game,” Jimmy menaces in one graphic. In other PSAs going up around the system, he sings a mangled version of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” hoists a foamy beer while kicking up his feet, and overshares on his cellphone, telling everyone within earshot, "Doc said it was just a cold sore after all.” These scenarios are all accompanied by the stern warning, “DON’T BE JIMMY.”
The RTD rolled out this boor to publicize its inaugural code of conduct, adopted in December. “The Jimmy campaign was created to bring awareness, with a friendly yet impactful message, to the actions and behaviors that violate the code of conduct,” says Lisa Trujillo, Manager of Project Outreach at RTD. “It was also to address the behaviors most often seen by our passengers that negatively affect them and their overall riding experience. This campaign was developed to start a conversation, sway from traditional etiquette messaging, and provide passengers with something to think about while riding transit.”
The idea for the campaign was developed in-house, and comes on the heels of several unconventional transit PSAs that emphasize what not to do in eye-grabbing fashion. The granddaddy of these efforts is “Dumb Ways To Die,” a 2012 campaign from Melbourne, Australia’s Metro train system showing lovable creatures getting mauled by trains while singing a fiendishly catchy jingle. Billed as “the world’s most shared public service announcement,” the campaign migrated to Denver in 2016.
In an effort to keep people off the tracks, other PSAs have also resorted to more shocking tactics. Last summer, L.A.’s Metro traumatized YouTube users with grisly cartoons of stick figures being crushed and dismembered on the tracks, and in 2013 the MTA’s largest union distributed fliers to New Yorkers that looked like fare cards soaked in blood, which was meant to show the dangers of speeding trains.
So far, the RTD has developed only a handful of Jimmy graphics, but it plans to make more. “We are closely tracking the responses and reactions from the public,” says Trujillo. “Overall, reaction has been favorable and positive.” Future ads, to believe RTD’s response to one annoyed rider on Facebook, might address such non-life-threatening transit issues as people putting feet on seats and failing to control body odor.
Here, have some more Jimmy, if you can stand being around the jerk: