Rahm Emanuel and the Art of the Troll

In the last couple of years, both Boston and Washington experienced epic high profile transit meltdowns. Now it’s New York’s turn to suffer.

What city have we not heard about lately when it comes to transit fiascoes? Chicago.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, seeing an opportunity, penned an op-ed in the New York Times given the provocative title “In Chicago, the Trains Actually Run on Time“:

The L, Chicago’s system, turned 125 this year. The elevated railway began as four wooden cars powered by coal and steam. Last year, more than 238 million rides were taken on the system, which, unlike the ones in New York and Washington, has not been troubled by systemic failures, breakdowns and delays. Even during a 28-day stretch of arctic temperatures in 2014, the L was never interrupted.

How have we done it? First, we put reliability ahead of expansion. We focused relentlessly on modernizing tracks, signals, switches, stations and cars before extending lines to new destinations. Unlike New York, which has spent billions to reach Hudson Yards, or Washington, which has concentrated on trying to reach Dulles Airport (both laudable projects), Chicago has improved the existing system.

This triggered quite a bit of national and New York media coverage and blow back, such as the Daily News cover above. This includes articles in the Post, Gothamist, the Hill, and Fortune.

I would have to rate this op-ed as a big success. Rahm Emanuel successfully used trolling to gain a lot of attention for himself and his city on a subject where he had a good story to tell.

The fact that much of the coverage was negative doesn’t detract from that at all.  All the tabloids are doing is focusing attention a) on Chicago and b) on a subject where Chicago is actually doing well. Read the Daily News piece and despite the cover, it delivers plenty of good marketing for Chicago’s transit system.

Yes, this came with the downside of brining crime into view. But Chicago is already nationally well-known for crime. So nothing new there. It was not yet known for better transit. Now it is.

In fact, there are lessons to be learned from Chicago’s transit approach. For example, Chicago shut down the Dan Ryan L for several months to expedite repairs. New York is dipping its toe into the water on that with M and L train shutdowns. More of this will likely be necessary.

Regardless, this shows the power of troll style marketing tactics in a social media age. Score one for Rahm on this one.


from Aaron M. Renn


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