Sticking it to Gum on the TTC
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Sticking it to Gum on the TTC

Anyone who regularly rides the TTC is no doubt well aware of the transit system’s gum problem. The sticky stuff is everywhere: on the floors, the walls, in nooks and crannies, and worst of all, on the seats. To combat the growing mess, the TTC has introduced new PSA-style posters with a simple message: “Keep the TTC gum-free.” The ads give step-by-step instructions on how to properly dispose of gum, and even provide post-it note–sized paper sheets that riders can tear off to wrap their gum in.
It seems that if we’re going to spit our gum everywhere and act like children, then the TTC is going to treat us like them.

According to Brad Ross, the TTC’s director of communications, 6,550 posters have been installed in stations and on subway cars as part of a six to eight week campaign. The price tag: twenty thousand dollars. “The litter campaigns really function as PSAs where we ask everyone to do their part to keep the system clean,” Ross told Torontoist. “We will continue to do that as well, of course, as continuing our own efforts to keep on top of cleanliness.”
The posters are partially a result of the recent cleanliness audit, which revealed that none of the TTC’s sixty-nine stations meet the Commission’s own sanitation standards. In response, the TTC has promised to expand its custodial operations by adding seventy-eight new staff positions by 2013.
The TTC’s gum posters join an already large number of in-house advertisements. Between the new LRV, Save Transit City, steps to safety, customer service advisory panel, and now, the gum-free ads, it’s not uncommon to board a subway car where more than a quarter of the total ad space is dominated by transit ads. We asked Ross about this and he told us that the surplus of TTC ads was not related to weak ad sales, and that the space being used was allocated to the TTC as part of its general advertising contract.
So, will the posters be effective? Maybe.
A case study by Professor Doyne Horsley of Southern Illinois University on anti-littering ads reveals that simple, positive messages, as opposed to authoritative or ambiguous messages, can lead to behavioural changes. Conversely, Robert B. Cialdini of Arizona State University, in a report on littering in public places, argues that the condition of a space—whether it’s dirty or clean—more accurately predicts whether people will litter or not [PDF]. So, while the TTC’s marketing department may have struck the right chord with its message, the transit system’s cleanliness (or lack thereof) might have a negative impact on its effectiveness.
So far, we’ve yet to see anyone actually use the sheets attached to the posters for their intended purpose. We’ve seen quite a few posters where the sheets have been ripped off altogether, and some have taken to crumpling the sheets up, while others have used the paper to write dumb messages.
Of course, if the campaign fails, the TTC could always follow the lead of the Washington Metro, which, in an effort to curb litter and improve sanitation, banned all food and drink from its properties and started issuing stiff fines to offenders. In any event, we probably don’t want to turn the TTC into an overly strict grade school classroom, so let’s just try to make sure that when we’re done chewing our gum, it lands in the trash where it belongs.
Photos by Stephen Michalowicz/Torontoist.