Leading with Light

By Sean Hawks | 12/14/2023

Director of Communications and Marketing
King County Metro
Seattle, WA

King County Metro has more buses—well over 1,000—than any airline in the world has planes. That makes our fleet design one of the most recognizable symbols of our transit network, Seattle, and the entire northwestern United States.

As director of communications and marketing at Metro, I’m grateful to colleagues, partners, and riders for helping us launch a spectacular new brand befitting our world-class transit network at a momentous time.

A historic opportunity

We wouldn’t want anyone to miss that something revolutionary is happening in King County, home to more people than 15 U.S. states. Amid increased forest fires, unpredictable winter storms, and rising greenhouse gas levels, Metro set course to be the first large public transit agency in North America to be zero-emission.

The buses that joined our fleet this year—the first of hundreds to follow—represent historic climate leadership and cutting-edge technology. The new 60-foot battery-electric New Flyer buses crisscrossing our region travel 140 miles on a single charge (and 220 miles for the 40-foot buses), tackle mountains and snow with ease, and deliver so much power that we throttled back their acceleration after testing. Additionally, these electric buses were first introduced to our riders not in wealthy enclaves, but in lower-income areas with higher pollution levels.

These remarkable vehicles and their supporting infrastructure were championed by our elected officials and represent more than a billion dollars in capital investments. Yet, without a fresh design, these new buses would look identical to their aging peers, and Metro’s bold, industry-leading action would be invisible.

A new energy

To every person on every street, we wanted to share the excitement of greening our fleet and—despite living in one of the cloudiest U.S. cities—to radiate our agency’s bright optimism. To tell that story, we partnered with Seattle-based industrial design firm Teague—known worldwide for outfitting Air Tahiti, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Boeing, and others.

Photo by Thomas Hawthorne, multimedia producer, King County Metro

In addition to our environmental and technological leadership, we shared with Teague the importance of the people we serve. Our bus drivers bring care and joy to more than one million customers every week. We rely heavily on our advocacy, business, and community partners. And, as a public entity, we’re not merely welcoming of every ability, background, community, identity, and language. Rather, they’re our bosses and owners.

Informed by conversations and research across our agency and our communities, the stunning “New Energy” bus design is being warmly embraced across our region. The front of every new bus will be a luminous neon yellow, followed by the seafoam coloration of the nearby Puget Sound, where salmon and whales roam. These new buses cheer our riders, embody our environmental stewardship, and serve as a hopeful beacon even on darker days.

Without compromise

Leading with light is emblematic of our broader communications approach, too. Across our bus, monorail, on-demand service, paratransit van, streetcar, vanpool, and water taxi network, we unapologetically invite residents and visitors to experience the overwhelming benefits of Metro. After all, transit is accessible, affordable, fast, friendly, and stress-free.

Nothing is more important to our organization than our values: ensuring safety, expanding opportunity, and protecting the environment. But we don’t ask people to take Metro because it’s the right thing to do. Guided by research and supported by results, we instead show how they will be happier, healthier, and more connected. They’ll skip traffic, keep more money in their pockets and—along the way—catch up on work, read a book, or chat with a friend.

The way forward

Part of the brilliance of the namesake of our county, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was preaching a positive vision of the future in which everyone could see themselves. Every day, we endeavor to do exactly that—by presenting transit as the best way to go.

By conveying the desirability of transit and delivering upon its promise, we grow ridership, increase support, and secure funding. We better serve our current customers, welcome new riders, and build a system that improves all of our futures.

By broadcasting “New Energy” far and wide, Metro will continue to brightly welcome riders to go wherever they want—in a journey or in life.

Special thanks to Metro Creative and Marketing Project Manager Michelle Huynh.