First, let’s start with what we can all agree on: most contemporary transit advertising in the US sucks. A lot of it is very flat and bureaucratic, unimaginative, and oftentimes with a hokey gimmick. The examples Goffman offers are emblematic of this.
Most contemporary transit promotion that I’ve seen falls into three general categories: 1) instructional videos, 2) ads that emphasize the benefits over driving, which often incorporate imagery of stressed drivers and high gas prices, or 3) ads that emphasize the societal benefits, such as environmental and health. Because it’s usually the transit agency itself that puts together the ad, the production values are frequently very low.
But it didn’t always used to be this way. A long time ago, advertising for transit tended to emphasize the destinations you could reach by transit, or the nature of the service itself. A particularly notable example of this was Samuel Insull’s series of posters for Chicago’s rail system in the 1920s, but there are plenty of other examples. When transit companies advertised, they often did so much like the railroad companies of the time did, with artful representations of the wonderful places you could visit and the exciting things you could do.