The New York Times has a great parable about the largely empty ferries plying the Hudson River, and the massively crowded trains that the money could have been spent on. I was reminded of Leap, the failed elite bus in San Francisco, whose marketing images always emphasized how you have room to spread out. Here was one of their videos:
Note that the bus in this video is never more than half full.
Images that sell you a transit service by emphasizing how empty it is are advertising either (a) an failing service or (b) a service targeted at elites, one that should have very high fares. The few passengers on the bus must pay for transporting the empty seats all around them.
And not many people are actually willing to pay that. So instead they are subsidized, either by taxpayers (US $95 per customer round trip in the case of the ferry) or by venture capital, which sooner or later runs out.
But the goal of this marketing, as always, is to encourage elites to mistake what is nice for them with what works for the city. Because when public transit is really working effective to foster a functional city, you can’t expect to be surrounded by empty seats.