The new transit advertising debate (or, Bus wraps: “so last year.”)

Because I’d like to see more and better public transportation in this region, I’d also like to see more–and better–sources of public transportation funding. In my ideal world, we’d fund transit with gas taxes, parking taxes, tolls, and congestion charges–instead of just sales tax. For now, I’ll settle for advertising as a source of revenue.

Which brings me to my point…

In December, the King County Transit Advisory Committee, “an appointed County board drawn from King County Metro Transit riders,” sent a letter to Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago encouraging the city to allow “tasteful” advertising in bus shelters. (Apparently, this is currently not allowed.) An excerpt from the letter:

The King County Transit Advisory Committee respectfully requests that you and your Seattle City Council colleagues study the potential for Seattle to join with Metro Transit in placing revenue-generating, tasteful advertising panels on Seattle-area Metro Transit bus shelters.

Our committee has researched the use of bus shelter advertising in municipal locations within the United States and internationally. We have learned that municipalities can tightly control advertising content and images, while striking revenue deals that greatly enhance the ability to provide shelters and another important customer amenity, signage. Given the urgent need to upgrade customer service and amenities during the coming decade, the King County Transit Advisory Committee strongly favors the use of such advertising-enhanced revenue to increase the number, cleanliness and quality of bus shelters, adjacent lighting and informational signage within the City of Seattle.

(Full disclosure. I was recently appointed to the TAC. I attended my first meeting as a member on February 13th.)

I’d love to see more shelters and better signage, but I’m afraid it will be difficult to come to consensus about how we define “tasteful.” I was all for bus wraps (which, in case you missed it, are going away) until I saw McDonald’s-wrapped buses and Fox-News- and Mercedes-Benz- wrapped People Movers in Detroit. I also hate the idea of corporations having that kind of access to our public spaces. (Anyone seen the monument to Starbucks at Powell Barnett?)

That said, I’ve seen bus shelter ads in other cities, and they actually looked nice. Here are a few examples I found in my own photo archives:

Paris shelter ad
Paris shelter ad
Vacnouver shelter ad
Vancouver shelter ad

The TAC’s letter also has a few.

Bottom line: We need more transit funding, and we definitely need more shelters and better signs. I support the shelter ads, but I’ll continue to raise my voice (and vote) for more public funding of public transit.

Your turn.

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