Private businesses need to market themselves to potential customers, so we can't begrudge their advertisements—and, of course, if we at CityBeat did, we'd be biting the hand that keeps us alive. Still, it's gotten to the point where we're bombarded by come-ons pretty much from the time we wake till the time our heads hit the pillow again, and it makes us weary.
That's why, in a perfect world, there'd be no banner ads on public buses. But this is far from a perfect world.
In a recent e-mail to CityBeat's Kelly Davis, Metropolitan Transit System spokesperson Rob Schupp said, “Given our need to reduce service to balance our budget,” the MTS board's decision to keep newly painted buses free of exterior ads was not an easy one.
Really? It should have been. Considering the fact that MTS could save a bus route by putting ads on 100 buses, the board should have done just the opposite of what it did. It should have been a no-brainer.
Schupp said MTS thinks that pretty, ad-free buses might attract more riders. While we agree that ad-free buses are much, much nicer to see rumbling around town, Schupp's comment sounds to us like the logic of people who've never had to ride a bus to get around.
And what good do those pretty buses do for people who've seen the routes they need discontinued?
After his State of the District speech Monday night at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, we found San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria—whose careful attention to transit issues is commendable—chatting with Bill Anderson, director of city planning and community investment, about transit. Anderson was saying that a perfect transit system would be one where riders wouldn't even have to check schedules because the buses would come so often. Gloria agreed. And so do we.
But thanks largely to state budget cuts, we're heading in the wrong direction. Starting on Feb. 28, MTS will eliminate $7 million worth of service, mostly on Sundays, which, while impacting fewer workers than other days, hits hardest the lowest-wage service workers who need transportation the most.
Incidentally, public-interest attorney Cory Briggs, representing the San Diego Public-Transit Riders' Alliance—and using the California Environmental Quality Act as a tool—has, since summer 2008, been trying to get MTS to be more forthcoming with the public on details of its current revenue sources and to work harder to identify new sources of income rather than simply cutting services and complaining about being victimized by the state. MTS is fighting Briggs' lawsuit in court instead of settling for additional public service.
Schupp says MTS staff is looking into potential moneymaking options such as naming rights for trolley and bus-rapid-transit lines and stations and additional advertising at transit stations, convenience kiosks and vending machines. That's great. But the MTS board also must reconsider its decision on bus-exterior advertising.
Schupp estimates that MTS could make between $2,000 and $3,000 in ad revenue per year for each additional bus, netting the system an additional $300,000 to $340,000. That seems obscenely low to us. That would be only $167 to $250 per month to have a large ad rolling around town—that's pocket change in the ad world. In any case, MTS's numbers take into account only allowing ads on 100 to 170 40-foot buses. MTS hasn't even considered the revenue it could generate by allowing advertising on 45- and 60-foot buses and, for bigger advertisers, bus wraps.
Failure by the MTS board to revisit its decision would be a slap in the face to anyone who'll have a harder time getting around on Sundays starting next month. If you agree with us, we urge you to contact the folks at MTS at 619-231-1466 and tell them to reconsider—or say so in person at the next board meeting: 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, on the 10th floor at 1255 Imperial Ave. in East Village. What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.