Monday, February 22, 2010

Your face on the side of a CATS bus?

Carolyn Flowers, CEO of the Charlotte Area Transit System, tells me today that she expects the issue of advertising on CATS vehicles to come up at the Wednesday meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Here's a link to the agenda.

Former CATS CEO Ron Tober nixed the advertising early on in his tenure. He told me he thought it was important, in launching a new transit service, for it to look professional and clean. And certainly, the Lynx Blue Line has been very successful. I am not sure how much of that is due to the lack of advertising placards and how much to other factors, though I suspect the latter.

That said, they should look into the advertising. With the half-cent transit sales tax revenues dropping to 2005 levels, I think they could trade off some pristine appearances in exchange for some cash. Flowers said the most recent estimate, at least a year old and done by the City of Charlotte, said ads could bring in from $590,000 to $2.6 million a year. (Transit sales tax revenues this year are projected at $57 million, with 2010-11 projections at $59.4 million.)

(Note: Flowers' father died today in California. She's traveling to the West Coast and expects to be gone several days.)


WashuOtaku said...

A lot of cities put ads on buses on there best routes and ad posters at train stations and bus shelters. It should be considered if they want more funds; I wouldn't have a problem with it.

JAT said...

Mary, your serial problem with reality has to end at some point.

It was nothing more than arrogance and vanity that banished ads from CATS. Recall from 2007:

CATS could, if it wanted to, start raising its own funds through advertising on the sides of its huge taxpayer-provided bus fleet.

And not just the sides; new vinyl whole-bus wraps effectively turn entire buses into rolling billboards for paying customers. That is why the Raleigh bus system has an ad rate card that quotes $15,000 a year for a whole-bus wrap and $7,500 for half. Even just a rear-of-bus treatment is worth $4,000 to advertisers.

Assuming that CATS was able to bring in an average of $10,000 per bus in ad revenue across CATS' massive 328 vehicle fleet, that is $3.2 million a year in new revenue. CATS and the City of Charlotte betray a stunning absence of fiduciary responsibility by leaving such money – or even a fraction of it – on the table while running straight to taxpayers' pockets.

Why? Why willfully turn away from a proven revenue source? So CATS can "brand" itself. As if CATS is not already notorious across Mecklenburg County. So notorious, in fact, that the official Charlotte Chamber of Commerce on-line survey of Chamber members on how to respond to the half-cent repeal efforts never once mentioned the word CATS. In 2007, CATS is not a brand, it is a stigma.

Besides, this branding effort makes absolutely no sense because there is no point, other than vanity, in creating brand awareness for CATS. There is no competing mass transit system in Mecklenburg. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "I think I'll take a bus. Hmmm, the CATS one or that other one?"

A monopoly branding itself is complete nonsense. And in this case costly to taxpayers. By rights, Charlotte's bus fleet should be split about 50-50 in Bank of America red wraps and Wachovia blue-green wraps. Throw in a couple Duke Power lightning bolts and maybe a hospital or two and declare victory.

But no, CATS is not set up to charge large corporations for services. Rather CATS helps large corporations escape their costs of doing business by transferring those cost onto the backs of local taxpayers. This reality was documented last week when CATS went calling on Iredell County officials looking for help with the $250 million North corridor line.

WBT Radio's Pete Kaliner captured CATS on tape pitching the North line as a great way to save home improvement giant Lowe's some money.

"Every person we can get on the train is someone who they don't have to spend $12,000 for a parking deck space for," David Carol, CATS North corridor project manager, explained.

New CATS chief Flowers seems like a sober-minded soul -- witness her bold declaration last month that CATS would NOT fund the operation of any streetcar that the city builds.

Adding ads to the CATS fleet is long past due.

Anonymous said...

I like the consistent look of the fleet, so if they want to sell ads, be consistent. The panels on the sides and back are OK. I think full wraps look stupid.

They definitely need the revenue. Just be sensible with it.

Larry said...

I was setting here in my comfortable leather couch from the Smith Furniture Store, 150 Main Street, which I purchased under their convenient free interest plan, drinking my delicious Caffeine Free Diet Coke and watching my large screen Mitsubishi from Best Buy, when I picked up my Toshiba lap top and used my Firefox browser to see your story.

I think advertising is good and was a long time coming back to CATS again.

Remember we use to have it.

Karl said...

They definitely need the revenue. Just be sensible with it.

Oh, so with respect to advertising, they need to be sensible, but with respect to everything else they've been doing, they can continue their usual nonsense?

And while we're on the subject of raising revenue, how about a fare increase? CATS' biggest problem is that they constantly charge way too little for the services they provide, and all of us who don't use CATS at all end up picking up the slack.

WashuOtaku said...

Karl, I mention this before, but I guess I'll say it again so you understand it. There is not one transportation system in the WORLD that isn't subsidized by a Government and/or Business (i.e. Walt Disney World). Once you accept that fact, life becomes easier.

Karl said...

Washu, I heard you. I'm just asking that the users pay MORE so that the rest of us can pay LESS.

Anonymous said...

Karl - they are going to raise fares in July - between 12 and 20 percent, depending on which type of route you ride. By actual dollars, it's not going up too much - a quarter per ride for the local routes, 40 cents per ride on the express routes, for example. This should be of some help. A lot of people who ride the local routes don't have any other way around, so they will continue to ride. Those that use the express routes to commute to work will continue to do so, because the fare increase won't exceed the costs of fuel, maintenance and parking.

consultant said...

I don't have a problem with advertising on the sides of buses. However the "whole wrap" advertisements are distracting to drivers and represent the over saturation of advertisement in our lives. From junk mail to the people dressed in Statue of Liberty costumes on the corner hawking cheap tax advice. It's all too much!

The larger issue is are "we" willing to pay for needed services? What represents the common will?

consultant said...

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