Thursday, September 23, 2010

Want your face on the side of a bus? Now it's possible

Advertising's coming back to Charlotte city buses. And it's coming to light rail cars – an option not available in 2001, when the governing body for the Charlotte Area Transit System voted to remove the ads from bus exteriors.

The Metropolitan Transit Commission's vote was about as split as it is possible for such a vote to be. Each municipality has one vote, as do the county and the N.C. Board of Transportation representative (currently developer John Collett). The first vote Wednesday night, on a motion to approve the new advertising , was 4-4, with Matthews Public Works Director Ralph Messera abstaining. Because of the tie, MTC chair and Mecklenburg County commissioners' chair Jennifer Roberts declared the motion failed, until someone pointed out an "abstain" vote is counted as a yes. That made the vote 5-4.

Messera said he abstained because, while he believed Matthews Mayor James Taylor was in favor, he had not had a specific conversation to nail down how he wanted Matthews to vote.

Olaf Kinard of CATS said projections showed CATS would clear between $900,000 to $1 million a year over five years, taking into account its expenses for putting the advertising program into effect

Revenue from the county's half-cent sales tax for transit has been flat, while the system's 2030 plan for building more light rail, streetcar and possibly bus rapid transit corridors is based on a projection that shows those revenues steadily climbing. So the MTC has been pondering whether to look for more revenue opportunities.

Why vote against what, to some, would seem a no-brainer idea for more revenue? Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain said she worried about quality control for the ads. Others pointed out that CATS has spent the past 10 years positioning itself, to the public, as a clean and efficient bus and transit system. The image issue was a key reason the MTC abandoned ads on buses in 2001. "We're violating the brand we established 10 years ago," said Davidson Mayor John Woods.

Looking ahead, there's a decent possibility the MTC will go to voters in coming years for new taxes or other public revenue. It would be even harder for the MTC to ask for new public revenue if it were still rejecting a revenue stream that many in the public consider low-hanging fruit to be plucked.
Photo: Get ready for more advertising on CATS buses, such as this on promoting Charlotte Motor Speedway's October races. Credit: Charlotte Observer file photo


Michael said...

"Labels: advertising, buses, CATS, Lady Gaga, MTC, transit system"

Lady Gaga? LOL!

Mary Newsom said...

Michael, you caught me. I'm doing a small experiment to see if Lady Gaga in the labels increases the hit rate.

Escapist said...

South Boulevard, North and South Tryon Streets are choked with billboard signs for rims and fast-food joints. The zoning that allows these half-falling-down pole signs is a problem.

Advertising on buses is not a problem.

Anonymous said...

That is a hideous ad on the bus in the picture. I tend to agree that these sort of ads diminish the brand value and are disrespectful of transit customers. See:

The also make it very hard to see into or out of the buses at night which diminishes the sense of safety.

J said...

"It would be even harder for the MTC to ask for new public revenue if it were still rejecting a revenue stream that many in the public consider low-hanging fruit to be plucked."

Before making the assumption of what the public thinks, how about asking the public? I would vote down any new transit tax, but not because they didn't "pick low-hanging fruit" like bus ads.

(In fact, I oppose the ads - the one thing I was totally in agreement with Ron Tober on was his stance that ad-free vehicles presented a more professional image.)

I would oppose any new tax because of the incompetence of those in charge of the tax revenue that is available now. Only an incompetent would forecast that sales tax revenue would increase every year, from now to infinity, never decreasing. Have these people never heard of recessions? They happen about once every 10 years. They bring higher unemployment rates, contracted business activity and less consumer spending. Yet somehow the geniuses at CATS and the MTC believed our sales taxes were immune to recessions.

With that lack of ability to accurately plan, why would I want to give them more money to mis-manage?

Anonymous said...

@J: Perhaps the original sales tax forecasts were a little overly optimistic, but let's not forget, this is the deepest recession since World War II. While not unprecedented, this is the worst economic situation most of us have ever lived through. Predicting such events and accounting for that in such a tax forecast would have been nearly impossible. So don't be so quick to chock up the revenue forecasting to mismanagement.

J said...

Anon 02:29 - true, this is the worst downturn we have seen in most of our lifetimes. I don't find fault with any business who underestimated the scope of this recession. I stand by my original post because, like I said in that post, we go through some type of recession every 10 years. The 2001 and 1991 recessions were fairly mild, the early 70s and 1982 recessions were deep, and this one has been catastrophic. The pattern is clear - we go through a downturn approximately once every 10 years. The people who forecasted the transit sales tax revenue predicted the amount of money generated by the tax would increase EVERY SINGLE YEAR. It's not a matter of them missing on the rate of a decline; they predicted there would never be a decline. Even the most untrained of eyes can tell that is utter nonsense. Politicians have never shown much ability to avoid the mistakes of the past (can anyone name the last time a DOT project came in on time or on budget?) so I don't feel inclined to give them more money, expecting they will continue to bungle it.

Anonymous said...


Was Del Reeves' big "Girl on the Billboard" playing while all those folks voted?

Here's the version likely playing:

Well what a girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard on the bus near the big old highway

I bet it wouldn't take her very long to get gone
If someone would pull a dirty trick and take her towel away

I slow my Jimmy down to twenty that's how many wrecks I see there every day
Caused by the girl wearing nothing but a smile
And a towel in the picture on the billboard on the bus near the big old highway

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

I don't see a problem with the wraps and think it's creative as long as it's tastefully done. What they really need to do is get rid of the silly shaded CATS logo that looks like it's faded from a distance.

Jumper said...

In dim light that car on the bus is going to make a few drivers gaga, and maybe run off the road.