Bus Shelter Advertising
Last week during the Jacksonville Observer Radio Show, one of our callers asked our guest, John Meserve, about the possibility of building additional bus shelters supported by advertising. Tuesday, the council passed an amendment to the city’s sign ordinance to allow new bus shelters to be built by a private company that will sell advertising space in them.
Everyone agrees that the city needs more bus shelters. Not a day goes by that I don’t pass a bus stop without a shelter where people are waiting for the bus. But the city is not really in a position to build more shelters.
There has been a lot of discussion about what kind of advertising will be in the shelters. I’ve seen concerns that there might be “inappropriate” advertising in the public bus shelters. Of course, those who are opposed to the idea of advertising in the shelters will conjure what they think is the worst possible scenario. The one they conjured was … lingerie.
There will be many things that can be advertised in a bus shelter. I’m sure we’re not going to see lingerie models on every street corner.
There are a lot of ways to avoid advertising these days. People with Tivo or other DVR equipment are not only skipping commercials, but they’re programming television to suit them. Even sports is not watched live. I talked to a friend recently who described watching a three-hour baseball game in about an hour, and never missed a pitch. Football games are much faster as well when you skip through the replays and commercials. And if I never see another faux coaches news conference commercial, it’ll be ok. Good advertising can be exceptional, bad advertising is just bad.
It’s not as easy to skip through the commercials on radio, but radio stations are so homogenous that it’s easy to skip from one to another. The songs will be about the same, and there’s no personality on them really any longer. Talk stations at least have recognizable personalities with whom the listener can identify.
So, advertisers are looking for any way to get their message in front of people.
But the largest objection to advertising in bus shelters is a concern about the sign ordinance. Many have expressed concerns that this exception to the sign ordinance will lead to its evisceration. Citing a Los Angeles precedent, those opposed to advertisers in bus shelters see a flood of applications for billboards where now there are none, with no legal basis for denying those applications. However there is also a Supreme Court precedent in San Diego that allows bus shelter ads but maintained the prohibition on billboards.
Advertising is going to find its way into our lives. There is no escaping it. A recent book called “The Feed” describes a not-too-distant future where a chip in your brain feeds programming, and advertising, directly into your consciousness. While that is still science fiction, in a society built on buying and selling goods and services, there will be advertising. But as often happens, it’s unlikely that Tuesday night’s city council vote will spell the advertising apocalypse some fear, but it is equally likely that those seeking to get their message to you will test the limits of the newly-amended law. The reality will lie somewhere in the middle. It’s a good thing that bus shelters with advertising will still be prohibited in residential neighborhoods, and certainly the restrictions on ads that apply to other media should certainly apply to bus shelters.
Advertising adorns bus shelters in many cities. The Metro in Washington, DC has lots of advertising for people to see as they wait for the train. After a while, all but the most exceptional fade into the background. In a time where the city has very little discretionary money, and a huge need for bus shelters, which can cost between $4,000 and $12,000 to construct and about $1,200 per year to maintain, it seems as if a well-crafted, thoughtful change in the sign ordinance to get them makes sense.