And I once again say go for it.
Thursday, Metropolitan Transit Authority board members will consider researching options for putting ads inside buses and trains, as well as text-based ads for those who use the system’s next-bus texting service. Metro board member Diann Lewter said the discussion is preliminary, but she and others want to gauge their options.
Lewter said advertising on the buses’ exteriors would not be considered. Previously, the notion of draping buses in ads rankled some, especially Scenic Houston, the group responsible for curtailing billboards in the city.
Metro uses the space above seats on many buses for promotional messages now, but it could sell some of the space to advertisers.
“We want to know what the market for that is, if there’s a market,” Lewter said.
Board members stressed they were proceeding with caution. Any policy would have to include strict provisions to avoid less-than-desirable ads without infringing on free speech rights. Massage parlors, for example, could pose a challenge, board member Jim Robinson said. Officials would also consider how much revenue ads might generate.
The complications are slightly less onerous for the agency’s next-bus texting system. The service, which allows riders to text Metro and receive a reply with information on when the next bus arrives, was contracted to a vendor. Part of that agreement allowed Metro to add advertisements, pending board approval, which would enable the vendor to recoup some of the money.
The plan isn’t for Metro to start spamming people, transit agency CEO Tom Lambert said. Instead, the ads would likely accompany the bus arrival information.
The last time this came up was almost three years ago, so no one can accuse Metro of recklessly charging ahead on this. As you know, I’m a longtime advocate of Metro selling ad space, so I’m hoping that this is finally the time when the move forward on it. The amount of money at stake isn’t huge – the figure cited in the Chron story from 2012 in the quoted section above was $10 million per year in an annual budget of $300 million – but it ain’t nothing, either. I bet that kind of extra revenue could help speed up the process of installing bus shelters, and maybe pay to make an existing bus line or two higher frequency. Who knows? All I know is that I’ve considered this to be a worthwhile idea for years now, and I hope this is the moment when Metro finally takes it.