Bus advertising plans targeted by legislation 

Wrapping Muni buses in advertising, which is planned to bring in about $1 million for the transit agency, has come under fire from city officials.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has proposed allowing more wraps on the windows as part of a package of revenue-generating ideas to eliminate the agency’s $19 million deficit. The revenue shortage has forced the agency to increase fares and reduce service.

Despite the budget deficit the agency is facing, Supervisor Eric Mar on Tuesday requested that the city attorney draft legislation that would prohibit the placement of advertising on bus windows, a form of advertising commonly referred to as wraps.

“It’s an issue of creeping and creepy commercialism in our city,” Mar said. “I think that’s totally unacceptable.”

Fierce political battles often erupt over plans to increase advertising space in San Francisco. Voters tend to side with regulations sparing them from having to see more of the catchy images trying to sell them on something.

As of Tuesday, the agency continued to support allowing more wraps to generate about $1 million.

“We’d like to sit down and talk to [Mar] and let him know that the advertising will be done tastefully and it won’t compromise security,” SFMTA Executive Director Nathaniel Ford said.

It’s not unusual for cash-strapped agencies to look to advertising for money. But in the Bay Area, it can be a tough sell. In 2006, BART attempted to increase ad revenue by allowing alcohol ads in stations and on the cars. The proposal was blasted by the Board of Supervisors, among others, and abandoned. A year later, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District proposed corporate sponsorship of the famed span, but abandoned it amid sharp criticism.

“While advertisements are permitted to cover windows of buses, it impedes and in some cases completely prohibits the passengers from seeing outside of the window, and it has a great impact on the well-being of Muni riders and their overall ride experience,” Mar said. “Some passengers may even experience claustrophobia or even nausea if they cannot see clearly out of the windows while in transit.”

In 2009, voters approved a measure that prohibited an increase in the number of general advertising signs on street furniture — transit shelters, kiosks, public toilets, benches, newspaper racks and other structures on public sidewalks or places — in excess of the number existing as of Jan. 1, 2008. The agency collects about $15 million annually from advertising on transit shelters.

The legislation would require adoption by the Board of Supervisors to become law.

“We don’t want creeping commercial advertising covering every single inch of our city,” Mar said.


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