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Metro moving forward with advertising

This has been in the works for a long time.

Depending on what Metropolitan Transit Authority officials decide regarding a new revenue plan, your light rail trip could end at the Taco Bell Station, or some similarly named stop.

Officials in early 2013 are expected to receive more information on a revenue plan exploring potential corporate partnerships and advertising. Board members, at a meeting in November, stressed they are considering options carefully, knowing any talk of adding ads to the sides of buses will raise concerns.

“The only reason why we are considering this is because there are potential benefits to our riders and the public,” board member Christof Spieler said during a recent committee meeting.

Allowing advertising could generate up to about $10 million a year for the agency, which has a roughly $300 million operating budget.

Limiting ads to corporate sponsorships, such as renaming routes or lines, and minimal branding might bring in about half that sum, according to analysts with the consulting firm IMG Worldwide.

Critics of advertising proliferation in Houston worry that if Metro opens the door to some advertising, it will set back anti-billboard efforts.

“This is a city where you form your impressions through a windshield,” said Anne Culver, executive director of Scenic Houston, a group focused on eliminating what it considers visual blight in the city.

“Houston has a great tradition of keeping the city free of billboards and of visual clutter,” said Ray Hankamer, a Scenic Houston board member. “This is the camel getting its nose under the tent.”

Like I said, this has been in the pipe for a long time. Last discussion of it that I’m aware of was in October of 2010, with a story from earlier that year referring to 2005. It came up before then in November of 2008. I have been a proponent of this all along, first suggesting that Metro put ads in its light rail cars in 2007. I respect Scenic Houston and I support their work, but I disagree with them on this. I don’t see it as being anything like billboards, which had been permanent fixtures in many neighborhoods. Putting signs on the sides of buses, or on bus shelters, isn’t going to change your view. The “naming rights” concept is new and I’ll admit to having a bit of unease about it, but in a world where every stadium, arena, and concert venue is named for this corporation or that utility, it’s hard to get too worked up about in. As I’ve browsed my archives on this, it seems like the reluctance to go forward has been one part resistance from City Council, and one part disinterest from outgoing CEO George Greanias. Neither Council members nor the interim Metro CEO were quoted in this story, so we’ll have to see what those potential obstacles look like this time around. For the record, I hope Metro goes forward with it. It makes good sense, and if they’re serious about building the University Line, then every extra dollar matters.

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2 Comments

  1. Randy Baker says:

    I worked at METRO in the period following adoption of the Authority’s “no advertising” policy and remain convinced it was the right decision. Why? Because buses (and now light rail vehicles) become little more than moving billboards when plastered with ads. Not only is that just downright ugly but it also carries a subliminal negative message that public transit is just for those unable to afford a car and a parking permit. We all know that that latter assertion is false but it remains the perception nonetheless, a perception that must be overcome for transit to fulfill its maximum benefit both to individual riders and to the public-at-large.

    With respect to naming rights for rail stations, transit centers and what not, why not? It’s sort of tacky but very American (without a whole lot of negatives attached to it). Bottom line: keep the kinetic stripes uncluttered with advertising but consider tasteful use of naming rights for appropriate assets.

  2. James S. Huggins says:

    You wrote:
    It makes good sense, and if they’re serious about building the University Line, then every extra dollar matters.

    So where WOULD you draw the line. What extra dollars WOULD you be unwilling to accept?

    And if you WOULD draw any line, then I would argue that not every extra dollar is worth it and it is a more complex question.

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