A new idea to help fund the streetcar

Posted at 8:20 AM, Feb 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-01 08:26:38-05

CINCINNATI -- Those empty Downtown bus shelters may soon be filled with advertising again.

Three years ago Cincinnati City Council stripped advertising from bus shelters and benches because of concerns that it looked cluttered and unsightly.

Now city planners want to bring back bus stop advertising as a way to plug holes in Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s budget and add more dollars to help fund the streetcar.

“It’s a win-win all the way around,” said SORTA spokesperson Sallie Hilvers. “Every dollar we are able to gain back to use for service is a good thing.”

The city’s streetcar, which should launch service by September 2016, could see a shortfall as high $1.4 million in its first year of service, according to city projections.

Pressure is on to land a major deal for long-term naming rights for the five-car system.

But advertising at streetcar stops could also bring in new dollars. Hilvers said this money would be kept strictly for streetcar expenses, and would not mix with the general SORTA budget.

“We always look for ways to bring in revenue,” she said. “We try to maximize that to reduce the burden on taxpayers.”

The issue will be discussed at the Feb. 5 Cincinnati Planning Commission meeting.

This comes five years after City Council voted to ban advertising at bus shelters and benches. After the vote, council allowed SORTA to finish its contract with Lamar Advertising until Jan. 1, 2013.

Since then, ArtWorks used some empty bus shelters for photo and art exhibits. But some of the shelters are very old, and SORTA had to take on the extra maintenance costs of $69,300 annually, Hilvers said.

Before the ban, Lamar Advertising had paid to install and maintain the 95 bus shelters.

The advertising ban also cost SORTA roughly $65,000 to $68,000 per year in lost bus stop advertising. More revenue is anticipated from the additional streetcar stops, Hilvers said.

It is unsure what, if any, opposition will arise from the plan to revive bus stop advertising. But city planners are recommending the commission allow advertising on shelters, benches and informational kiosks at transit stops.

“It is clear that advertising at transit stop structures in the recent past was a concern for residents and business owners due to the often cluttered and unsightly appearance … However, since that time, transit agencies such as SORTA have been suffering from budget deficiencies partly due to the prohibited advertising at transit stop structures,” city planner Ann Marie Kerby wrote in a recent report.

The proposal would add design guidelines for shelters and limit where they can be placed. For example, bus and streetcar shelters cannot impede access to building entrances, and must be at least six feet away from outdoor dining areas.

City Council Member Amy Murray, who sits on the planning commission, declined to comment. An aide from her office said she was out of town and would not comment until after the proposal was heard at the Feb. 5 meeting.