Bus ad wrappings draw criticism as funding measure for SFMTA 

click to enlarge An advertising contract could bring the SFMTA $28.5 million over five years. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • An advertising contract could bring the SFMTA $28.5 million over five years.

A plan to double the number of Muni buses wrapped in advertisements in The City is facing sharp criticism, particularly at a time when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has foregone an anticipated millions of dollars annually by eliminating Sunday parking meter enforcement.

Critics of the bus ad wraps say they degrade rider experience and further tarnish San Francisco's overall scenic beauty, while top transit officials say it is a responsible way to leverage revenue from its assets.

Supervisor John Avalos blasted the plan last month when the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee was asked to approve the five-year, $28.5 million contract with Titan Outdoor LCC that allows the extended advertisements to increase from 15 buses to 30 at any given time. The wraps are most popular between September and December.

"My concern is that if Hollywood were to actually create 'Shrek 4,' I would not want to see a 'Shrek 4' bus ad wrapping the windows of buses," Avalos said. "This is not how we should be using our public resources -- even if it raises revenue."

Avalos has also called the funding measure "galling" given the agency's rejection of Sunday meter enforcement.

But Supervisor Mark Farrell didn't see it that way.

"The Sunday meter trade-off versus putting wraps on buses, I'm very comfortable with," Farrell said.

The committee will hold a second hearing on the new bus ad contract Wednesday. The SFMTA has not yet decided whether to eliminate the ad wraps proposal or push the contract through as proposed. It would take at least six supervisors to approve it.

"We are still finalizing plans on how to proceed with this item," SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said Monday.

Kearstin Krehbiel, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful, a nonprofit organization that has fought to limit advertising on public property, is fighting the contract.

"This deal is no good. San Francisco is being asked to bear the burden of twice as many ads," Krehbiel said. She added that the "toxic effects upon our visual environment" provide relatively little revenue and suggested it would hurt the agency's plans to ask voters to approve other potential revenue generating measures on the November ballot.

Under the proposed contract with Titan, which currently has the existing ad contract, the SFMTA would receive at least $325,000 annually from the bus wraps alone but potentially far more if the ad sales are strong. The agency receives 65 percent of the revenues sold above the minimum payment. Last year, Titan received $1.15 million in bus ad wrap revenue.

Rose noted that not acquiring the $325,000 in ad money could mean the loss of four mechanics the agency was planning on hiring to tend to a growing fleet.

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