The number of Muni buses that can legally have wraparound advertisements was doubled by San Francisco supervisors Tuesday, despite objections that the banners would degrade rider experience.
After about a half-hour of debate, the Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 to approve a 15-year contract with Titan Outdoor LLC. The agreement includes a controversial provision that increases the number of permitted advertising wraps, the type of banners that cover the entirety of a bus including its windows, from 15 buses to 30 at any given time. The wraps are most popular between September and December. The contract initially allowed digital ads, but that provision was removed.
Under the contract with Titan, which has the existing ad deal, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency would receive at least $325,000 annually from the bus wraps alone, but potentially far more if ad sales are strong. The agency receives 65 percent of the revenues sold above the minimum payment.[jump]
But San Francisco Beautiful, an organization that has fought to keep public spaces free of advertisement, blasted the approval. “The dignity of the riders has again been ignored,” said Kearstin Krehbiel, the group’s executive director who called the approval a “step in the wrong direction when it comes to respecting riders and the unique livability of our city.”
Supporters argued that anticipated revenue raised through the ad wraps outweighs any negatives. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said the debate about allowing more bus wraps “just doesn’t feel like that big of a deal.” The agency has 800 buses total, of which only 30 could have the ads.
“I don’t think there’s anyone here who believes that these wraps are aesthetically something any of us support or feel great about,” Chiu said. “That being said, colleagues, money doesn’t grow on trees.”
But money shouldn’t trump public concerns, others said.
“I actually despise the wrapped-around-windows-type advertising,” Supervisor Eric Mar said. “It cheapens The City. If we are doubling up on a McDonald’s-wrapped MTA bus, I think it gives a sense that we are a city for sale.”
Mar, along with supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim and Scott Wiener, voted against the contract.
The deal would generate at least $28.5 million for the SFMTA in the first five years.
Supervisor London Breed noted recent SFMTA decisions were costly and the board shouldn’t turn down revenue opportunities. Those decisions included free Muni for youths, which costs the agency $9 million annually, and the elimination of Sunday parking meter enforcement, amounting to $11 million.
“We have to accept that there are trade-offs,” Breed said.
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