Muni TV plan hits the brake

A pilot plan to install televisions in Municipal Transportation Agency vehicles and kiosks has been stalled and may go before a Muni board vote after a board director expressed dismay that it was “under the radar.”

The flat-screen television plan was spelled out in an Oct. 29 memo by Muni head Nathaniel Ford to the board of directors. It called for a trial period in which screens playing advertisements and service information would be placed on four or five of The City’s routes.

But board director Leah Shahum, who is also head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said that the public should have a chance to speak before the pilot program is to begin. She added that the memo was vague, without a set number on vehicles affected or parameters for content.

“I understand there are revenue potentials for that, and that’s very interesting,” she said. “But I also want to understand what it means to our ridership — to be … bombarded with any sort of announcements, especially advertising.”

Flat-screen monitors have already been installed in buses in London, Chicago and Hong Kong to mixed reviews. Shahum said Muni should research the success of those projects and others before moving on.

Ford said there was no reason for the board to panic. The “definitive nature” of the advertising is still up in the air and there has been no contract signed among prospective companies, though CBS Outdoor would have the first chance to submit a contract.

He added that the screens would benefit riders as a conduit for emergency situations, station names and other information, and it would come at no cost to The City.

Advertising, while generating revenue for The City, tends to generate lots of controversy. A proposal to place corporate logos at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge was defeated this year and Muni has already run into heat for its exclusive deal with media giant Clear Channel. And more than 60 percent of San Francisco’s voters approved an anti-billboard proposition on this month’s ballot.

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