Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

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March 13, 2014
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RFTA board cautious on bus advertising

Not all advertisements are created equal, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors decided Thursday.

The board voted unanimously to prohibit ads promoting products on the outside of buses, but they want their staff to gauge if there is a market for company sponsorships of public service announcements, also known as PSAs.

There was no clear definition at the board meeting of what type of public service ads would be allowed. The idea is that sponsoring companies or organizations would be able to run their logo along with the announcement. The board wants CEO Dan Blankenship and his staff to develop a proposal around their general direction.

Board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley said the announcements should be “based on themes that we approve of.”

Board member and New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin said an example of a public service announcement could say, “Please hang up and drive.” A sponsoring company could have its logo run with announcement on the outside of a bus, he said.

Board member and Glenwood Springs Councilman Ted Edmonds questioned if the public service announcements would appeal to advertisers.

Board alternate and Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said the staff’s assessment of the proposal must look at saturation of the exterior of buses.

“How many ads will go on a bus? Will it look like a stock car?” Newman asked.

For now, there are more questions than answers.

Blankenship said the issue came up last year when natural gas producer Encana inquired about placing its logo on the outside of buses after it provided a $365,000 grant to help RFTA purchase buses that operate on compressed natural gas. The board decided against the logo but decided it should revisit its policy on bus ads at a later time. A memo to the board from Blankenship said product-promotion-type ads could generate as much as $500,000 in revenue.

However, he told the board Thursday there is opposition to the ads. “Some people feel it makes our system too commercial,” he said.

Owsley said the ads could be justified as a way to help reduce the public subsidy for bus service. Board member and Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot said critics who don’t want ads on the outside of buses possibly don’t realize that the system operates largely from sales tax revenues, so ads wouldn’t necessarily be a large leap.

RFTA allows advertising on the interior of buses. The ads generate about $30,000 annually, Blankenship said.

The idea of promotional ads on the exterior of buses never gained traction after a short discussion. Blankenship guided the conversation by suggesting the idea of sponsorships of public service announcements as an alternative.

Owsley said the idea was worth exploring, even if it produces a limited amount of revenue. “Anything would be better than nothing,” he said.

The board voted 6-0 to direct the RFTA staff further develop the idea of sponsored public service announcements further and bring it back to the board for approval.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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