A contract to allow more fully-wrapped Muni buses — and possibly digital ads — is causing a stir at City Hall.
The Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance committee voted 3-2 to move the contract to the full board without recommendation this week.
Supervisors Mark Farrell, London Breed and Scott Wiener voted for the motion while Supervisors John Avalos and Eric Mar dissented.
The proposed contract would guarantee the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to get at least $28.5 million over the five-year period and at least $325,000 annually from just the wrapped bus ads.
Avalos, who voted against the contract, took issue with the increased number of buses that the transit agency would be allowed to wrap ads around.
The proposed contract with Titan Outdoor LLC would allow the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to double the number of fully-wrapped buses from 15 to 30 at the discretion of the SFMTA’s Director of Transportation.
Avalos said the bus ads would not help showcase to the world of what Muni really is all about:
“To have a bus wrapped in Shrek 4 or McDonalds ads entirely makes the City look really bad and it’s cheap money. It cheapens the experience of people using buses in San Francisco.”
At the last committee meeting in April, Avalos asked the SFMTA to come back with a new contract that would bring the number of wrapped bus ads back to 15 and not include any possibility of digital advertising.
To Avalos’ disappointment, the contract was not changed by transit agency.
Breed said she is not fan of the of wrapped bus ads either, but said the transit agency needs the money for operational needs.
She said supervisors have to accept trade-offs if they want programs like free Muni for youth, free Muni for seniors and disabled riders or more transit service:
“For us to advocate programs that cuts Muni operating budget while simultaneously rejecting contracts that increase it will strike me as inconsistent and unfair to the 700,000 people who depend on Muni every single day.”
Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the increase to 30 buses only affects a small percentage of the bus fleet. He also said the technology has improved on the window wrapped ads, addressing concerns from riders that said they have a hard time seeing in and out of the windows on some of the buses.
Reiskin told the board that the revenue is extremely important to the transit agency because of the demands placed on the transit agency:
“This is a way for us to generate revenue without going into the pockets of San Franciscans.”
Wiener said he is still skeptical about the contract. Wiener said the transit agency needs a better sustainable funding source instead of relying on selling ads to fund the system:
“I don’t think this contract is something that is going to stabilize the system.”
One item supervisors agreed on is to leave out the possibility of adding digital advertising on the buses in the future. Muni buses do not now have that technology, but the proposed contract would allow the transit agency to add digital ads when buses are capable displaying them.
Farrell said he was not convinced about the digital advertising, especially since there was no way of telling how it would look. There was also concerns about how bright ad would be at night — possibly causing a distraction to drivers and bicyclists.
Milo Hanke, a member of San Francisco Beautiful, a nonprofit organization that works to keep advertising off public property, said the buses look ridiculous with the wrapped ads:
“Our buses are looking like Barnum and Bailey clown cars wrapped with these wraps.”
The full board will take up the issue next Tuesday. Supervisors who want to see changes made in the contract would have to reject it at the full board meeting and ask the SFMTA to make those changes. The transit agency would then present a new contract to the board for approval.
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. He covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent over a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a native in the city and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Email tips to [email protected]