RFTA weighing plan to turn buses into rolling billboards | AspenTimes.com

RFTA weighing plan to turn buses into rolling billboards

The outside of RFTA buses might become the next tool used to hawk everything from timeshare development projects to underwear.

RFTA’s board of directors is scheduled to debate Thursday, Feb. 13, whether to accept advertisements that would run on the outside of buses and, if so, what guidelines to adopt.

The board will also give local residents a chance at the meeting to comment on whether a $10 vehicle registration fee should be assessed to help fund bus operations.

The meeting starts at 4 p.m. at the Eagle County Community Center in El Jebel. The public hearing on the $10 vehicle registration fee will run from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

On the surface the issues on advertising appear clear – find ways to raise revenues or face service cuts. But an equally important issue has turned out to be whether Aspen wants to capitulate to commercialism.

Transit agencies around the country have turned to sales of ads on the outside of buses to raise revenue. But running an ad on a bus in Newark, N.J., for example, doesn’t have the same aesthetic implications or raise the same philosophical debates as it does in Aspen.

“Agencies have typically had to weigh the benefits of increased revenue and an entrepreneurial approach to tapping an existing resource against concerns about ‘crass commercialism’ and aesthetics,” said a memo to the RFTA board from the staff.

Consultants estimated that outside ads on buses could raise at least $200,000 annually for RFTA, even after a cut is taken by a firm running the program.

Some RFTA board members have already expressed an interest in pursuing ads, but no formal policy has been set. A citizens’ advisory committee endorsed the idea.

“Citizen Advisory Committee members felt that there was nothing offensive about going ‘whole hog’ with advertising, and having fun with it,” said the staff memo. “CAC members felt that the greater offense was having to cut service or limit potential transit users the opportunity to use transit, and that the impact of additional traffic and pollution is more offensive than external ads.”

But opposition exists.

When Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud polled Aspen council members on their thoughts about external bus advertising, only Terry Paulson voiced support for the idea. He noted buses in other cities are painted with attractive murals in which the advertisement is minimal.

Aspen would have to amend its sign code to accommodate the RFTA proposal. Klanderud opposed external bus ads.

“It truly changes the character of what we’ve been about here,” she said.

“Whatever we can do to be a refuge from commercialization, I support it,” said Councilman Tim Semrau.

The RFTA staff has recommended approval of a policy allowing ads on the exterior of buses.

The outcome of a proposal to increase vehicle registration fees within RFTA’s boundaries doesn’t appear to be as up in the air. RFTA’s board voted to increase fees in October 2002, then learned it was required to hold a public hearing.

The board is going through that formality Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

The proposed fee would be levied on vehicle registrations in Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, unincorporated Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County.

“It is estimated that imposition of the fee within RFTA boundaries for a full year would generate between $350,000 and $400,000 in revenue to RFTA, although only $100,000 has been budgeted in 2003 because it may not be implemented until mid-year,” said a RFTA staff memo.

[Reporter Janet Urquhart contributed to this report. Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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