Facing a $48 million budget deficit, Metro is considering installing cutting-edge advertising technology to bring in extra revenue and avert another fare hike.
The city’s buses and rails, which have traditionally displayed few ads, could be wrapped in vinyl promotions and feature TV monitors and “animated tunnel” advertising if Metro’s Board of Directors approves the proposed changes in February.
Jim Graham, chairman of Metro’s board and a D.C. City Council
member, said while he would like to see the system keep its advertising-free look, he fears the budget deficit leaves the city with “no choice” but to go ahead with the changes.
If the board gives the go-ahead to the new advertising plans, it would be a departure from its normal position, Graham said.
In the past, there has been “an attitude, a point of view, that Metro should be as free of advertising as possible,” he said.
Graham said discussions on increased ads come after several attempts by Metro to lower costs, mainly through cutting non-union jobs and giving others early retirement packages.
In July, Metro raised fares 10 cents in anticipation of the impending budget deficit.
Graham warned that the board could institute another fare hike if the increased advertising proposal does not pass.
“I’d rather have more advertising than increase fares,” he said. “For poor people, all this makes a big difference.”
Other options the board will consider will be the placement of ads in Metro’s 400 bus shelters. ATMs, small businesses and newsstands inside Metrorail stations are also a possibility. Other subway systems, such as New York’s, already feature these kinds of revenue-generators.
The more cutting-edge styles of advertising are only found in a few subway systems.
In Montreal, trains are draped in vinyl posters similar to the ones that may adorn Metro trains and buses. Tunnel animation, which uses a series of posters inside the tunnel to form a slideshow, can be found in only a few cities, such as Atlanta.
“It’s an interesting device, I think,” Graham said of tunnel animation.
If video monitors were installed, the board would have to decide if they would play only commercials of if they would feature entertainment or news programs, Metro spokesperson Lisa Frastin said. They would also need to decide if the televisions would be audible or stay mute.
The cost of installing video monitors and vinyl ads is still being researched, said Frastin, adding that the final cost will be presented to the board before it makes a decision. If the board agrees to the changes, they would also need to find advertisers willing to spend enough to install the equipment.
Metro is still unclear on how much revenue the changes will generate, Frastin said. Early estimates for the animated tunnels are $400,000 to $1 million in the first year.
Commuters will most likely not be happy if the changes are implemented, Graham said.
“I feel most people would not like to be bombarded with advertising,” he said.
Graham also said he would expect to receive many complaints but doesn’t think anyone would stop using Metro because of the ads.
However, some Metro users said they would support the increased advertising if it kept fares down and provided useful information to commuters.
Christina Hibsman, who recently moved to D.C. from Ohio, said she would like to see ads about what to do in the city, “since a lot of people aren’t from the area and don’t know what’s going on.”
“I’d be fine with it,” District resident Mark Ivecevich said.
He said he would not mind televisions in the Metro, as long as they are quiet.
“I’d say no volume if they were going to do anything. (But) if there were volume, it wouldn’t stop me from riding” Iyecevich said. “It’d just be annoying.”