BART Board to Debate Increasing Revenue with Video Monitors, Train Ads

A partial train wrap, known as a "Kong," could bring in additional revenue for BART. Image BART.
A partial train wrap, known as a "Kong," could bring in additional revenue for BART. Image BART.

Unlike every other transit agency in the Bay Area, BART was able to stanch the economic bleeding over the past year and realize a modest operational surplus at the end of FY 2010 in June. The agency doesn’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling, however, and Board President James Fang has asked staff to present additional revenue generating measures at tomorrow’s board meeting.

Though Fang said BART’s fiscal stewardship over the past two years set an “example of how to run a transit system in a recession,” the agency had to anticipate the next economic turmoil with greater diversity of revenue sources. “We can’t rest on our laurels. Any way you can get more revenue into the system, that means you don’t have to lay off people,” he said.

Over the past month, BART staff looked into numerous best practices from transit operators around the world and narrowed the more realistic options to five [pdf]. Two of them would involve setting up video monitors in stations and train cars, though both have differing benefits and challenges. According to BART spokesperson Linton Johnson, Titan’s current contract for advertising in stations gives them the right to bid first on station monitors, which they are expected to exercise with a proposal.

Johnson was clear to highlight the monitors in station and cars, if they were voted on by the board, would be video only and primarily provide BART arrival and delay information, as well as some news, weather and advertising.The staff report notes the station monitor option has generated little interest beyond the Titan proposal, so should it not meet BART’s revenue needs, the option might not proceed due to lack of interest. Until the proposal from Titan comes through, BART had no estimate on how much revenue the station monitors could generate.

An example of a station monitor. Image: Titan
An example of a station monitor. Image: Titan

The challenge of installing monitors on train cars is two-fold, according to Johnson. First, the rail cars were not designed to accommodate monitors or the real-time networks that would be needed to provide relevant information. BART would have to consider how much it wants to spend outfitting the older cars with the monitors versus the revenue it would produce. Second, because the agency is in the beginning phase of car replacement, Johnson said it might be more cost-effective simply to design the monitors into the new cars. Regardless, he said, the agency wanted to get as much information to riders as possible in the near-term, given rider feedback on the issue.

“Riders have been crying out for information on the train that gives them the ability to know when they’ll arrive at the next station,” said Johnson, who joked that BART customers would appreciate having real-time traffic information on the trains so “you can laugh at people on the road as you’re passing them by.”

Image: BART.
Image: BART.

The third option would involve partial or complete train advertising wraps. BART has experimented with wraps in the past, but Johnson said they were for Spare the Air Day and other non-revenue generating campaigns. Whether or not customers would stomach wraps for commercial advertisers and whether they would be on the entire fleet of cars or only portions of them are questions that will be discussed at the meeting.

The two options BART expects to generate the most controversy are billboards along BART right-of-way and station co-naming rights. BART’s tracks are proximate to freeways throughout the system, primarily in the East Bay and to the east of the Oakland and Berkeley hills, where the agency theoretically could install billboards. While there are several layers of regulatory hurdles to surmount, BART has already received an unsolicited proposal for electronic billboards. The proposal would be for 12 two-sided digital signs, with the contractor keeping 20 percent of ad revenues and BART earning $3.6 million annual revenue and an up-front payment of $15.6 million.

Station co-naming rights not only contradict the current BART policy on station naming, but would likely lead to various concerns, including public backlash and the ever changing corporate names (think Candlestick Park). Johnson said the current policy is to name stations with geographical indicators to help with wayfinding, particularly for tourists and visitors to the Bay Area. When asked how well he thought the “Al Davis Oakland Coliseum Station” would go over with BART riders, Johnson laughed but declined comment.

A photo sim of a video billboard. Image: BART
A photo sim of a video billboard. Image: BART

Considering the potential concerns BART riders might have with the various proposals, Fang said he wanted to strike a balance between having revenue to continue improving BART service and maintenance versus invasive advertising and controversy.

“Some people may have questions on the aesthetics and I’m very sensitive about that,” he said. “I asked staff for ideas, the first crack at those ideas are in the presentation.”

  • Thomas

    Video Monitors? I remember BART having them in the Downtown SF stations during the 1990’s.

  • Video monitors on the bart cars is sooooo “Total Recall” 🙂

  • janey

    They forgot to factor in the fact that the lovely residents of Oakland would just smash the things to pieces.

  • Daniel Krause

    Everything is for sale. Billboards are an urban blight that usually impact low-income communities disproportionately. Further, once you put them in it is next to impossible to get rid of them. Billboards should just be banned flat out from cities.

  • Wow. _All_ of these are bad ideas.

    Cost and revenue to BART are not the only factors here. Advertising produces such high negative externalities on our society. It shouldn’t be tolerated in public spaces.

    Does anyone know when and where tomorrow the board meeting is?

  • @Stuart,
    BART board meetings are at 9 am at 344 20th Street in Oakland. 3rd floor, up the big escalators (I usually go through the CVS Pharmacy and to the back when you’re walking from 19th St/Oakland BART station)

    http://www.bart.gov/about/bod/meetings.aspx

    You can also watch the meetings here:
    http://www.bart.gov/about/bod/multimedia.aspx

  • Thanks, Matthew. But, boo, I can’t make that. I did send my comments to them through the website though 🙂

  • JMC

    The board members who voted for that Oakland Airport boondoggle should be treated to a continuous barrage of ads, Clockwork Orange style.

  • Ryan

    The only option I like is the train tv monitors, I think they should be incorporated into the new trains unless they can pay for themselves while they’re in the old ones. Maybe the stations could work if it announces trains, the current monitors are pretty obviously outdated

  • Erik G.

    Just come visit LA and try to remain sane as your ride our Transit TV infested LA Metro buses.

    Please BART, whore yourselves out another way!!!

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