This is a very interesting article from today's Democrat: A tradeoff of modern life: Roadside advertising for bus shelters Gerald Ensley, Tallahassee Democrat 11:44 a.m. EST February 13, 2015 asset-sprite Soon, you may notice a different look along Tallahassee roadsides: Advertising on bus shelters and benches. On Jan. 28, the city commission approved a proposal by the city bus company, Star Metro, to enter into a contract with two vendors to build bus shelters and benches in exchange for the right to sell advertising on them. The contracts should be signed by the end of February; construction should start in April. It is a proposal the city commission resisted for many years but now has embraced for the financial benefit: an estimated $2 million in shelters and benches at no cost to the taxpayers. But it is a move that infuriates residents such as Rip Caleen, a retired attorney and ardent opponent of roadside advertising, which he believes ruins Tallahassee's appearance. Caleen has spent years fighting billboards and "snipe signs," those small advertising placards placed in medians and public right of ways. Though illegal, such signs have proliferated for years. Ironically, at the same Jan. 28 meeting at which the city commission approved bus stop advertising, it agreed to beef up enforcement against snipe signs. "This is all about money," Caleen said. "They've given no thought to how this will impact the visual beauty of this city. We're going to become one of those cheap-looking cities, who don't care what they look like." Caleen's objections have merit; no one wants the Tallahassee cityscape covered in advertising. But it's hard to argue with the logic of the measure: Tallahassee needs the bus stop amenities. And in today's world, well-identified corporate sponsorship of public facilities is a fact of life. Star Metro has 886 bus stops. Currently, 265 of them have some "amenity" for those waiting for a bus: There are 142 covered shelters, 61 benches and 62 two-seat bus poles. Under the new contracts, 600 more bus stops will get amenities over the next five years. One company, Metropolitan Advertising Company, will build 50 shelters and 495 benches. A second company, Sun Pacific, will install a new concept: "Smart Shelters." The 50 solar-powered, smart shelters will provide WiFi service, digital advertising and real-time information about when the next bus will arrive. They may also be equipped with surveillance cameras for the police. About 300 new amenities will be built this year. Within two years, 80 percent of Tallahassee's bus stops will have a place for riders to sit and/or get out of the elements. "This is an effective partnership to meet a customer need," said Brian Waterman, Star Metro transit planning director. "You look at other cities, big cities, small cities and this is the means to an end to get it done. Yes, (the advertising) could be distracting. But I think we're putting in the appropriate controls to make sure it is high quality and tasteful." The city commission decreed there can be no advertising at bus stops on canopy roads, special character districts and historic districts. The commission prohibited political, religious and social/economic issue advertising, as well as banning alcohol, tobacco or adult entertainment advertising. There will be a content control committee to review all advertising, and local advertisers will have priority. All new shelters and benches will be in the style of the current shelters and benches. Advertising on benches will be on the back of the seats; advertising on shelters will be on a vertical side opposite the flow of traffic. City Commissioner Scott Maddox is a prime supporter. In Maddox's first stint on the commission (1993-2003), he opposed advertising on bus shelters and benches. But when he returned to the commission in 2012, one of his chief goals was to add more bus shelters and benches - which he said is about compassion. "It's horrible that we're the capital of the third largest state and we have senior citizens standing in the rain to catch a bus; we ought to do better," Maddox said. "This is clearly a tradeoff. It's one I'm not entirely comfortable with. But to me, the needs of those riding the transit system without shelter outweigh the negative effects of advertising." Maddox said there is "no way in today's budget," the city could afford the amenities on its own. Besides, Maddox said, the "advertising horse is out of the barn." "We have giant moving billboards on our buses. Walk down the concourse of the airport and it's lined with advertising," Maddox said. "The advertising (at bus shelters) will be primarily oriented not to those who drive by but to those inside. I think they'll gladly trade eyeball space for getting out of the rain." Rahnie Spencer Wright, past president of the Providence neighborhood association, supports the new measure. She said people in her neighborhood off Lake Bradford Road sit on the ground or electrical boxes when waiting for a bus. "Clearly, there is a need for people to be able to sit when they wait for a bus," said Spencer Wright, 37, a legal secretary, college student and theater stage manager who rides the buses daily. "If there is any other way to pay for (shelters and benches other than with advertising), it needs to be brought forward." Proponents say more shelters and benches will increase bus ridership - even as critics contend Tallahassee is not a "mass transit town." Waterman said studies show the new generation millennials are avid users of public transportation. "They are shunning the (private) car; they want options," he said. Spencer Wright said shelters and benches create an awareness in residents who never noticed a bus stop sign on a pole near their homes: "With amenities, you sway the people who normally drive to make riding the bus an option," she said. Maddox just wants bus riders to have a better experience. "I agree the new urbanism encourages mass transit and that the young are riding buses now," he said. "But I can tell you who's riding buses for sure: the people who have no other choice. Gosh, shouldn't we make it easier on them." It does seem the right thing to do.