By Wendy Osher
The Maui council’s Budget and Finance Committee discussed a proposed budget amendment to add a fee for advertising inside county buses.
While the proposal was specifically for the inside of buses, committee members did not rule out consideration of providing advertising space on the outside of buses–which is currently prohibited under county ordinance.
The item was deferred as department officials compile more information about options for generating the greatest amount of revenue and any impacts the advertisements may have.
Committee Chair Mike White said the purpose in bringing the issue forward was to identify what kind of revenue stream the advertising is capable of producing.
Maui Department of Transportation Director Jo Anne Johnson Winer, said that if the county charged $25 per month for each of the 20 poster size advertising positions currently available on a large bus, they could generate $500 per month on a single bus.
She also noted the downfalls of the current print-type of poster advertising, saying it is limited in the type of advertising that can be done. The county currently provides the poster-type ads to some non-profit organizations at no charge.
“We thought because our vendor is now moving towards a GPS format where you would be able to use a smart phone application, that we should also be heading in that direction,” said Johnson Winer.
Based on various marketing programs currently available, Johnson Winer said she “would certainly think” that the county could generate much more than $500 per month, if the service was put out to bid for a vendor capable of outfitting buses with more versatile digital advertising equipment.
The county currently has a fleet of 20 large buses, and has 10 more on order, that will bring the future fleet size to 30 large buses.
According to information released in December 2012, ridership on the Maui Bus had already exceeded 2.7 million passenger boardings per year, with officials calling it “the fastest growing public transit system in the nation.” In response to the community, routes were expanded to include the Kula area late last year.
“I believe that based on a number of vendors that have approached our department and shown us some of the technology that’s available, I think we would get a very competitive bid going if we put this out for bid, and then that way of course, the vendor that would give the greatest percentage of return to the County of Maui,” said Johnson Winer.
Lānaʻi council member Riki Hokama said, “We’ve been talking about this for almost 15 years now–why not duplicate some of City and County (of Honolulu’s) procurement and concession agreement policies to generate revenues to support the parks (and) transportation.”
“I think we should be looking at the optimum we can capture, because that helps to offset the general fund subsidy for the program,” said Hokama.
Fellow Council Member Gladys Baisa agreed saying, “This is an opportunity to make some money.” During discussion on the topic, Baisa said, “We know what we pay for one ad that appears in a publication one time–and that could be $400, $500, $600, or even $1,000, just for one shot, and that might be seen only once and that’s it. It goes to the trash pile or recycling.”
Committee Chair Mike White said in terms of advertising on the outside of buses, “before just saying no, I’d like to find out how much money we can generate.”
DOT Director Johnson Winer advised that members consult with the group Outdoor Circle that she said had been a vocal opponent of advertising at bus shelters and benches.
Council Member Don Couch provided a retort asking if opponents are willing to help support the millions of dollars that it costs to run the system.
Council Member Elle Cochran also asked for clarification on how bus advertisement differs from the advertising wraps seen on vehicles throughout the county. Officials provided an explanation saying the language prohibiting advertisement specifically refers to the county bus fleet.
In addition to the ordinance that DOT officials referenced, there is also a Commercial Sign section in the Maui County Code, Chapter 16.13, that outlines specific definitions, regulations, and limits on signs for advertising. The purpose of the legislation is to protect the natural beauty of the landscape and also protect the interest of health and safety.
Chair White chimed in on the mention saying, “We’ve got lots and lots of vehicles traveling all over our roads with lots and lots of advertisements already.”
As an example of the type of money that could be made, White said, “The range of price for advertisements on the outside of a bus are from $200-something up to $4,500 per month. Now, that’s probably in a high density area, not like Maui; but regardless, it should be examined and evaluated as to whether we move in this direction.”
Member Baisa commented on the potential for advertising on the outside of buses saying, “I’m not opposed to it; I just know that we have a law that prohibits it, and if we’re going to consider it, we better be sensitive because there are a lot of people who are concerned about us looking ugly.”
She continued saying, “We don’t want Maui to look, you know, tacky; but maybe tastefully done signs that are an appropriate color, size or magnetic… I could see there being a good market for an event–you know something that’s happening this weekend, maybe the county fair could buy advertising on the outside, or whatever festival is happening.”
“Those moving billboards are everywhere,” said Baisa. “But again, I think the caution is we better check if people who are very sensitive to this; and we don’t want to get into another controversy,” she said.
Member Hokama concluded saying, “I think we can possibly work with the department and director and come up with something that makes sense; because the overall goal and mission is to provide a good service with something that we can afford, that will reduce subsidies, and provide for those that need that type of transportation for their everyday needs.”
The item was deferred until the next meeting in two weeks when the DOT was asked to provide an information update with various options available, that would generate revenue for the county.