READY TO HOP aboard the Starbucks train? How about the Nike Express? The day when advertising becomes ubiquitous on Seattle's transit systems could be closer than you think, if monorail proponents move forward with a revenue strategy that could involve selling ad rights on monorail cars, in stations, and even inside the trains themselves.
The Elevated Transportation Company (ETC), the organization charged with bringing a monorail plan to voters, is basing its advertising plan on the strategy adopted by monorail planners in Las Vegas, where corporations will deliver very important messages to as many as 40 million pairs of eyeballs every year. Vegas monorail spokesperson Gary Johnson, who predicts the ads will bring in "at least $15 million," says the strategy will include selling the naming rights to stations, letting companies design and decorate stations and monorail interiors, and running nonstop video ads loops inside the trains and stations. "The ads themselves would become the entertainment," Johnson says.
Wait a minute—isn't this Seattle? You know, the city that would rather go without public toilets than sell ads to pay for them? Not a problem, says monorail proponent Peter Sherwin. "I know this is something that raises the back hairs of the ambience police," Sherwin says, but if it helps pay for the monorail, "who cares how the train's painted?"
The anti-billboard lobby is bound to frown at ideas like video loops and ads in monorail stations. And the legality of such ads is still an open question; city sign inspector Chip Champlin notes that Seattle's land-use code doesn't allow permanent signs on public property, although Department of Construction and Land Use spokesperson Alan Justad says ads inside stations (and hence out of public view) would probably be legal.
The ETC predicts advertising revenues of between $1.6 million and $8 million. That may be optimistic: Vegas' predictions, on which Seattle's are loosely based, assume a constantly changing crowd of comparatively flush tourists, not daily downtown commuters. And Metro, which doesn't sell ads at its bus stops (because it's generally illegal) or in its downtown tunnel (for aesthetic reasons, although Metro says the legality of tunnel ads is still an open question), makes about $6.5 million from ads on its 1,300 buses, which serve 98 million riders a year throughout King County. In contrast, monorail predicts annual ridership between 16 million and 19 million.
Erica C. Barnett