To Increase Revenue, MBTA Eyes Lifting Ban On Alcohol Ads

While no formal proposal has been put forward, Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve told the T's control board Monday that allowing alcohol ads would help the agency as its seeks to double ad revenue in the next few years. (Steven Senne/AP)
While no formal proposal has been put forward, Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve told the T's control board Monday that allowing alcohol ads would help the agency as its seeks to double ad revenue in the next few years. (Steven Senne/AP)

 Updated October 8, 2015, 10:08 am

As the MBTA looks to aggressively increase its advertising revenue, Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve appears to be laying the groundwork for a proposal to reverse the T’s ban on alcohol advertisements.

The transit agency banned all alcohol ads in 2012, but Shortsleeve told the T’s control board on Monday that allowing alcohol ads was one of the recommendations he was looking at as the T seeks to double ad revenue in the next few years.

Ad revenue has been one of the few bright spots for the troubled transit agency, where operating expenses and debt service are growing at nearly three times the rate of all revenue growth. In September, the T’s ad revenue — which accounts for about just 2.5 percent of all the T’s operating revenue — was 16 percent higher than their best previous month. And the T reported last month that ad revenue was running 26 percent higher than the same time last year.

Still, Shortsleeve told the control board at its weekly meeting Monday that the agency has far more work to do.

“There are a lot of good things happening on the advertising front, I think the bad news is that we’re still probably well below our full potential,” he said.

According to Shortsleeve, roughly half of major U.S. transit agencies allow alcohol ads, including Chicago and New Jersey. He also noted that while the T bans alcohol ads on all property, such ads are allowed on city of Boston-owned bus shelters.

By allowing alcohol ads, Intersection, the T’s advertising contractor, predicts the T could bring in an additional $1.3 million in ad revenues next fiscal year — one of several proposals Intersection made to double the T’s ad revenue in the next few years.

Following the ban on alcohol ads in 2012, the T’s ad revenue dropped about $1 million. However, ad revenues have been steadily growing since then —  from $11 million in 2012 to $16 million last year. Intersection wants to turn that into $35.9 million by 2018.

Intersection also proposed installing several new digital ad screens, doing more station and line sponsorships — think South Station’s Draft Kings takeover — putting a digital billboard at the tower near the Kenmore Square station, and other efforts like wrapping the elevator shafts at South Station and commuter rail trains that travel to Gillette Stadium with ads.

Chief Administrator Shortsleeve emphasized during the meeting that he was not proposing any policy changes, but laying out a possible path to getting the T’s ad revenue to its “full potential.” He also touched on what he called “historic barriers” the T was facing to earning more ad revenue. Those include stakeholder concerns around enhanced outdoor digital advertising and station sponsorships; the T’s advertising policy, which bans 15 categories of ads; and the potential for the T’s internal approvals process to act as a barrier to taking timely advantage of digital advertising trends.

He told the board he would be back with recommendations “down the line.”

During Monday’s meeting the control board also approved a contract to purchase 44 new hybrid buses for $52.6 million. The new buses will replace 44 that were acquired in 2003 and have reached the end of their expected lifespan.

Control board members also heard presentations Monday on new commuter rail schedules and the continued work being done to streamline the T’s workforce policies, a topic that was emphasized when the control board testified before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee last week.

CorrectionAn earlier version of this post referred to the MBTA’s advertising contractor by its old name, Titan. Titan has merged with Control Group, and the new company is called Intersection. We regret the error.  

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