C-Tran removing paid ads on buses to emphasize its brand

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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From billboards to building walls, sidewalk signs and even construction sites, the cityscape is a gallimaufry of advertisements. But in the not-too-distant future, C-Tran’s fleet won’t be advertising anything but itself.

C-Tran officials say the move to remove paid advertising from the exterior of its fleet is part of a larger effort to raise its profile within the community.

“We are putting an emphasis and a priority on the C-Tran brand,” said spokeswoman Christine Selk. “It’s hard to do that when your vehicles are covered in ads.”

On Oct. 17, the C-Tran Board of Directors unanimously voted to end its bus advertising contract with Lamar Advertising Company and thus stop marketing their buses as mobile ad space. The contract was scheduled to last until September 2021.

Since the program rolled out, the size of the ads has varied from a panel mounted on the front or back of the bus to a full-on vehicle wrap that essentially turns a 40-foot coach into a mobile billboard.

The board’s vote doesn’t mean the ads will all come down right away. C-Tran officials expect the current ad campaigns will be phased out as their contracts expire– likely over the next couple months.

Selk also said the contract doesn’t mean C-Tran is moving away from ads mounted inside the bus. However, Lamar won’t be handling those in the future.

C-Tran started selling ad space on its bus exteriors in 2001 as a way to avoid service reductions and bring in extra revenue as the state government eliminated matching funds for Washington transit agencies.

But the agency’s financial situation improved when, in 2005 and 2011, voters in its service district approved two funding ballot measures that buoyed its finances. Also, during the past several years, C-Tran has enjoyed an unexpected boon in sales tax revenue that’s significantly outpaced budget forecasts. That’s enabled C-Tran to preserve and somewhat expand service.

In its 2017-2018 biennial budget, C-Tran anticipated the advertising program to produce a little over $857,000, or about 0.6 percent of its total revenue.

At the mid-October meeting, C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy told the board that he sees a renewed focus on the agency brand and identity as part of long-range 2030 Plan, which looks to public transportation’s future in the region.

“One big issue for us is how the community perceives us, both in the business community and our citizens, and we feel like the best way to approach some of these 2030 restructuring plans is really to talk about who we are in the community,” he said. “We want to brand ourselves similar to other public agencies and even private agencies — that we are C-Tran and our brand stands for something.”

Lamar didn’t respond to a request for comment.