This space for rent?

Thomas McMahon
Posted on May 18, 2010

Given the state of the economy and the cuts in education funding that are being made, it's not a total surprise that several states have recently taken up the issue of school bus advertising.

With some seeing it as a way for school districts to bring in some much-needed revenue, legislators have been proposing bills that would allow ads on those big, yellow facades. A recent Associated Press article said that at least six states already allow the practice.

In Washington, Sen. Paull Shin introduced legislation earlier this year that would let districts place advertising and educational material on and in school buses if the material has been approved by the district's board of directors. Revenue from the ads would be deposited in the district's general or transportation vehicle funds.

Shin said he proposed the legislation as a way to help balance the state's budget, noting that current economic conditions require looking at "previously untapped sources of revenue."

Many in the pupil transportation industry see ads on school buses as a safety concern or an unwelcome commercial component. In our Driver Management Survey, about three-fourths of respondents said they oppose interior ads, and about two-thirds said they oppose exterior ads.

Rick Spellman, a real estate broker and former school bus driver who helped draft the Washington bill, said that school districts across the country that have implemented similar ad programs have not reported increases in accidents due to the ads.

"The ads will only be placed in a few small, specific spots on the bus — never the front or back — so they don't reduce the visibility of lights, doors, etc.," Spellman said.

He noted that a third party would be responsible for securing the advertising accounts with prior review and approval of the school districts and parents. The company would also mount and change the ads.

"The company would do all the work, collect the money and give the school district a check," Spellman said. "It's new money, and not the old 'rob Peter to pay Paul' programs we've been using for decades."

The bill didn't attract enough support and ended up failing. It wasn't yet clear whether Shin will try to reintroduce it at some point.

A bus advertising bill in Utah also recently died in committee. Interestingly, though, a Deseret News and KSL-TV poll found that 65 percent of Utah residents surveyed believe that ads definitely or probably should be allowed on the sides of school buses.

Florida has also delved into the issue with a bill that would allow school districts to place ads on the outside of their buses (see story here).

Minus the small percentage of a fee that could be used to pay the ad agency, the money would go to school transportation purposes.

But Mike Connors, president of the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation, said that his organization is against placing any ads on the outside of school buses. He points out the potential for distracting other motorists at a critical time.

"We can't afford to have that happen around a school bus — someone going through a stop arm and hitting a kid," Connors said.

Related Topics: school bus advertising

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
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