A new initiative at Connect Transit could bring in up to $1.4 million in local revenue without raising fares or taxes.
The bus agency started a pilot on-bus advertisement program that allows businesses and community groups to rent space on Connect Transit's 35 fixed-route buses to display advertisements ranging in size from a full outer bus wrap to an interior placard.
"This transit system needs local funding to match the state and federal dollars we get," said General Manager Andrew Johnson. "Before we are going to look at any other tax sources we need to make sure we are maximizing all the revenue we can generate internally and this is a big component of that."
Melissa Chrisman started in April as Connect Transit's first business development manager and is heading up the advertisement program. She said the goal for the program's first year is to bring in $45,000 but if every available space is rented it could bring in $1.4 million.
Chrisman said her other major task going forward will be building additional partnerships with local businesses similar to "universal access" agreements the agency already has with local universities that provide students free bus passes for a lump sum from the school.
But, Chrisman said, getting the advertising program up and running is her priority right now. Connect Transit adopted guidelines a couple of years ago but only now, with her hiring, has the staff began to implement the program, she said.
Those guidelines prohibit material that is sexually explicit, portrays violence or shows mutilated fetuses. They also prohibit advertisements for tobacco, alcohol and profanity or discriminatory statements. Political ads also are prohibited.
"Everybody sees them (the buses). They're not just going to 18 and older spots," Chrisman said. "We are a public agency so we make sure we're not tying ourselves to anything that may make any type of controversy."
Chrisman said a pilot agreement already is underway with one company that's placed ads on the sides of 10 buses and she has a list of other businesses and community groups ready to sign on once the program is fully underway.
Johnson said the initial $45,000 expected from the program can be used to leverage additional state and federal funds where matching local funds are required. With that in mind, he said the agency is hopeful it can increase pick-up intervals on select routes to 15 minutes in fiscal year 2016.
The agency also wants to add Sunday service.
Connect Transit's overall operating budget for the current fiscal year 2015, approved in April, is about $10.45 million.
Copyright 2014 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.