by Mike Sharkey
Since 2005, JTA has been trying to form a public-private partnership that would allow the transportation authority to install hundreds of bus shelters all over town. Those shelters would be built and maintained by a private company that would also sell advertising on the structures.
For four years, JTA has battled the City’s sign ordinance and the perception that such shelters would contribute to visual pollution. Today, JTA is once again seeking to add shelters and it’s armed with two things: a California federal court ruling and a young, progressive-thinking City Council that realizes the value of public-private partnerships.
According to JTA spokesman Mike Miller, JTA has 6,600 stops across Jacksonville’s 840 square miles. Of those stops, only 400 have shelters. That means 6,200 consist of little more than a metal pole in the ground — something Miller, and now Council member Warren Jones, says is no good especially on a July afternoon with temperatures soaring and the ever-present threat of thunderstorms.
Jones was born and raised in Jacksonville and grew up in a one-car family that found itself dependent on public transportation. He has ridden the bus and understands what it’s like to sweat in the summer, freeze in the winter and get soaked when it’s least convenient. Serving his second stint on Council, Jones is sponsoring the legislation that would permit the shelters and accompanying advertising. Miller said JTA would generate some money from the shelters, however by forming a partnership with a private company that would build and maintain the shelters and sell the ads, JTA would realize a capital savings of about half a million dollars a year. He said it costs $1,250 a year to maintain each of the 400 JTA-owned shelters across town.
“I am sensitive to those who are transportation dependent and represent an area (Dist. 9) that is transportation dependent,” said Jones, during a taping for an upcoming segment of JTA’s “Making Moves” which airs the second and fourth Sunday of the month at noon on Ch. 4. “The people we see waiting on the bus become part of the landscape. You see them, but you don’t see them.”
Jones said shortly after he returned to Council in 2007, he started noticing people who waited at bus stops and wishes now he had taken pictures. There was the lady standing in the rain with a bag of groceries in her hand. There was the man sitting on the sidewalk in the shade, several yards from the stop.
“We have a number of people who have to catch the bus and are denied the simple amenities because we can’t afford them,” said Jones. “We need to look at a partnership with tasteful ads. Someone will build and maintain the shelters at no cost to the taxpayer.”
Jones and JTA also have legal precedence on their side. For several years, proponents of such legislation were defeated by those who pointed to the City’s sign ordinance that prohibits advertising on public buildings or public property. There are exceptions, of course, with the signs on the stadium that face outward as examples.
However, a recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit (in California) said that advertising on transit shelters or public rights-of-way or on public property is permissible, especially if those shelters are for a public purpose.
“The idea the shelters would jeopardize the City sign ordinance is no longer a valid argument,” said Miller.
The legislation has been assigned to the Council’s Land Use & Zoning Committee and there will be several opportunities for the public to weigh in on the issue.
Miller also said there are limitations to what advertising would be allowed. Alcohol, tobacco, firearms, gambling, political ads, anti-abortion, pro-choice and religion are among the topics banned.
“They must meet community standards, not just political, but nothing controversial,” said Miller.
If the legislation is approved, Miller said JTA will issue a request for proposal for a single company that will build the shelters and sell the advertising. While much of the advertising would be national Miller said some local companies may find it more economical at $400 a month.
“Some small businesses can’t afford TV, radio or newspaper,” said Miller.