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A proposed change to allow advertising on the outside of public buses was rejected by Collier County commissioners this week.

Collier Area Transit allows ads and announcements only inside buses, and commissioners said allowing the advertisements on the outside of buses could make them unattractive, turning them into "traveling billboards."

Sales of the exterior ads would have raised revenue to supplement the county’s transportation budget, potentially allowing for additional routes and longer hours, among other improvements. Broadening the county's advertising policies would give CAT and advertisers more options, said Michelle Arnold, Collier County’s public transit director.

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“What we’re asking to do is expand that current policy,” Arnold told the board. 

Selling advertising space on the county’s 28 fixed-route buses would bring in an estimated $190,000 to $350,000 each year. CAT's annual fixed route operating budget totals approximately $9 million, Arnold said.

Although two commissioners initially said at Tuesday's county commission meeting they were open to the idea of expanding advertising, each board member expressed concerns.

“These would look like traveling billboards,” Commissioner Donna Fiala said. “I don’t think we should cheapen our community that way and put signs all over the buses.”

Other commissioners said they worried that the advertisements might cover CAT branding, making it more difficult for riders to spot an approaching bus.

More: Collier Area Transit riders welcome new bus shelters

County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow advised the commissioners that the county will not be able to control the content of the bus advertisements if the ads comply with requirements outlined in the county's advertising policies.

“I think it’s risky business,” Commissioner Penny Taylor said.

Several public speakers at a February transit workshop suggested expanding advertising options to raise revenue for service improvements.

Arnold told county commissioners that members of her staff have already been contacted by restaurants who want to advertise on the buses. Advertising on the outside of buses reaches a wider audience than other forms of advertising, she said.

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“The advertising on the buses are not being directed to our ridership, it’s more all of the traveling public that’s going by it,” Arnold said.

Despite rejecting the advertising change, commissioners unanimously approved digital advertising on the interior of the buses and at bus terminals.

They also approved a program that would allow residents to purchase and donate benches along bus routes.

The digital ads would raise an estimated $23,000 to $100,000 in revenue each year while the bench program would help reduce CAT costs, Arnold said.

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