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Summit Stage to consider bus ads

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” To make up for a revenue shortfall, the Summit Stage may look at selling ad space on the outside of its buses.

The same idea surfaced several years ago, but strict town and county sign codes don’t give much leeway for that type of advertising, said county planning director Jim Curnutte.

“That’s why we don’t have big outdoor billboards,” Curnutte said.

The Stage is supported by a county-wide sales tax, but in the current recession, revenues have plummeted. Transit tax revenue took a 16.3 percent hit from last year during the first three months of 2009, dropping by $463,000.

Larger municipal transit agencies can earn six-figure amounts for advertising contracts, said Summit Stage director John Jones. His agency had to lay off several drivers last month, and Jones said ridership has also fallen off the past few months.

He said an ad contract for Summit Stage buses could bring in about $40,000 annually for starters, but could grow into a bigger contract.

“Every little bit helps,” Jones said.

At the same time, the agency will consider the possibility of advertising at local bus stops. Jones also said there has been talk about electronic billboard advertising at the Frisco transit center.

All those ideas will be up for discussion at a transit board meeting next week.

Neither Jones, nor assistant county manager Thad Noll, is completely convinced that the advertising idea is the way to go, but they want to have some options for the transit board to consider.

“We said, let’s throw all kinds of ideas to see if they can help,” Noll said.

Noll said that charging for bus rides is not an option. The county commissioners have made it clear that they don’t support the idea of charging riders, primarily because residents and visitors already pay for the Summit Stage with taxes.

In the longer term, the transit agency has the option of asking voters to approve another .25 percent sales tax hike to fund transportation. But that is not a funding source to be tapped to make up for a temporary shortfall due to the economy, Noll said.

Increased revenue from a tax hike would be used to significantly expand transit, perhaps by adding service to Park County or Kremmling.

For now, the Stage will start to collect the revenue from the ads inside the buses. Under a previous contract, that revenue had been going to the Summit Chamber. But when the contract expired, the Chamber and the transit agency agreed amicably to the change.

Jones said the Stage will make a one-time contribution to the the Chamber. That advertising contract is also worth about $40,000 annually.

“We’re going to muddle through like everybody else,” Jones said.

The advertising issues will be up for discussion at a transit board meeting next week.

Curnutte said it would require some changes to local sign codes, along with a public hearing process.

It could open a can of worms unless the code language is carefully crafted.

“The big billboard advertising companies could say, “Hey, you’re allowing advertising on the buses, so why can’t we put up billboards?'” Curnutte said.

Noll said the transit agency has a decent reserve fund that should help the Stage weather the current downturn in revenues.

“The board is going to be real cautious in adding new things to make sure they’re sustainable,” he said.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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