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Lawmakers push for electronic ads on Santa Monica buses

July 15, 2011 | 11:01 am

Getprev State lawmakers have moved forward with a proposal to allow Santa Monica to put electronic advertising on the sides of its buses, which the city believes will bring in millions of dollars in revenue.

But the measure approved by the state Senate has drawn some opposition amid concerns that the digital ads will create a distraction for drivers that may lead to accidents.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, said it was ironic that the same day the bus advertisement bill was approved, legislators also voted Thursday to increase the fines for using cellphones and text messaging while driving because it is seen as a dangerous distraction.

"It’s a contradiction to allow more distractions on one hand while you are cracking down on other distractions," Hathaway said.

Santa Monica officials estimate that putting electronic signs on buses can generate $8 million annually to help pay for transit services. Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) introduced legislation with the idea that the test program putting electronic signs on up to 30 buses in her district may eventually spread statewide.

“Public transit agencies are struggling to meet their communities’ needs for transportation when revenues are tight,” Brownley said. “Advertising on electronic signs can be switched out more quickly and less expensively, providing transit agents more revenue they can use to maintain or enhance public transportation services.”

AB 607 was needed because state law currently limits electronic signs to displaying information directly related to the service, such as route numbers. The bill now goes to the Assembly for final legislative action before heading to the governor.

Hathaway said electronic signs are meant to draw attention to themselves, so they will be a distraction moving through traffic. "It’s a terrible idea," he said. "I don’t want the person in the car next to me distracted by the sign on the side of the bus."

The legislation includes restrictions on the location, color and brightness of the signs to address potential traffic safety issues, said Linda Rapattoni, a spokeswoman for Brownley.  She said digital signs have been used on buses in other cities including Chicago without significant problems.

But the program in California is being kept small at first on purpose to make sure there are no traffic issues, she said. "That’s one of the reasons why it’s a pilot project," she said.

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-- Patrick McGreevy

Photo: California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) introduced legislation for electronic advertising on the sides of buses. Credit: Handout

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