Council panel OKs ads
on city bus exteriors

Opponents cite visual blights
and possible constitutional issues

A bill that would allow advertising on the exterior of city buses moved forward in the City Council yesterday despite objections from community watchdog groups and some councilmembers.

"We're going in the wrong direction," Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said.

The joint Transportation and Budget committees voted 5-3 in favor of sending the measure to public hearing.

The bill's author, Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, said the measure is intended to generate additional revenues for the bus as the Council tries to fill a $6.8 million shortfall by raising fares.

"My main goal is to increase revenues for the bus so we can subsidize some of the riders," he said.

He amended the bill so that the money from the ads would be used for a program to offset the cost of bus fares for low-income riders.

Oahu resident Zachary Bradley testified that the bill is good for business and the bus.

"I believe it's an ideal means of attracting more business development on the island of Oahu through advertising by mainland-based companies, something that has been sought in the form of an outdoor-advertising means on the island for some time now," Bradley said.

But members of the Outdoor Circle, Scenic Hawaii and Planned Parenthood opposed such advertising, saying that it is not only a visual blight, but could also open the door to other forms of outside advertising.

"The visual quality ... really becomes very important to our economic base, and also there is some skepticism on our part that in fact actually this is going to be a revenue producer for the city," said John Whalen, of Scenic Hawaii Inc.

He noted that the City Council has twice rejected advertising on bus exteriors, including after the 1971 bus strike when there was concern about how the city was going to maintain its new bus service.

Whalen said the city could also open itself up to legal challenges. "Because it's also a public property essentially -- a city bus -- would make it even more unlikely that the city could really restrict the content by somebody who is intent on exercising their First Amendment."

Annelle Amaral, of Planned Parenthood, said the city would not be able to regulate images. She cited the image of an aborted fetus used in an anti-abortion ad on the side of a truck that travels around Oahu.

The California-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, the group behind the ad, is suing the city because it wants to display the same image on an aerial banner, which the city prohibits.

"We believe that the First Amendment challenge to allow their voice unimpeded will be able to override any kind of control you may put on it," Amaral said.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said allowing advertising on buses would be a mistake and not worth the small financial benefits.


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