FORT WAYNE – Citilink buses are not only the size of a billboard – many of them have actually become billboards.
Public transit officials in Fort Wayne have been selling ad space on buses for a while. But in an attempt to help deal with a cash crunch caused by budget cuts, Citilink has not just been selling ads on part of the buses but has turned entire buses into ads.
Called a wrap, such an ad can be printed on flexible vinyl that is then stretched over a vehicle. The portions over windows are like a window screen, enabling the ad to be seen from the outside but also letting people inside see out. Citilink uses the wraps to turn an entire city bus into a giant, rolling advertisement.
Betsy Kachmar, assistant general manager of Citilink, said the agency uses an advertising firm that specializes in outdoor advertising.
They get it designed, printed and installed, we just provide the bus, Kachmar said.
Kachmar said the program isnt entirely new.
There was an issue back in the day where somebody tried to put advertising on a bus that the system and the board was not comfortable with, she said. But we didnt have a good enough policy to turn them down. So in order to turn down an ad for one, we had to turn them down for everybody.
That actually worked out, though, because the system was about to change its name from PTC, for Public Transit Corp., to Citilink, so they wanted big Citilink logos on the buses during the re-branding process anyway.
A few years later, money woes started in earnest.
Funding became so difficult to find, we were looking under every rock to find additional resources, Kachmar said. The interest is high, and were glad to have the extra cash.
Kachmar wouldnt say who the wannabe advertiser was a decade ago, but she confirmed that even today, you wont be seeing any Citilink buses advertising Showgirl or ShangriLa.
We got copies of policies from others that had been sued – and so the policy had been tested – and crafted one for us, she said.
So far, Citilink has sold wraps for 16 buses out of 35 fixed routes, plus the three CampusLink buses, which are a separate program, and one flex-route bus. The agency gets about $6,000 a year for selling the space, but the advertiser is responsible for the cost of the design, printing and installation, which can bring its cost to about $15,000.
Kachmar said there are more considerations than just the money involved, such as rider confusion and the fact that, since buses are routinely moved among routes, theres no guarantee the bus you bought an ad on is running the route you may have intended.
What if Glenbrook mall wanted to advertise, and when the bus pulls up, thats not the bus that goes to Glenbrook that day? she said.
There was also the question of the new hybrid buses – Citilink was proud of them and wanted to show them off when they first started buying them. But now that Citilink owns 14 hybrids, officials may consider selling wraps on them, too.
Were going to have to make a decision on that soon, Kachmar said.
She says that with budgets always tight, almost any kind of advertising might be a possibility. The agency has sold ads on the back of its system map and on brochures, and it even has space on its CampusLink route signs.
Its really difficult to get advertising onto a college campus, but theres a huge market there, she said. I have a few left if anyones interested. If somebody wants to name the station after themselves, we can talk about that. We can name a bus after them. Im flexible.