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IT will remove ads from its buses after complaints. ‘It’s not a good business proposition.”

Intercity Transit will stop running ads on its buses

Intercity Transit says it will stop running ads on its buses after complaints and costly lawsuits over controversial ads elsewhere.
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Intercity Transit says it will stop running ads on its buses after complaints and costly lawsuits over controversial ads elsewhere.

Following complaints and costly lawsuits elsewhere, Intercity Transit says it will phase out advertising on its buses in the next year.

The board for the public transit system in Thurston County voted earlier this month not to renew its contract with the company that places ads on the outside of its buses. Some current ads are scheduled to run for several months more, but all buses will be ad-free by this time next year.

Public transit systems elsewhere have run into trouble with ad content. In recent years, systems in Philadelphia, Maryland and here in Washington have been sued for rejecting ads. In New York City, a judge ruled the transit agency had to run an ad that referenced “killing Jews” that it rejected for fear it could incite violence. The judge said it was protected speech.

“It’s not a good business proposition,” said Ann Freeman-Manzanares, IT’s general manager. “When we’re talking about that potential when we need to be focused on providing good, clean, safe transportation. We don’t need to be focused on this.”

Last year, advertising brought in $435,000, less than 1 percent of IT’s revenue, according to Freeman-Manzanares.

IT has faced criticism for running anti-abortion and anti-war ads in the past, according to Olympian archives. Before marijuana was legal, it was criticized for an Olympia Hempfest ad on buses that included a marijuana leaf and the phrase “Equal Rights are for Everybody.”

At the time, IT said it was a political statement advocating legalization, not encouraging anyone to get high.

Others have complained about how ads sometimes cover bus windows and questioned why public buses had ads when other taxpayer-funded vehicles such as fire trucks and school buses do not. Some at IT questioned the public’s ability to identify IT buses when they are fully wrapped in ads.

IT did have limits on which ads it would run, excluding, for instance, alcohol and tobacco products, nude dance clubs, and escort services. More broadly, it had said no to content deemed obscene, defamatory, profane, sexual or anything that incited violent, criminal or anti-social behavior, including epithets based on race, religion, color or gender.

Political ads were OK as long as the group behind the ad was identified.

Water Sanford of Lacey was among those who complained — in her case about an ad for an annual anti-abortion rally at the Capitol Campus. She said a publicly funded agency shouldn’t be weighing in on political or religious issues, and she welcomed the news this week of ad-free buses.

“I think it’s a great thing,” she said. “It should be neutral.”

The change comes as IT prepares to hit the road with new buses after voters approved a sales tax increase to fund service expansion. Eight replacement buses started arriving last week, and 16 more are expected later this year.

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Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.
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