Seattle mulls ads on bus shelters and benches

SEATTLE -- The next time you hop a bus in Seattle, you might be staring into the eyes of Brad Pitt, or sharing space with soda pop, or mixing it up with messages from Microsoft.

The Emerald City is exploring the idea of allowing advertisements on bus shelters, benches, and information kiosks as a way of raising revenue without raising taxes, said Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

"We've had a series of tough budget years in the city of Seattle," McGinn said Thursday, at an event encouraging the public to support local food banks. "We've been making deep cuts in the city budget. We want to maintain our fire department, our police department, fill the potholes, keep the libraries and computer centers open. All the things we do in city government needs money."

McGinn insists the advertisements would be limited to "pedestrian-sized ads" and points to other public projects that came from private investment - like an additional South Lake Union streetcar funded by Amazon - as a way this could work.

Bus riders and bench sitters seemed open to the idea Thursday - with limitations.

"That's a little awkward," laughed Julie Johnson, when asked about sharing shelter space with a shirtless man (of the two-dimensional kind) while she waited for the bus in downtown Seattle. "If it pays what otherwise we would be paying with our taxes then I'm cool with it. That's great."

Johnson added that she would support the idea if it helped pay for safety improvements for bus riders, such as better lighting, covered benches, or more police.

"Advertisements are ugly-looking. It kind of ruins the atmosphere a little bit," countered Casey Dixon of Greenlake, as she said on a bench near Victor Steinbrueck Park around noontime, "but I guess the city has to make money some way."

McGinn points to Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston as places where similar partnerships have worked to the benefit of city government.

Seattle is accepting proposals for the advertisements through Dec. 1.

"We regulate advertising in the city," McGinn argued, when asked what he would say to critics. "We allow advertising in the city, and if you walk out on the street you'll see some advertising already. So why not make it so we can finance some needed public improvements with that advertising?"