That's a wrap: City to phase out advertising on the sides of its buses

Aug. 24—It's wraps for businesses looking to peddle their products on the sides of city buses.

The Albuquerque City Council voted 8-1 Monday to phase out advertising bus wraps from the city fleets, with Councilor Louie Sanchez as the only voting member in opposition. In June 2025, when the city's current bus wrapping contract expires, all wraps will be removed from the fleet.

Bill sponsor Councilor Isaac Benton said the legislation tackles a couple of issues. One, he said, was increasing the feeling of security for people looking to board city buses. The bill text cited an increased "sense of vulnerability to crime from passengers inside the bus" when windows are covered by advertising, as prospective passengers are unable to make out what's happening inside the vehicle.

The other is making a more unified, distinctive look for the city's public transportation — especially for tourists, Benton said, who might feel more comfortable seeing a familiar bus rolling their way. Wrapping the buses in advertisements could be confusing, he continued, and people might assume they're private vehicles.

"As a supporter of public transit, I think we need an identifiable system," Benton said. "I don't think we need a random assortment of advertising billboards riding around our city."

A floor amendment also specified that the city's Sun Vans — paratransit services for people unable to ride fixed-route buses — need an easily-identifiable exterior.

Benton's sentiment was echoed by the sole public commenter on the bill.

"Albuquerque, New Mexico: Probably second to Santa Fe, (is the) most tourist-oriented. And then ... every bus is a lawyer advertisement!" he said. "That's Albuquerque?"

Transit Department spokesperson Megan Holcomb said the department doesn't have data showing that removing wraps from windows improves safety, but said it helps promote a more "inviting culture," which can encourage ridership.

Holcomb said public safety is one of the department's main challenges and focuses.

For now, 27 businesses advertise on city buses. There is no limit on how many buses they can enlist; Holcomb said the majority of city buses are wrapped in advertising.

But the Transit Department was already moving away from revenue-generating bus wraps, said department director Leslie Keener at the Monday meeting, pursuing instead wraps more representative of the city, such as the Visit ABQ buses and the Pride wrap from June. In the future, new designs for the exterior of the bus, which do not cover windows, will be created.

The bus wrap contractor, Lamar Advertising, covers all the costs for finding advertisers and installing and removing bus wraps. It additionally pays the city approximately $250,000 per year to advertise.

Over the next three years, the city will lose out on $1.2 million in advertising from the wraps, as buses that are phased out are replaced sans wrap.

But that number might not be too dire — about 45% of the lost revenue will be made up by existing advertising revenue streams on bus shelters and benches and inside of city buses. The lost revenue is a fraction of a percent of the estimated $174,585,000 total transit budget for the next three years.

Lamar Advertising is in the fifth year of its six-year contract with the city. The contract is set to expire in June 2025.

Holcomb said Lamar Advertising also provides ads on bus shelters around the city, and a meeting is planned between the city and company to discuss potentially modifying or terminating the contract.

Keener said Monday the department is in favor of the change.