AFTER A THREE-YEAR dry spell, new poetry is returning to TriMet. Work crews are installing cards bearing lines of poetry by professional and local high school poets on placards inside TriMet buses this April, for the first time since 2006.
But with the public transit agency slashing bus lines and services to plug a $27 million budget gap, some riders are bound to question why TriMet is giving up profitable ad space to make way for poems.
TriMet has decided ads inside buses are not worth the hassle. Though the ceiling placard ads netted TriMet $50,000 annually (that would cover 20,491 gallons of gas for a TriMet bus), they drew complaints from riders. "We had complaints from people riding the bus and MAX, which is sort of a respite from the world, about having this advertising around them," says TriMet Marketing Director Drew Blevins.
Despite replacing the interior ads with poems, TriMet will actually make more money this year from ads than it has in the past. The transit agency negotiated a sweet contract with advertising partner Lamar back when times were good. TriMet is guaranteed $4.8 million this year from ad sales, versus $2.1 million in 2006.
That extra ad revenue will help the in-the-red transit agency. In addition to instituting a five percent pay cut for all its workers, TriMet announced in February that it plans to cut three bus lines, reduce frequent service, and increase its fares by a nickel to make up for its $27 million budget gap.
Since the bulk of TriMet's funding comes from the payroll tax, when unemployment goes up in Oregon, TriMet's revenue goes down. This is the second year in a row it has made serious cuts, after slashing four bus lines last year. The legislature approved a payroll tax increase to help TriMet, but the increase is not allowed go into effect until the state's economy is back on its feet.
Meanwhile, local nonprofit Literary Arts has spent months deciding which eight poems will grace the walls of TriMet buses. The Poetry in Motion program began in 1997 and ran for 10 years. TriMet stopped running new poems on the ceiling placards around the same time it stopped running ads in the space three years ago.
Seattle, meanwhile, dropped its bus poetry last year after budget cuts at the arts nonprofit responsible for its bus poems killed the project.
Another long-absent medium will make its way onto buses and MAX trains this year: political advertising. Until last year, TriMet's policy prohibited any sort of advocacy or political advertising on its vehicles. A California Native American tribe challenged that policy in court last summer, saying TriMet's refusal to run their ad about salmon and dams violated the First Amendment. A judge agreed with the tribe, but TriMet is appealing the decision.