Billboards on MBTA property may be a thing of the past, with a new bill arguing the need for stricter regulations on the T’s advertising practices.
In a hearing on March 12 at the Joint Committee on Transportation, State Representative Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) argued that the T should have to comply with local ordinances in its advertising practices.
Cusack’s bill would mandate that the MBTA receive local approval from cities and towns prior to placing above ground advertisements in the communities the station is located in.
“I understand the need for the MBTA to raise revenue, which is why this legislation does not prevent them from having any billboards erected along the Red Line. It simply states that if they wish to do so it must be in full compliance with the local ordinances of Braintree or any community in the Commonwealth,” Cusack said in a release.
“We have worked hard to preserve and enhance our quality of life here in Braintree.
Neither the MBTA nor any state agency should be able to come into our town, trump our laws, and negatively impact us against our will,” he said.
The proposal comes contrasts with a civil action decision issued by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2008, which ruled, despite protestations from communities such as Melrose and Somerville, that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s advertisements, located on MBTA property, were not subject to the communities’ zoning regulations.
“We conclude that, because the regulation of commercial advertising in or on MBTA facilities through municipal zoning ordinances would have more than a negligible effect on actions reasonable related to the MBTA’s ability to carry out its essential government function, the MBTA is exempt from such regulation,” the order states.
According to MBTA’s General Manager Jonathan Davis, the new legislation is unnecessary, as the T has had it’s own set of advertising regulations in place for some time.
“We have an advertising policy that we adhere to, we think it's respectful to the customers and communities that we serve,” Davis said in a phone interview on Friday.
Included in those restrictions is that advertisements not be demeaning or disparaging, not promote the sale of tobacco or firearms, avoid profanity, and does not use violence. Obscenity or nudity, prurient sexual suggestiveness, and political campaign speech is also prohibited.
To impose further restrictions on the $15 million to $17 million-a-year advertising revenue source would only hurt the MBTA’s already struggling budget, Davis said.
“I think that would be an issue on our ability to generate non-commuter revenue. We’re looking for opportunities where we can to help fund the deficit with non-fare revenues, and advertising is one of those,” Davis said.
Davis could not clarify what action the MBTA planned to take regarding the legislation, but said officials are reviewing it.
“We appreciate our constituencies’ concerns. We’ll take a look at it, but in the financial situation that we’re in, we need to be looking at all opportunities for non-fare revenue,” he said.
Cusack still remained hopeful about the legislation and is looking to have a favorable report from the committee. He hopes to have the bill enacted before the end of this legislative session, he said in a release.