An advertisement for Crown Royal Whisky will soon cover part of a Lynx light-rail train, one of two alcohol ads for buses and trains approved by the Metropolitan Transit Commission Wednesday night, despite opposition from some Charlotte City Council members last month.
The MTC voted unanimously to move forward with two alcohol ads that previously had pending contracts, but also said it would wait 30 days before signing new alcohol ads.
One MTC member said the delay is an olive branch to council members, and was meant to head off what could be a fierce fight to determine who ultimately makes transit policy: the MTC or the city of Charlotte?
Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who isnt an MTC member, attended the meeting and said he was upset by the decision. He said hes concerned about the impact of alcohol ads on children and people trying to stop drinking.
He said he would ask the city attorneys office how much power the City Council has to stop the ads, if it wants to.
We are David, fighting against the Goliath of the MTC, Cannon said after the meeting.
In 2000, CATS decided against all transit advertising an attempt to clean up the image of city buses. Before that 2000 prohibition, the city had already banned alcohol ads.
But in 2010, the MTC voted to allow most commercial advertising on light-rail trains and buses. CATS said it needed the revenue estimated at roughly $1 million a year to avoid service cuts and keep down the size of fare hikes.
But some ads were still prohibited under the 2010 decision, including ads for alcohol, tobacco and contraception.
In May, the MTC voted to repeal the alcohol ban. CATS said those ads could generate up to $600,000 a year, enough money to pay for 6,000 bus service hours or to keep from having a 6-cent fare increase.
The alcohol ads will be only on the outside of buses and trains.
Some City Council members furious
But City Council members werent aware of the MTC decision. When they read about the new alcohol ads in The Charlotte Observer, some council members were furious. The reaction was particularly strong among some of the councils African-American members, who didnt want to see liquor or beer ads on buses running through low-income areas.
In response, CATS asked Titan Advertising to put a temporary hold on installing the alcohol ads until the MTC discussed the issue further.
That discussion came Wednesday night. Most MTC members appear to be firmly in favor of moving forward with additional alcohol ads, but they agreed to a 30-day delay on new ads so they could meet with council members.
MTC chairman Harold Cogdell, a Mecklenburg Commissioner, said any delay in implementing alcohol ads needs to balance with the revenue we could lose.
Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain said she hoped the 30-day delay would be an olive branch, giving the MTC time to explain the transit systems financial troubles to council members.
CATS is hoping to begin construction next year on a 9.4-mile, $1.1 billion light-rail extension to University City that will stretch its budget.
Olaf Kinard, who heads the marketing and communications division of CATS, said he didnt foresee an easier way to generate $600,000 if the MTC banned alcohol ads.
I dont think there is anything else that would not be more controversial, Kinard said.
He said allowing ads for reproduction devices, political ads and nonprofits also would present problems for CATS.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, an MTC member, didnt attend the May meeting when the alcohol ads were approved. When asked after the Wednesday meeting whether he approved of the two new alcohol ads, Foxx declined to say.
He said he thinks there could be mitigating strategies used to lessen the impact of the ads. During Wednesdays meeting, he suggested keeping the ads from small neighborhood shuttle buses.
Who runs mass transit?
CATS is a city of Charlotte department, and the city owns its buses and trains.
But most transit decisions are made by the MTC, which was created after the half-cent sales tax for mass transit was approved by voters in 1998. Because the tax is levied countywide, the MTC includes city and county officials, as well as representatives from Mecklenburg towns.
For the most part, the citys interests and the MTCs interests have coincided.
But the flap over alcohol ads could jeopardize the transit systems governing structure.
If the standoff continued, the City Council could withhold money from CATS until it got its way by refusing to approve its budget. On the flip side, Mecklenburg towns could attempt to withdraw from the transit sales tax, making CATS a Charlotte-only transit system.