You hear a lot of things on the bus. Now, advertising is one of them.
On June 16, the Port Authority began piloting 15-second, GPS-based audio advertisements that play automatically at specific stops.
Megabus advertisements can be heard on buses that stop at Liberty Avenue at Wood Street, Downtown; Fifth Avenue and Atwood in Oakland; Forbes and Murray in Squirrel Hill; and Fifth and Smithfield Downtown. An advertisement for South Side Jewelers can be heard on any bus that stops at South 18th Street and East Carson Street.
"We're trying this out," says agency spokesman Jim Ritchie. "We're up in terms of ad revenue over last year, but we'd like to see if we can increase revenue by trying new things."
So far, audio ads are available at 11 different stops, with prices varying by stop. To run an ad at Liberty Avenue and Wood, for example, costs $1,300 a month. An ad at South 18th and Carson costs $250 a month.
Audio ads are used in other transit agencies across the country, including Toledo, Chicago, Kansas City and Cincinnati. In Allegheny County, transit officials are working with Ohio-based company Commuter Advertising to implement the system.
"It doesn't cost us anything to do it because they make money by helping to sell adds in the system that their helping implement," Ritchie says. The Authority can also sell ads directly.
Ritchie says audio message is just one revenue-generator that the agency is exploring. Among future plans: selling ads on Port Authority's website, which receives "a significant amount of traffic every day."
"We're still ironing out the technical end of it right now," Ritchie says.
Ritchie said the audio ad pilot is expected to last 18 months. While the agency can sell more ads in that time, Ritchie says they want to make sure technical and quality issues are addressed. The agency will also evaluate if Pittsburgh has a market for the ads -- "Just because something worked in other cities doesn't mean it will work here," Ritchie notes. Rider feedback is also being taken into consideration.
But Authority leaders hope riders will recognize that the ads ultimately help sustain bus service. Port Authority is planning a transit awareness campaign on buses "to get people to make the connection that transit advertising supports the bus you're riding on," says Ritchie. "If you're on a bus and you hear an audio ad, and your first instinct is, 'Geez, I'd rather not hear that,' think a second about the fact that it's pumping money into the system, and helping us support that route."