HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The City of Honolulu is considering putting ads on buses as a way to raise money but environmentalists say it undermines Hawaii's beauty and anti-billboard law.
The City says 220,000 people ride the bus everyday and many more see the busses which is why the City thinks it can make between $2 and $8 million a year in ads. But not everyone is on board with the idea.
Hawaii does not allow billboards but an exception in the law does permit ads on vehicles that transport people or cargo. The Mayor thinks it's time put ads on city buses especially since the cost of running the bus system has jumped by $95 million in the last decade.
"I don't want to raise the cost of riding the bus because that will mean fewer people riding bus. We want more people riding the bus," said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayor.
The ads would be on the sides and back of the bus. They also wouldn't be allowed to put products up that can't be sold to minors like tobacco or alcohol. But what about other things like condoms, the abortion issue, or religious views?
"We think that it will work and we get into a situation somebody crosses the line then we'll be in a position to decide if we want to take a step to keep it off the busses and if somebody decides to challenge us then so be it," said Michael Formby, City Transportation Services Director.
"Once we allow the city to put ads on the outsides of busses we're opening up a new public forum and we will have to allow fair and equal use of that," said Marti Townsend, The Outdoor Circle Executive Director.
The Outdoor Circle is opposed to the ads. It doesn't want Honolulu turning into a town where you can't blink without seeing an ad.
"Our natural beauty is our most valuable asset and we must protect that above all things," said Townsend.
They made a mock photograph with the Joe Camel smoking a cigarette. Townsend says that wouldn't be acceptable today but it was 20 years ago. She says what if the public feels the same way about sugary drink ads a decade from now?
"From here who knows what we would see," said Townsend. "Who's to say what's going to happen 20 years from now in terms of our own expectations of what's advertised to children. From the Outdoor Circle's perspective let's just not even go there."
"That's not what we do currently. I think it is trying to create fear and misinformation when we want to have a discussion with the public on how we make this better," said Mayor Caldwell.
"It couldn't happen," said Formby, referring to the Joe Camel comparison. "That's what's so offensive about that because we had that discussion with Outdoor Circle before they put out that press release they knew we would never do that and yet they put out that press release. I think it's just wrong."
There isn't anything in the proposal that specifically limits the size of ads which also scares the Outdoor Circle. It worries that the next administration may want to take the ads to the next level.
"If somebody wants more protections in the ordinance come see us. We'll talk. We're going to be reasonable," said Formby.
So would the city allow ads at transit stations or on the rail? That's not mentioned in the current proposal but Mayor Caldwell says it is a topic that will be had down the road.