For the past year, bus riders around the State College area may have noticed their regular Centre Area Transportation Authority bus looks a little different.
Maybe a rider was greeted by a pair of sunny-side-up eggs with a bacon grin. Maybe the Pennsylvania National Guard promoted the virtues of full-time school for part-time service.
Since January 2014, four of CATA’s 40-foot Excelsior buses, its newest models, have been wrapped in full vinyl advertisements. The ads, which promote PSECU, Cracker Barrel, the National Guard and The Park at State College, will continue to be featured on the buses until the trial period ends May 31.
Marketing Manager Jackie Sheader said CATA has been soliciting feedback regarding the advertisements from the municipalities it serves, including the Centre Region municipalities and surrounding boroughs and townships.
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“We’re at the point where we need to make decisions on whether or not we’re going to continue the program, expand the program or get rid of the program,” she said.
After comments from the municipalities, Sheader said, the feedback will be taken to CATA’s board of directors Tuesday with a recommendation on the future of the ads.
She said the full-bus ads are quite expensive, costing the advertiser about $20,000 for the space and $6,000 to print and install the wrap. So far, CATA has made $60,000 in contracts, of which the company gets about 50 percent, earning CATA a little more than $30,000.
Overall, she said, the feedback has been positive with a few common concerns that will be taken into consideration when the program is presented to the board.
Several municipal councils have expressed concern that the ads overtake the vehicles, causing them to lose their identity as CATA buses.
College Township Councilman Rich Francke said during the Jan. 22 council meeting he wished the CATA bus logo was more visible on the ads. Vice Chairman Lynn Herman said fewer ads on the front and a more prominent logo on the back would be sufficient.
State College Borough Council members were harsher on the advertisements Monday. Councilman Tom Daubert said that, in some cases, a person doesn’t have the slightest notion that it’s a CATA bus.
“A small amount of advertisement on the outside is OK,” he said, “but this is overdoing it.”
Councilwoman Theresa Lafer said, visually, she doesn’t like the wrapped buses, especially because the ads block the windows.
“I didn’t know who was driving through town,” she said, “but it looked like a 1960s rock group that got caught in a time warp.”
Patton Township resident Scott Thompson said during the Jan. 28 supervisors meeting that he didn’t mind the wraps because they shade the sun inside the bus.
Municipal leaders did agree that any additional income for CATA was a good thing.
College Township Councilman Bill Sharp said he’s seen similar advertisements in other communities. If the program produces revenue for the bus system, it’s a good idea, he said, and he encouraged exploring the idea further.
Patton Township Chairman Elliot Abrams said he likes the ads because there’s always a deficit in the mass-transit system and anything that can reduce that is helpful.
State College borough Councilman Evan Myers commended the CATA staff for being creative and finding a way to make money, even if the ads may not be the way to do it.
“There’s only certain alternatives to raise that kind of money,” he said.
“One of them is advertising.”
According to Sheader, if the proposal is successful, a few more buses may find themselves in similar wraps. Of the 71 buses in the fleet, she anticipates a total of eight to 10 could be wrapped, depending on demand.
The four buses featuring wrapped ads typically run on the R, M and W routes, she said, which allows them to be prominently featured around the community. There are no plans to wrap any buses that travel the Loop and Link routes.
“I have a good feeling,” she said regarding the presentation to the board.
“But we won’t know until all the recommendations are formulated and we have more staff review and discussion.”