Charlotte city leaders debate alcohol ads on city transit

by: Jeff Smith Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charlotte city leaders are locked in a debate over allowing alcohol advertisements on the outsides of Charlotte Area Transit System buses and light-rail cars.

Because of existing contracts, the first liquor ads will be installed this week outside of some buses, according to CATS officials. All future ad sales have been temporarily postponed.

The Metropolitan Transit committee agreed Wednesday night to put a moratorium on any new alcohol contracts for 30 days. Two liquor companies with existing contracts will be allowed to proceed.

When it comes to allowing liquor ads on public transportation -- a system used by hundreds of young families every day to get to and from work and school -- there are no easy moral answers.

"I mean, what's next? Adult entertainment ads on the sides of buses? Who's to say?" asked city council member Patrick Cannon.

The math, however, is simple.

CATS said alcohol ads over the next year will generate $600,000 of revenue. If the MTC stops that from happening, fares will have to go up six cents.

"You have to ask yourself whats more important, the future of our children and these folks who are trying to go through a detox program, or the dollar? Or in this case, six cents?" Cannon asked.

The MTC approved alcohol ads this summer, but City Council objected to the decision and wanted it reconsidered. On Wednesday night, the committee agreed to postpone all future contracts.

"That's one of the reasons why it came up in city council, is out of concern for the signal that it sends to the community. At the same time, we're balancing it against other aspects of running this business," said Mayor Anthony Foxx.

CATS said it's already lost one six-month contract worth several thousand dollars because of the ongoing debate. Some members of the MTC expressed concern the debate will have a chilling effect on future advertisers.

Foxx said he ultimately supports the alcohol ads, but said the discussion needs to continue to come up with a way to "mitigate" the controversy.

Liquor ads would cover a total of 4 percent of bus sides and about 20 percent of the exterior sides of light-rail cars.

The question of alcohol ads on public transportation has been debated this year by many other large cities. This spring, Chicago stopped allowing alcohol ads on its buses.

In July, Boston ruled against allowing alcohol ads on buses, trains and subways.