Government Technology

Public Screening

July 5, 2005 By

As the bus rolled along a city street, passengers watched an episode of Bonanza on TV screens mounted at three points inside the cabin. A ribbon of news, weather, sports and stock updates crawled across the bottom of each display. To the left, a graphic showed the vehicle moving toward its next stop, and as the bus neared that location, both the text display and an automated voice announced its imminent arrival.

Periodically the TV ran advertisements for local and national businesses.

In March and April, Denver's Regional Transportation District (RTD) tested the Transit TV system, operated by the Transit Television Network (TTN) of Orlando, Fla. The RTD put Transit TV in eight buses and two light rail cars.

Not Just TV

Denver's RTD came across the TTN while looking for alternative ways to generate revenues to fund operating expenses, said Andy Todaro, sales manager at the transit agency.

Transit TV currently plays in approximately 1,500 vehicles in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, Orlando, and Norfolk, Va. -- and the company is installing equipment on another 2,000 vehicles in Los Angeles County, said Jeff Jensen, vice president of the TTN.

After viewing a TTN presentation, the RTD issued a request for proposals for a contractor to implement a video-based information system that would generate advertising revenues. The TTN was the only vendor to submit a proposal to the city's RFP, said Georgann Fisher, a sales executive at Denver's RTD and manager of its Transit TV program.

Agency officials decided to implement a video system instead of mounting billboards on their buildings or wrapping buses in advertisements, because the agency wanted to determine whether Transit TV could help the RTD meet a need that was even more pressing than extra revenue.

The RTD needed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to do so meant providing both text-based and audible next stop announcements for hearing- or vision-impaired riders, Todaro said, explaining that stop-announcement systems are expensive and the TTN offered a way to implement the service at no cost.

Denver elected not to sign a long-term contract with the TTN because of operational issues, said Scott Reed, the RTD's director of public affairs.

"We have certain operational and safety requirements for installing equipment on our transit vehicles, and we were not able to come to agreement on those issues," Reed said, also citing potential liability coverage issues that did not meet the RTD's policies. "We are still looking into the possibilities for similar types of onboard television systems, and have had discussions with other vendors."

Local News, Weather, Stocks

The TTN provides its equipment and service to transit agencies in major markets at no charge in exchange for the right to sell and display advertisements. In smaller markets, the TTN will lease the equipment to the agency, although the company has not yet struck a deal of that kind, Jensen said. In either case, the transit agency receives a portion of the advertising revenues.

In Los Angeles County, for example, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) will receive a minimum of either $100,000 per year or 10 percent of gross advertising revenues, whichever is greater, according to the MTA.

The onboard equipment includes a personal computer, and between two and four LCD screens mounted at various points inside the bus or rail car. A GPS tracks the vehicle's location as it moves from stop to stop. The system uses wireless data communications based on the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard to transmit programming to onboard computers.

The TTN purchases content from vendors or gets it free of charge from public sources such as the National Weather Service, Jensen said. Some of the news comes from the Toronto Star, which like the TTN, is

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