Florida Ponders School Bus Ads

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Blank Canvas for Advertisers?

Florida's yellow school buses could be due for a facelift- if legislators sign off on a bill allowing advertisements to be placed on their sides.

The Florida House of Representatives passed the bill last month -- it now goes to the Senate for consideration.

According to the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, nine other states already allow advertising on the buses, while Florida is one of six considering it.

Supporters say it would provide much needed cash for school districts struggling for funding.

But there are plenty of opponents, like retired Crawfordville teacher Donna Sanford, who made several trips to the state capitol to protest.

"If we start advertising on our school buses that's going to open the door and they're going to come right on down into the hallways and jump on the bulletin boards. I'm just against it. I don't think we need to open that can of worms," she says.

Opponents also worry about increasing the risk of driver distraction. The Florida Association for Pupil Transportation, which represents school bus operators in the state, has taken a stand against the ads for that very reason.

Retired Florida Highway patrolman Edward R Hagler agrees. In his thirty years on the job he saw plenty of motorists fly past school buses as they stopped to pick up students or drop them off.

Hagler says some drivers apparently can't see a big yellow bus with flashing lights and bright red stop signs, and adverts on the bus would make the problem worse.

“When you put signs on the side of a school bus, it diminishes the recognition factor of the school bus," he says. "And why would you do that and put children in unnecessary danger by doing that? It just doesn’t make sense.”

And he says the revenue generated by the buses doesn’t make up for the added danger.

Representative Irv Slosberg sponsored the  bill.

The Boca Raton democrat is convinced the ads won’t make the roads any more dangerous. His daughter died in a car crash in 1996.

“I’d be the last guy to think about putting ads on school buses if I didn’t check it out thoroughly," says Slosberg.

"I’ve researched it and I haven’t had any problem. You know some people are trying to sensationalize it by saying these school buses are going to be wrapped in Captain Crunch ads. Well, that’s not the way it is.”

Slosberg says the ads wouldn’t obscure safety features, and some of the ad revenue would go into driver education.

Orange County is one Florida district that's considering whether to put ads on its school buses. It has some 900 buses on the road on any school day.

The district has not rolled out any firm numbers, but if it were to charge 200 dollars a month for each bus, those ads could raise more than 2 million dollars a year.

But Orange County school district's Public Relations Director Dylan Thomas says the Board would first have to decide whether to approve ads on buses, what type of ads to allow and what to charge for them.

Thomas says the ads would be small- about two by six foot and to the rear of the bus.

He acknowledges they could be distracting.

“Certainly if you do add something else to the side of a bus, that does add an element of distraction. It's a question of how great a risk is that, how great a distraction is that," he says.

Thomas says he's confident the board will take those risks into consideration when it discusses bus ads. If the bill makes it through the legislature this week, those discussions could take place as soon as the summer.

Click here to listen to an audio report by WMFE's Matthew Peddie.