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The Daily Tar Heel

Transit partners advocate for bus advertising policy

Representatives from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and UNC voted Tuesday to support a more lenient bus advertising policy.

The Chapel Hill Public Transit Committee is asking the Chapel Hill Town Council to support an advertising policy that would allow for political, religious and issue-oriented advertising on Chapel Hill Transit buses.

The policy suggested Tuesday would also allow advertisements in these categories to be partial toward or against certain issues — something the approved policy did not allow.

This option is the same as the draft policy that was presented to the council on June 13, 2011 and subsequently used by town transit staff. It does not define bus ads as a public forum, which could lead to offensive or obscene ads.

The bus ad program was called into question in August after an ad advocating for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel first sparked the discussion about the town’s ability to restrict such ads.

Town staff then discovered in October that they had been following the draft policy, and not the approved policy which restricted political and religious ads.

On Oct. 24, the Town Council froze the bus ad program after realizing the oversight.

The presence of religious, social, and political advertisements was the primary concern of the committee on Tuesday.

Chapel Hill town councilman Jim Ward said he doesn’t support having the ads as a public forum because it could harm Chapel Hill Transit.

“(It) could have a negative impact on the 7 million people who use our transit system,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to be sensitive to the kinds of images and words that will be allowed.”

Ralph Karpinos, Chapel Hill town attorney, said treating the ads as a public forum would allow for a broader range of ads.

But certain advertisements could not be excluded, he said.

“It would be much less discretion on what you can exclude in a public forum situation,” Karpinos said.

Carrboro Alderman Dan Coleman said he worried about clarity in some of the suggested policy changes.

The recommended policy would prohibit ads that a sensible person would consider offensive, Karpinos said.

“Offensive material is an important point to clarify,” Coleman said.

He said political issues such as the Church of Reconciliation’s bus ad could be offensive to some residents and just an opinion to others.

Other suggestions included banning all bus ads or re-implementing the policy originally approved by the council.

Though the committee recommended the bus advertising policy continue as is, Ward said the committee would be willing to revisit the issue.

The Chapel Hill Town Council will vote on a policy at the Dec. 3 meeting.

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