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Virginia and Maryland Leave Ad Money on the Table
Why arent we charging Taco Bell for advertising? Flickr photo by stevendamron.

Why aren't we charging Taco Bell for advertising? Flickr photo by stevendamron.

Ohio’s got a big plan to pay for its share of a new rail line from Cleveland through Columbus to Cincinnati, and it’s one of those things you just can’t believe doesn’t already exist.. According to the AP, they’ve renegotiated their contract with the company that maintains those little blue highway signs telling you whether this stop has a McDonald’s or a Wendy’s so that “the state would get a slice of the ad revenue.” (h/t The Overhead Wire) Mindblowing, right?

I know that most of this money is coming from the feds, and that’s sure not free. But this story should serve as a stark reminder that when our transportation policy isn’t designed to be a giveaway to corporate interests, that when you have to pay to advertise on public roads for goodness sake, there’s suddenly a lot more money for transit. The challenge in transportation is always the money, but so often, the money just suddenly appears when there is political will. Charging major global corporations for captive audience advertising is one place that money can just appear from.

Sadly, it looks like the D.C. region is leaving this money on the table in precisely the same way. Virginia law forced VDOT to “ensure the program is not used to generate excess revenue beyond a 10 percent margin to operate the IDSP [the program that operates those logo signs].” That leads to fees that are quite low for major drivers of business. Moreover, only restaurants with “conspicuously displayed” menus, a la fast food, are eligible, reinforcing my suspicion that the whole system is how it is because of regulatory capture by big business. In Maryland, costs are shared equally by all participating businesses, but there appears to be no “profit” on top of that. Ohio raised $10 million. How much is the D.C. region giving away?

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