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Cincinnati Council Approves Bus Bench Plan

Cincinnati Council has approved an ordinance that would allow the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to sell advertising on bus benches to provide seating at stops that lack shelters. 


In the meantime, the city will stop removing the currently illegal benches at some stops unless they are unsafe.  


Mayor John Cranley is in favor of stopping the removal of benches until a solution is found.  But he does have concerns about the SORTA plan.


"Do we want to give SORTA the power to decide where these benches go?" Cranley asked. "That seems like a really big delegation of authority, and do we want to give SORTA the power to make money off the advertising?"


City council voted 8-1 in favor of the ordinance concerning the SORTA proposal.  The vote was 9-0 on a motion asking city officials to stop removing benches until the more permanent fix is completed. The votes followed a debate on the issue that lasted nearly an hour.



 Council Member Chris Seelbach called it a good solution.


"And a solution that will get rid of the benches that are causing blight and some of which are unsafe and not compliant with the ADA," Seelbach said. "And replace them with high-quality benches, with minimal advertising, at no cost to the taxpayers."


Residents have been complaining to city officials since some benches have already been removed. 


In 2009, city council passed a measure prohibiting all advertising on benches in the right-of-way including bus stops.  But enforcement did not begin until January 2013.


Bench Billboard Co. immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the city's action.  After a three year court fight, the First District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city in March of this year.


Starting in February 2015 and continuing through July, the city has removed 68 benches and issued fines to companies with benches at some bus stops.


The city manager expressed concerns about the latest proposal in a memo issued Tuesday.


"It is the view of the administration that allowing placement of advertising by other entities raises a substantial risk of opening the door (via lawsuit) to private advertising occurring outside the transit stop context in the right of way, leading to more benches throughout the city with advertising in the future," the memo said.


It could take several months for the permanent solution to be implemented.  SORTA will first need to seek requests for proposals for the benches and advertising.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.