Cincinnati's Planning Commission on Friday approved a report and recommendation that will allow the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to install stand-alone benches at some bus stops in the city.
Those benches will be able to display advertising, or be sponsored, in order to generate revenue to pay for and maintain them.
The proposal will also allow the agency to increase the size of advertisements on the bus shelters at some transit stops.
In 2009, Cincinnati City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited advertising on benches and bus shelters in the right-of-way.
In 2016, that was modified to allow transit stop advertising by public transit agencies. But advertising on benches was still prohibited.
The changes are coming now as more and more bus riders complain about not having a place to sit while waiting for the bus. The advertising component is needed for money since SORTA is also struggling to balance its budget and has no funding to pay for benches.
Assistant City Manager John Juech, who represents City Manager Patrick Duhaney on the Planning Commission, said it was time to move forward with the changes.
"We could debate this, we could look at it from every different vantage point, there's a lot opinions about this whole issue," Juech said. "But I think we've heard overwhelmingly from the public that they want more bus benches, they want better bus benches, they need more places to sit. You know I've heard from a lot of riders that that would make riding the bus much more appealing to them."
One point of debate during Friday's meeting was the type of material for the proposed bus benches. SORTA plans to install metal benches that will be bolted down. But updated city guidelines would also allow for wooden benches too.
Planning Commission member John Eby is not a fan of the wooden benches.
"I want people to have a place to sit; I'm all about the bus bench," Eby said. "What I don't want is what we typically get, the concrete sides with wood backs that get graffitied and then pushed over or displaced."
Eby is likely to work with city administrators to refine the guidelines concerning wooden benches. But that could also mean changing regulations concerning park benches on the right-of-way that are not associated with a transit stop.
Planning Commission member Christopher Smitherman was concerned about the types of advertising messages that will be allowed on the bus benches. He worried some ads could be offensive or inappropriate.
SORTA representatives said they have a policy about what is allowed and not allowed to be advertised and that will be followed. Those include items like no pornography, no profanity and no violence.
The transit agency said it hopes to place between 100 and 150 benches at bus stops that have a minimum of 25 daily passengers boarding where no current bench or shelter exists.
SORTA indicated initially the benches will not have commercial advertising, but it likely will be added in the future.
City staff will have to approve each bench and location.