External Advertising on School Buses

The Ontario School Bus Association does not support external advertising on yellow and black school buses.

1. 1999 -
Supporting Arguments

In the Ontario School Bus Associations assessment, external advertising does not satisfy the industry's top priority of passenger safety. Fundamentally, Association members are committed to keeping the yellow and black school bus uniquely recognizable. To use a Ministry of Transportation term, "conspicuity" of the school bus should not be compromised. The school bus is unique. Its cargo is precious. Its construction, its colouring, its complement of warning devices, is carefully regulated by federal standards and provincial laws. Placement of external advertising holds the potential to detract from the characteristics which make a school bus a school bus.

The school bus travels at higher speeds and over more varied terrains than the typical municipal public transit bus. The placement of external advertising raises safety issues that may be outside the experience of traditional transit advertising. The potential exists to snag a child's clothing or accessories on the frame, causing injury. The potential exists for the signage to become loosened or fly off, injuring students, motorists and other passers-by. Bus drivers involved in pilot programs have also expressed concerns with signs blocking their view of the rear bus wheels, a known danger zone.

Advertising is by nature distracting. The attention of both passing motorists, and students boarding or leaving a school bus may be diverted from established safety procedures. In most jurisdictions, the majority of serious injuries arising from "school bus" accidents take place outside the vehicle, in the loading zones at the front and rear, or when a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle passing the bus. The OSBA doubts that placement of exterior advertising will improve the frequency or seriousness of accidents, especially considering the volume of advertising messages that already may distract young passengers and motorists.

2. Outstanding Issues

Revenue negotiated for external advertising placed should be directed to the owner of the assets in question, namely school bus operators. In the case of buses owned and operated by boards of education, such revenue accrues directly to the boards. All school bus advertising revenues earned will be measured by the Ministry of Education and Training as a reduction in pupil transportation expenditures. Long-term reliance on government agencies for advertising revenue appears risky. Even for more commercial messages, the appeal and effectiveness of external advertising appears limited.

In a great many counties across Ontario, co-terminus sharing of student transportation services would require unanimous approval of advertising content by two or perhaps three boards of education. This can represent a formidable operational hurdle.

3. Background

On three occasions between January and April of 1995, the OSBAs Safety and Legislation Committee met to discuss external advertising proposals. The provincial Ministries of Education & Training and Transportation, were represented in these discussions.

Committee Members enumerated outstanding conditions that would have to be satisfied before school boards and operators decided to proceed. These are described in detail under Item 2, Outstanding Issues. One major vehicle manufacturer advised the industry, in writing, that "after factory" installation of the exterior signs would render the exterior body paint warranty null and void.

In the present financial climate, with reduced funding for student transportation from all levels of government, the OSBA recognized the creativity of school boards in identifying potential new revenue sources. However, it is not clear to the OSBA whether the financial returns projected would actually be realized.

"Social messaging" was the term used to describe the nature of the exterior bus signage. Approaching federal and provincial government agencies for advertising sales, as these same agencies are obliged to reduce their own expenditures dramatically, did not strike the OSBA as viable over the long-term. Research was conducted with advertising media buyers, who advised the OSBA that the interest from commercial communicators would likely be limited and highly localized. The OSBA christened the potential advertising revenue "unearned", and concluded that it did not offset serious safety concerns.

Ontario proved to be just one of many North American jurisdictions considering placing advertising on the side of school buses to combat shrinking education budgets. In May 1995, during the US National Standards Conference, 47 State Directors of Transportation reached a consensus not to support it.

Today, 21,800 more Ontario school children are transported to and from school on 2,000 fewer vehicles than just 2 years ago. The net savings to the taxpayer is $36 million. OSBA member operators continue to work with school boards to incorporate safe and sensible efficiencies in student transportation. This is the route that the OSBA prefers to follow in future, rather than expose children to unnecessary risk.