Approving two contracts with bus bench advertising companies in recent months is proving to be problematic for the Metro Council as the benches quickly pop up on road sides across the parish.
The council voted unanimously Wednesday to reject a third company’s request for a franchise to place even more benches across the parish with advertisements on them for bus riders waiting at their stops.
There’s still one more contract pending approval.
Some benches have been placed in areas not associated with bus stops, which is something council members previously complained about before the latest bus bench bus contracts were approved.
For more than 30 years, one company, owned by Richard Tugwell, has had the contract to place the bus benches in the city-parish’s right of way to serve bus riders, but the benches have been decried by some as “visual litter.”
Tugwell’s contract expires at the end of the year, and the Metro Council has approved two other companies, Giraffe Advertising and Geaux Benches, to replace him. Tugwell also is seeking another contract.
The competition has created a frenzy among the companies as they race to put their benches in the most desirable locations.
The contracts don’t outline the share of the market each company gets, so the companies are pressured to stake their territory before another bench can be placed.
“This has gotten totally out of control and we need to do something about it,” Councilman Buddy Amoroso said.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she has received several calls from people complaining about the race by companies to put their benches out.
“It seems like they’re doing this for the wrong purpose by putting benches in places that are desirable for advertisers, but some of the benches are in places where hardly any people ride the bus,” Collins-Lewis said. “It has not been a good thing.”
The council voted Wednesday to delete Mency Group’s proposal to place bus benches after the group failed to respond to concerns about the contract raised by the Parish Attorney’s Office.
Geaux Benches co-owner Carla Smith said the competition has been squeezed recently because the state Department of Transportation and Development recently contacted the bus bench owners and told them to remove from state-owned road all benches that lack local permits, which she said encompasses at least half of the bus stops.
“If you take away all the state highways and residential areas, then you probably only have a couple hundred stops,” she said.
Benches can be placed on state highways if they receive local permits, but CATS has declined to issue the permits.
CATS officials have estimated about 2,000 bus stops, but say they have plans to reduce that number.
Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said after the meeting that she would like the council to rescind all of the bus bench contracts.
“It’s a mess, it’s a free for all,” she said. “We have no structure, no guidelines, no boundaries, no official franchise limitations. People are stumbling all over each other just to claim their stake.”
In other matters Wednesday, the Metro Council appointed Jim Brandt, a former director of the Public Affairs Research council, to the CATS board.
The last CATS vacancy will be filled at the Nov. 26 Metro Council meeting.