July 10th, 2007

BART May Install TVs on Trains, in Stations

By Denis Cuff
Contra Costa Times

Broadcasts would feature entertainment, news, announcements and ads; transit system sees it as source of funding

Coming to your local trains and stations: BART TV.

Debut date: perhaps next year.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit District is shopping for communications companies to install televisions on its trains and in its stations to broadcast news, entertainment, advertising and announcements.

Transit system managers say television could make easy money for BART while making train travel a little more entertaining.

BART expects that it could earn between $2.7 million and $7 million annually from its cut of advertising revenues taken in by the television system operator, transit system managers said.

BART would pay nothing to install or operate the televisions.

“The vendor would bear the full cost of offering this service and pay BART for the right for the right to use our trains,” said Linton Johnson, BART spokesman. “This is money we could use to clean trains, improve service or do a lot of things.”

The money also might be used to hold down future fare increases, he added. Television is catching on among other mass transit operators looking to cash in on their captive market.

Television is available on trains in Atlanta and buses in Los Angeles County, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Orlando, Fla., and Chicago.

Although some consumers grumble about the spread of television into more places, BART rider Chazz Jones of Concord said he would welcome TV on his rail rides.

Riding BART can be boring,” the Diablo Valley College student said. “This would give people something to do. I wouldn’t mind it.”

Georgia Antonopoulos of Pleasant Hill, a regular commuter to her job in San Francisco, said she worries that television would intrude on her reading time if the sound was continuos.

“I like reading books for pleasure,” she said.

In response to noise concerns, BART has told potential vendors that riders must be given a choice whether or not to hear the televisions.

How that will be done has not been determined, Johnson said.

In the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, train passengers must bring a headset and tune in to a certain radio frequency to hear the televisions. This is in contrast to televisions on buses, which broadcast the sound throughout the vehicle so all riders can hear it.

BART will not dictate programming, but it will limit advertising to 20 minutes per hour of programming, according to the transit system’s request for TV proposals.

The bulk of the programming would be “infotainment,” a blend of news, weather, places to go and other “information that is entertaining,” Johnson said.

The rapid transit district will reserve five minutes of each hour to broadcast news about BART service, transferring to buses and reaching popular travel destinations via BART.

In Los Angeles County, televisions on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses show advertisements for breakfast cereals, fast-food restaurants, movies and the U.S. Army. They also feature Spanish-language television shows.

The buses used to show “I Love Lucy” reruns, but passengers grumbled that their stops came up before the half-hour episodes finished, said Robert Bridge, marketing vice president for Transit Television Network, the TV contractor for the buses.

Local news, weather and sports are shown on Los Angeles County buses, as are condensed interviews with newsmakers, politicians and entertainers by PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley.

New programming is relayed to the buses several times a day via a wireless Internet connection.

BART officials say televisions would make life easier for riders trying to figure out when and where to get on and off.

Screens on BART cars would display maps showing when a train is approaching a station. Many riders complain that they cannot hear the train public address announcements about arrival times and destinations.

Televisions screens at station gates would identify incoming train arrival times and destinations, letting customers know how much time they have to catch a train.

Johnson estimated that it would take at least until mid-2008 before television service would be rolled out at stations. BART has no deadline to offer the new service.

“We want to make sure the technology is reliable,” he said. “We want to be sure they can provide information to moving trains, that are in tunnels some of the time.”

BART experts and consultants will review the television system proposals carefully before picking a company to test the technology, officials said.

Separate companies may be picked for service on trains and in stations, or one company may be picked for both.

BART received proposals for the station contract last year and has set July 31 as the deadline for the submission of proposals for the on-train television service.

Emil Sbarbaro, who uses a wheelchair and has vision and hearing disabilities, said he doubts television on trains would help him.

“I think it will be useless,” said Sbarbaro, a Napa resident who frequently travels to Contra Costa County. “When the trains are crowded wall-to-wall with people, how will I ever see a screen?”

Johnson said BART will require the television company to look into access for the disabled.

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