AIDS Project Los Angeles recently prevailed in our efforts to allow local charities to advertise on Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) buses, when MTA amended its previous policy that banned non-profit organizations from advertising their events and public service messages.
On June 25th, in a seven-to-two vote, the MTA board agreed to allow transit ads from non-profits that partner with governmental entities.
The vote capped a months-long advocacy campaign by APLA and AIDS Walk Los Angeles—with assistance of our pro-bono legal counsel from Latham & Watkins, and on-going support from Los Angeles County Supervisor and MTA Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky and his staff.
“We believe the MTA board struck a good balance with this policy change,” said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. “Charities need to disseminate critical health promotion messages as well as generate support for large community events like AIDS Walk Los Angeles. On the other hand, we understand MTA needs to both limit the kinds of ads it accepts and reduce the risks of litigation.”
The issue of commercial versus non-commercial advertising on municipal bus and transit lines has focused nationally on whether these venues are public forums, open to all comers, or whether local jurisdictions can restrict advertising without violating free speech rights.
Jurisdictions across the country, from New York City to Seattle, San Francisco and Santa Monica have struggled to establish policies that balance the legitimate needs of non-profit organizations to disseminate health information and education messages with transit system concerns over being forced to run advertisements which many might consider controversial or offensive. Last fall, the City of Santa Monica opted for narrow rules that ban all non-profit organizations from advertising their fundraising events and public service messages on the Big Blue Bus lines.
“An important public policy objective was achieved today,” said Craig R. Miller, AIDS Walk Los Angeles Founder and Senior Organizer. “Through the collective efforts of APLA, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and AIDS Walk Los Angeles, ads promoting this event, one that is so vital to public health in our region, will be returning to the sides of MTA buses.”