MBTA’s alcohol ads trial balloon deflating fast

The MBTA needs every dollar that it can get, but probably not the ones from ads for “demon rum.”  Several years ago, a youth-led, public health coalition lobbied MBTA general manager Rich Davey to dispense with alcohol advertising. Davey agreed. The ban is now three years old.

Many inches of snow later, the MBTA is on a drive to raise more revenue by any means necessary. According to WBUR, MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve, who has been tasked with the unenviable job of looking under rocks for revenue, came up with the what’s-old-is-new-again idea.

The MBTA’s advertising contracts expire this year, so it makes sense that the authority is looking at all ways to find new money. But the authority gets just a small portion of its overall advertising revenues from alcohol ads. With the potential for backlash high, backtracking on the ban may be a place that the T doesn’t want to go.

One of the key reasons why young people, substance abuse prevention advocates, and public health officials fought for the ban is that thousands of elementary and high school students travel on the MBTA every day. Young people are particularly susceptible to the types of images used by advertisers to sell alcohol.

African Americans in particular have long opposed the proliferation of alcohol ads in their communities. A 2012 study by the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health noted that “Alcohol is the most widely used drug among African American youth and contributes to many health and social problems…Numerous studies have documented that African Americans are exposed to more alcohol advertising than other populations.”

In 2011, a high school student who fought for the ban told CommonWealth that white students who use yellow school buses don’t see those types of ads. “The MBTA is our school bus,” the student said. The prospect of ads re-appearing in minority neighborhoods would likely stir up a considerable amount of resentment at a time when the authority is making a concerted drive to listen to customer views.

With Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey leading a public campaign against the opioid epidemic, the proposal raises the question of why the MBTA would move in this direction now, and so shortly after the ads were removed from the system in the first place. The MBTA was in crisis in 2012, yet transportation officials saw fit to dispense with that revenue stream on principle.

The idea has sparked influential opposition. Kitty Dukakis and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who have both talked openly about their struggles with alcoholoppose any new plan to accept alcohol ads. The idea also comes on the heels of former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy’s book about alcoholism in the Kennedy clan.

At Blue Mass Group, Sam Tracy, a consultant with the marijuana industry group 4Front Advisors, chimed in with this observation: “While this would certainly raise revenue…it wouldn’t be worth it,” he said. “If we want to reduce alcohol abuse and addiction, we should be doing more to restrict alcohol advertising, treating it the way we do tobacco.”

GABRIELLE GURLEY

 

BEACON HILL

An effort to build affordable housing for veterans on the Brighton Marine campus has run into a major roadblock: Brighton resident — and Secretary of State — William Galvin, who doesn’t want to see four existing brick barracks torn down to make way for the 108 units and has the clout to stop the project as head of the Massachusetts Historic Commission. (Boston Globe)

Supporters and critics of transgender rights legislation clash at Beacon Hill hearing. (Associated Press)

Figuring it can’t be accused of caving to the worst nanny state impulses if New Hampshire has already gone there, the Herald editorial board endorses a move on Beacon Hill to ban hand-held cellphone use while driving.

If you can’t beat ’em… State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg says the state Lottery should look into the idea of launching its own fantasy sports website to cash in on the lucrative market. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, the New York attorney general’s office opens a probe into fantasy sports sites. (New York Times)

Even as the popularity of the Community Preservation Act rises in cities and towns, state financial support has dropped to its lowest level, down to 18 percent in matching funds. (State House News)

Could data analytics help the Department of Children and Families in its assessment of what children are at risk of harm? (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The rift between Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and City Council President Modesto Maldonado widened as Maldonado moved to halt salary payments to a former Rivera campaign aide who is now working as the city’s engineer.

Lowell updates its firearm-permitting process, prompting protests from gun owners. (The Sun)

The Sun details the response of Lowell High School officials to racially charged texts that went viral.

An Eagle-Tribune editorial criticizes Swampscott school officials for failing to label as hazing the football team’s naked exercise ritual called the Sophomore 50.

CASINOS

In the latest round in the ongoing slugfest between Steve Wynn and Mayor Marty Walsh, the Las Vegas casino operator has filed a libel suit against an unnamed casino opponent who leaked to the media subpoenas related to a City of Boston lawsuit against the Gaming Commission. (Yes, it is a bit tough to follow the bouncing litigation ball.) (Boston Globe)

The executive assistant of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Gaming Commission has been suspended after being arrested on charges of heroin possession on the Cape. (Cape Cod Times)

ELECTIONS

Ezra Klein of Vox runs the numbers on Marco Rubio‘s tax plan and says no credible economist would say they come close to adding up.

State Rep. Michael Brady easily won the Democratic primary in sparse voting and will take on Rep. Geoff Diehl in a special election in November to fill the seat that was held by the late senator Thomas Kennedy of Brockton. (The Enterprise)

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch has a 20-1 cash advantage over his opponent, former mayor William Phelan, who has a little more than $5,000 available in his campaign account. (Patriot Ledger)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A developer plans to build a swanky boutique hotel in City Square in Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

States using different benchmarks for proficiency under Common Core tests has resulted in a wide disparity in gauging how students are doing under the new educational standards. (New York Times)

Scot Lehigh says the Massachusetts Teachers Association‘s anti-charter school week is pumping out lots of mistruths. (Boston Globe)

Wonk wars: The fact that President Obama plans to install one-time Boston charter school leader John King as acting education secretary but not subject him to the broken congressional confirmation process is horrible if you’re Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli and at least a little bit understandable if you’re Bellwether Education Partners’ Andrew Rotherham (who mostly calls out Petrilli’s aghast-ness).

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Attorney General Maura Healey says unwarranted price disparities between providers have persisted despite cost control efforts and more aggressive measures may be needed to fix a “dysfunctional market.” (CommonWealth) Partners HealthCare chief David Torchiana says state regulators deserve as much blame as anyone else for rising health care prices. (CommonWealth)

Paul Levy picks apart a blog post by the chief of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital about the “obsession” some have with medical errors and the pressure it puts on doctors to be “perfect.” (Not Running a Hospital)

Telemedicine is expanding but no one knows whether it saves money. (Governing)

Families plead for officials to use a state law to commit their addicted children to jail or treatment programs. (Salem News)

C-section rates vary quite dramatically from hospital to hospital in Massachusetts. (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION

A private operator is looking to reestablish a seasonal New Bedford-to-Nantucket ferry trip after a nearly half-century hiatus. (Standard-Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission approves a gas-purchase deal between a Granite State utility company and Kinder Morgan, which is seeking approval to build a pipeline from Pennsylvania. (Eagle-Tribune) The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities earlier approved three similar deals with utilities.

COURTS/CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Obama administration will release 6,000 inmates from federal prison, the largest prisoner release in history, in an effort to ease overcrowding and begin steps to change sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders. (New York Times)

The state Supreme Judicial Court held a special sitting in New Bedford — in the same courthouse where Lizzie Borden was tried — where the justices heard oral arguments on four cases before an overflow crowd. It is the first of what is expected to be a series of high court sessions in courthouses around the state. (Standard-Times)

Did you know you can bet on politics on websites regulated by federal officials? (Time)

MEDIA

State Police have been ordered by the Secretary of State’s office to turn over records to the Patriot Ledger involving the fatal crash that killed the son of a former state representative and resulted in drunken driving and vehicular homicide charges against the other driver.

Dan Kennedy weighs in on the Globe‘s redesign of the Saturday paper, putting it in context with the ever-changing landscape of print vs. digital. (WGBH)

You may have never heard of Vice, but the news website is now valued at six times the Washington Post and slightly less than the New York Times. (Gawker)

Sebastian Smee calls the anti-Renoir protests outside the Museum of Fine Arts a sophomoric “cry for attention” in the “new social media ecosystem,” a cry that he disparages but duly answers on the front-page of the Globe. And which we duly echo by including in today’s Download.