T oversight board at impasse on alcohol policy

T oversight board at impasse on alcohol policy

Vote is first deadlock since body was formed more than 2 years ago

THE MBTA’s FISCAL AND MANAGEMENT CONTROL BOARD reached its first-ever impasse on Monday, deadlocking 2-2 on whether to resume accepting alcohol advertising on a limited basis at the transit authority.

The T did away with alcohol advertising in 2012, but agency officials, struggling to raise additional revenue, sought to bring the ads back in a way that would minimize concerns about encouraging underage drinking. They proposed a 2.5-month pilot project that would have allowed alcohol ads inside all rail stations except the nine where student pass usage exceeds 10 percent. Those stations are Ashmont, Shawmut, Fields Corner, Savin Hill, JFK/UMass, Ruggles, Jackson Square, Forest Hills, and Roxbury Crossing.

The T’s  proposal also barred in-station digital ads from appearing before 4 p.m., allowed advertisers to wrap alcohol ads around up to 15 train cars at a time, and permitted alcohol advertising at bus shelters and on billboards located more than 500 yards from schools, playgrounds, and places of worship.

Evan Rowe, director of revenue at the T, estimated the proposal could bring in $2.5 million over the course of a year.

Once the board began deliberating, it quickly became apparent the T’s proposal was not going to pass, so members mixed and matched elements of the pilot to see if they could cobble together a majority.

Brian Lang, who said he has “quietly struggled” with the issue, opposed accepting any alcohol advertising. “We’re calling it a pilot, but it’s really a first step down the slope,” he said. “We desperately need money, but there are certain places we need to draw some lines. …It isn’t good for the overall climate of our society.”

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the board, was willing to allow alcohol advertising under a very limited set of circumstances – only on digital displays inside stations after 4 p.m. and only if the pilot started on Jan. 1, after New Year’s Eve.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt and Steven Poftak were willing to do away with the train car wraparound ads, but they weren’t willing to bar the other forms of advertising. Tibbits-Nutt and Rowe said Aiello’s approach would make it impossible for the pilot to succeed in bringing in significant new revenue.

After a series of votes failed to reach any consensus, the board called an end to the meeting. Aiello said it was the first time he could remember the board failing to reach an agreement on a policy proposal since the board was formed in July 2015.

Aiello said the board could take up the issue again at a future meeting. One of the board’s members, Brian Shortsleeve, was absent on Monday and his could vote could possibly break the deadlock.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The board’s stormy deliberations followed testimony from Rebecca Bishop of the Boston Public Health Commission, who said the city and Mayor Marty Walsh opposed easing the restrictions on alcohol advertising.

Anthony D’Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association, opposed accepting alcohol ads. He read quotes from former MBTA general managers expressing opposition to alcohol ads. He also said he had no faith that the alcohol industry would temper any advertising that would run on the T. He said he recently saw a billboard featuring a bottle of beer and a pair of sandals with a tagline that said: “All you need at the beach.” He noted most beaches bar alcoholic beverages.

“Can we as a society just once put our young people first?” D’Isidoro asked