Planka.nu has been nominated to the Viral Video Award for our video Adblock AFK, please vote for us here! :) Below you can read an article that we published in Swedish about two years ago (all of the costs and revenues have risen a bit since then, but the proportions are more or less the same) that describes our thoughts on why there should not be any ads in the public transport.
Our public transport is filled with ads, and for every year that passes, SL (the public transport company in Stockholm) seems to find new places to fill with even more of them. Advertising is so deeply entrenched in the public that we seldom reflect about what an ad free public sphere would look like. Even the thought of an ad free public transport seems daring, almost utopian, and it is definitely not something that SL are discussing. But why is that so, and what does it mean that we are auctioning out the right to form the views of hundreds of thousands of commuters to the highest bidder?
First we would like to point out that a critical approach to the concept of advertisements in public does not have to do with a moralizing view on peoples consumption patterns. Neither does it have to do with a naive belief in societal change through an individual end of consumption, be it of goods or ads. It has to do with the simple, but fundamental, idea of bringing the shaping of our public spaces under democratic control, and of looking after the dignity and integrity of commuters by not force-feeding them with ads that they have not asked for.
The conservative would probably object: but think about how much money SL makes by selling ad space! That is something that we, of course, have thought about. And it is hardly any money to talk about! According to SL, the revenue from advertising sales is approximately 186 million kronor (nine kronor is about one euro) per year, counting the fact that SL:s total operating costs are over 10 000 million kronor, the revenue from ads account for less than 2 percent of their total income.
How do we make the public transport ad free?
There are four ways of getting rid of the ads in the public transport without having to cut the operating costs, two of them are quite bad, one quite good, and one absolutely awesome!
The first way is to raise the ticket prices, which account for approximately 50 percent of SL:s total income, hence the revenue from selling ads is equal to an increase in ticket prices of a bit less than 4 percent. For a monthly pass that costs 790 kronor, this would mean an increase with about 30 kronor.
The second way is to raise the county tax with about 5 öre (Swedish cents) per 100 kronor, which would be equal to 10 kronor per month for a person with a monthly salary of 20 000 kronor.
The third way would be to remove the gates and barriers in the public transport which would render a saving of at least 225 million kronor per year. With that money we could get rid of all the ads in the public transport and still have 40 million kronor left to spend on other improvements.
The fourth, and best, way would be to make the public transport fare-free. By getting rid of the whole control and ticketing system, SL would save at least 400 million kronor per year, which could be used to make the public transport ad free, and have over 200 million kronor to spend on expanding the public transport.
Why do the politicians want ads in the public transport?
Seeing as how the advertisements in the public transport does not bring in that much money to SL, we have to ask ourselves why they are still there. It is hardly to increase the attractiveness of the public transport: all those ads are rather putting a cheap stamp on it.
One reason why the ads still exist is probably because the politicians who govern over SL are stuck in old patterns of thoughts. Since the ads have always been there, they must be good for something. As we have already concluded: the thought of an ad free public transport can be mind-blowing.
But this explanation can hardly be the only one. It is also a fact that the public transport is a great place to advertise in. As Johan Damström, head of advertising at SL, puts it:
[The public transport] is a a perfect place to advertise. A newspaper ad is easy to flip through, on the television you can always change the channel. But when you are standing in the escalator you do not really have a choice but to look around. And then you see the ads.
We think this is a better way of understanding why the public transport is filled with advertisements. It is because the public transport is a veritable gold-mine for the companies that have enough money to advertise in it. The politicians know this, and therefore they offer the ad space for a cheap buck. Obviously they do not put the commuters at the forefront at all times.
The quote from Johan Damström is also a great description of one of the biggest problems with advertisements in public: namely that it forces itself upon us, invades our senses, while giving us no way of turning it off.
Most commuters spend a great deal of time in the public transport, and this time is something that should be respected. The public transport should not just be fare-free, frequent and serve all areas. It should also be a well decorated place of beauty. A place, maybe best described in a letter, written a long time ago, to Stockholms former city commissioner Hjalmar Mehr:
We want a celebration! Joy and colorfulness in the subway! It belongs to the common people, it is the car free peoples daily traffic route: every station should be a fairy castle!
We would have to pay a very small price to get rid of the ads, instead we are paying a high price to keep them.