Portland bus service may back bid to loosen billboard ban

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PORTLAND — A bill submitted by a Portland legislator would allow advertising in bus shelters, which is currently banned by the state’s anti-billboard law.

District 116 Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, said her bill would allow towns and cities to decide whether they want to allow advertisements inside bus shelters. She said the move could generate revenue for public transportation agencies to maintain shelters and pay for new ones.

The Greater Portland Transit District (Metro) board of directors is scheduled to vote Thursday, Feb. 24, on whether to support the bill.

City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who sits on the Metro board, approached Harlow with the idea. He said allowing poster-sized advertisements similar to those allowed in many cities outside of Maine is an obvious opportunity.

“It would be a very narrow exemption to the billboard law, and it would not supersede any local laws regarding advertising,” Suslovic said. He added that Metro could have a policy regarding allowable advertising, and would expect a prohibition on religious or tobacco ads.

City Councilor David Marshall, who is also a Metro director, opposes allowing ads. He said Portland is unique because of its lack of outdoor advertising in the downtown area.

“Most other cities you visit have billboard advertising all over,” Marshall said. “We need to build on our brand. We don’t need a barrage of advertising.”

Harlow’s bill was undergoing revision last week, and Harlow said she expects it to be  assigned to a legislative committee for consideration in March.

The Metro board meets at 7:45 a.m. Thursday at 114 Valley St.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net