Audio Ads A New Addition To Cleveland Public Transit

Audio ads are now running across the RTA system. The pilot will be reviewed in Spring. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
Featured Audio

by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

“Next stop, Superior Ave East and East 12th street”…

As a regular rider of the Greater Cleveland RTA, I can confirm these are the typical sounds of a bus ride. But in recent weeks public transit has added to the ambiance…

<Advertisment on bus> “Choose Caresource, healthcare with heart. Learn more at”

That was a short audio ad, played over the speakers in an RTA bus, and similar ads have begun airing throughout the transit system.

BITTO: “’s a pilot program.”

Stephen Bitto is RTA’s Executive Director of Marketing and Communications.

BITTO: “I guess transit needs to be very innovative and creative in terms of trying to find different revenue sources. Currently we sell advertising that goes you know, printed ads that are on the side of busses and inside busses, on trains and that.  We also have been very, I guess, leading edgeish in the sale of naming rights.”

So this pilot project is another possibility. Bitto says there is no cost to implement these audio ads, which use the transit system’s existing infrastructure: the ads play on the present speaker system, and they can be triggered by GPS.

BITTO: “So when we do automated stop announcements it’s based on coordinates on a GPS you know that we’re coming to another stop and an announcement’s made. And in the same way an advertiser can come in and run an advertising spot based on, you know, the route and the proximity of one of their locations.”

That means if a bus is approaching a certain intersection with a restaurant on the corner, riders might hear…

<Advertisment for McDonald's> "ba da ba buh buh…when you’re on the bus, make sure to mix and match to the max…"

Ads can also run based on a set time, or interval.  So maybe every 45 minutes riders hear…

<Advertisement> "Kaplan College has always stood for transformation, now we’ve transformed into Brightwood college…"

ROBERT: "I ain’t never listened to a full one because I got my music on…"

Bus riders Robert and, nearby, Franklin don’t seem too bothered by the ads.

FRANKLIN: "Not really, I don’t pay much attention to it either, it’s all right to have them on the buses every now and them, but I don’t really pay attention to it as much."

Russ Gottesman is CEO of Commuter Ads, a Dayton-area company which runs this bus audio ad system. So far the ads are found in 12 cities, including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Toledo.

GOTTESMAN: “In the past if a local business were to purchase a sign on the side of a bus, you never know where that bus is going to be. Because our sponsorship messages are geo-triggered we can place the messages at specific stops along the route no matter where they’re at.”

Gottesman says his company holds a number of patents for this ad transmitting system, which includes the audio and a message that scrolls inside the bus where stops are listed. And Gottesman emphasizes that along with commercials, the system can play public service announcements, or transit announcements. 

Stephen Bitto with the RTA admits this ad system is not a silver bullet for transit funding. It is piece of a revenue portfolio including public money, the fare box, sponsored transit lines like the Healthline, and underwriting for stops:

BITTO: “I think roughly 40% of the gross sales will come back to the authority. We are pleasantly surprised: there was a projection of about $150,000 in gross sales the first year of doing this. In the first six weeks there are already over $60,000.”

Bitto says this is still just a pilot program, and they’re working out the kinks, like figuring out the right loudness for the ads.

BITTO: “Well, one we encourage that type of feedback, we want to hear from our customers. But we also know that it’s been the experience of other transit authorities that’ve done it before us, that there is a period of that first introductory six weeks, two months, where you get some complaints, because it’s unexpected. But once you get through that period, it just becomes part of that ambiance of riding transit.”

In the next couple of months, by early Spring, RTA plans to review the program and figure out what happens next.

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