Last week was not a memorably good one for OC Transpo in terms of customer satisfaction.
The Canadian Transportation Agency imposed another fine for failure to call out stops — $12,500 this time, up from last year’s $5,000 ticket for the same offence.
Transpo’s somewhat eccentric policies on advertising also landed the city in small claims court, where it faces a $25,000 lawsuit from the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group (OTAG).
In the latest absurdity in the saga of bus ads, the taxpayer group complains it got the runaround when it tried to buy bus ads criticizing increases in the wages of transit employees.
What followed, according to the unproven allegations outlined in the lawsuit, was an extended round of hair-splitting as city officials quibbled with the wording and accuracy of the ads, which ultimately didn’t run.
OTAG had wanted to run them during budget deliberations for maximum impact and claims it lost significant fundraising opportunities from the delay.
Whenever OC Transpo has stepped in to censor ads, it has generally ended up looking thoroughly goofy, as it did in last year’s silly flap over atheist bus ads proclaiming, “There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
There have also been some puzzling inconsistencies in the application of Transpo’s ad policies. An advocacy ad campaign from Ontario Public Services Employees Union was rejected a few years ago, while one from the Canadian Medical Association was accepted, with little in the way of convincing explanation for the discrepancy in treatment.
Ads expressing opinions and ideas, whether from atheists or fiscal conservatives, seem to get a rougher ride from OC Transpo than run-of-the-mill commercials for products, which don’t appear to undergo the same screening for “accuracy.”
In the case of the OTAG ads, wherein the authority being criticized is the same one that decides whether or not that criticism will be aired, the conflict of interest seems fairly clear. It’s hard to blame OTAG for suspecting that the city’s alleged delays in approving the ads were intentional.
This is what you get when your municipal government decides to get into the ad business and the censorship business at the same time. It may be less than ideal to be selling space on our buses to help pay the bills, but it’s far worse to give the city a veto on criticism of its own performance.
As long as we’re renting out public property for commercial come-ons, the city shouldn’t be playing favourites when it comes to content. Every paying advertiser should have an equal opportunity to annoy bus riders.
Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; email@example.com