The MBTA’s plan to place digital billboards outside of their T stations is receiving backlash from preservationists who think it will ruin the city’s historical feel.
Under pressure to generate revenue to keep the oldest subway system in the country up and running, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority advertising contractor has plans to put digital billboards with train times, service updates, and paid advertisements outside of five T stations, according to the Boston Globe.
Historical preservationists argue that the placement of these billboards outside of the Arlington and Park Street stops would ruin the appeal of the adjacent Public Garden.
Currently, there are rules in place that prohibit advertisers from interfering with the image of the city’s historic downtown area. Preservationists say that the placement of billboards at these T stations would violate those rules.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Liz Vizza, director of Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit that helps with the maintenance of the park, said that these billboards would be “commercializing a city street.”
The billboard panels are about the size of a large TV, and would hang over the entrance to the subway. Installed by Outfront Media, the same company that created the digital billboards for subways in New York City, the panels would be built at no cost to the MBTA. Outfront Media says that they would make their money back in advertising after installing the boards for free.
The T is in the process of rapidly expanding their use of digital advertisement in the subways. According to The Boston Globe, The goal of the MBTA is to expand their current digital display inventory from 250 screens to about 700. Facing $9 billion dollars in debt as of 2015, the MBTA is looking to make up some of its ground in revenue from third party advertisers.
This is also not the first time a plan to install digital billboards has been attempted – a similar proposal from the MBTA failed in 2016 after backlash from activists and local politicians.
Preservationists in opposition to the billboards will make their case at an MBTA hearing held by the Office of Outdoor Advertising. Other proposed stations include Haymarket, Back Bay, and the Aquarium.
“We support the MBTA providing information to their riders,” Vizza said. “We think they can provide for their riders and even provide advertising, just not on the city streets.”