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Walsh, Kitty Dukakis vow to fight T if it reverses alcohol-ad ban

Alcohol companies like Bacardi used to be able to purchase ads on the MBTA.
Alcohol companies like Bacardi used to be able to purchase ads on the MBTA.Wedny Maeda/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

Just three years ago, a diverse group — including the future mayor of Boston and the wife of a former governor — joined to pressure the MBTA to ban advertisements for alcoholic beverages on its trains and stations.

Now, as the MBTA considers rescinding that ban, members of that coalition say they’re getting ready to fight any new alcohol advertisements.

Both Kitty Dukakis, wife of former governor Michael Dukakis, and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, have already come out against lifting the ban. The director of a youth alliance that helped push for the current restrictions has also said members will rally against allowing such ads back on the T.

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“It’s just sad that we have to spend so much time fighting this, when it’s just so crystal-clear to many of us that they shouldn’t do this,” said Dukakis.

MBTA officials say they have not made any recommendations on lifting the ban, but they have also pointed out that alcohol advertisements could bring extra revenue to the T.

Dukakis and Walsh, both of whom have spoken publicly about their own struggles with alcohol, said the revenue is not worth the potential pitfalls. Walsh said the reversal of the ban would represent “going back on its commitment to limit exposure to alcohol advertising on our public transportation system,” according to a statement from Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for Walsh.

In 2012, Dukakis and Walsh, then a state representative from Dorchester, joined with the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force. That local group had rallied young people to support Walsh’s legislation, which would have banned alcohol ads from state property.

The high schoolers in the task force also presented data to the board that governed the MBTA at the time, saying that studies have shown that exposure to alcohol advertisements encourages underage drinking. Both Walsh and task force officials have pointed out that many of the city’s students take the MBTA to get to and from school. In 2012, the general manager at the time, Richard Davey, decided to ban such ads.

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Helen Connolly, director of the task force, said the group’s young members are prepared to organize again if MBTA officials continue to consider allowing alcohol ads.

“The youth members were the ones who really worked tirelessly to become educated on the issue, to look at the data, to obtain hundreds of petition signatures all over the city and the state before going to the board,” she said. “The youth coalition will definitely get behind this again.”

Asked about those opposed to a reversal of the ban, Joe Pesaturo, a T spokesman, said in an e-mail that a policy decision has not been made.

But he also added, “The MBTA must close a $242 million deficit in next year’s budget. Every dollar of revenue and every dollar in cost savings contribute to shrinking that deficit.”

Tim Buckley, a spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker, said the administration has not made any decisions about allowing such ads on the T.

On Monday, MBTA officials laid out data that suggested reversing the T’s ban could bring in extra revenue. Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s chief administrator, said that Titan, the company that manages the T’s advertising program, believes it could grow advertising revenue from about $17.1 million this year to $32 million next year.

Some of that extra money could come from areas such as digital billboards. But Titan also believed about $1.3 million in additional revenue could come from alcohol advertisements if the ban is lifted.

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The MBTA currently bans 15 categories of advertisements, including those for alcohol and firearms, according to Shortsleeve. He also noted that about half of major US transit agencies allow such ads, including those in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New Jersey.

T officials also pointed out that the city of Boston itself has bus shelters with alcohol ads.

But the city also has a policy that alcohol cannot be advertised on city property within 500 feet of schools, parks, churches, or community centers, according to McGilpin.

Told about the city’s bus shelters that still carry alcohol advertisements, Dukakis said that doesn’t excuse the MBTA from allowing the ads back on its system.

If the MBTA reverses the ban, officials would show that they don’t understand the problems with drinking that pervade college campuses, and what people in recovery go through, she said.

“The T just doesn’t care, and that’s what bothers me,” she said.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.