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T to give alcohol ads a try, ending a five-year ban

The MBTA estimates it could collect an additional $2.5 million from the sales of alcohol advertising at some stations. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

For the first time in more than five years the MBTA will accept alcohol advertising at some stations after its governing board on Monday approved a long-contested change to the transit agency’s policy.

With revenues running below projections for the fiscal year, the T estimates it could collect an additional $2.5 million from the sales of those ads. But, there will be some restrictions on where the ads can run: not near schools or community centers or in rail stations where more than 10 percent of passengers use student passes. Among those stations are JFK/UMass, Roxbury Crossing, and Forest Hills.

The T will begin with a test run of ads between December and mid-March. It will then evaluate the program before potentially expanding to selling ads that wrap around trains in April.


The approval comes a week after the board hit a 2-2 impasse on the issue, with director Brian Shortsleeve, a T general manager, absent from that meeting. He was present Monday and provided the decisive vote in favor of allowing the ads. Shortsleeve has frequently stressed that the T must balance its budget.

Alcohol ads were banned in 2012, with officials citing the exposure to youth as the main reason. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a recovering alcoholic and at the time a state representative, was among the advocates calling for the ban. His administration has also petitioned the T not to reinstate the ads as the issue resurfaced in recent years.

The mayor’s office has not returned a request for comment, but a city public health official testified against the ads at the T board’s meeting last week.

Transit officials also note the city of Boston owns some of the shelters at T bus stops, which sometimes display alcohol ads. The mayor’s office said this is because Walsh inherited a long-term contract with the company that places advertisements on city property, and the city may move to ban such ads in the next round of contracts.


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.