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'Try art, not ads', say TTC critics


This collection of drawings, entitled �Tricked Out TTC” was created by students from Oasis Alternative Secondary School and West End Alternative Secondary School. An exhibit featuring images of an advertising-free TTC is on display from today until Sunday at XPACE Gallery at 303 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.

Group fights `wrapped’ buses

Riders would pay more to be ad-free

Jan. 5, 2006. 01:00 AM

The Toronto Public Space Committee believes art patrons and TTC patrons can be one and the same.

So the committee has organized a show, starting today, in which contributors ranging from professional artists to schoolchildren have “re-imagined” what TTC buses, streetcars, subway cars and stations could look like if the transit system replaced advertising with art.

“Imagine, if for $2.50, you could enter into North America’s largest indoor art gallery,” says Dave Meslin, co-ordinator of the event. “I see a huge boost in daytime ridership, which would help compensate for the loss of advertising revenue.

“We’re trying to show the TTC could be very different and the best way to show that, instead of writing an essay about it or writing a press release, we asked artists to visually show what it could be like,” said Meslin, adding that high school and elementary students took up the task as part of a school project.

The committee has been feuding with the TTC over the years over increased advertising throughout the transit system, arguing it gives the system a second-class feel. According to its website,, the committee is a non-profit organization “dedicated to protecting our shared common spaces from commercial influence and privatization.”

“Businesses and even most public institutions try to make things look nice,” said Meslin. “The TTC seems to be one of the only major public institutions that has no concept of aesthetics whatsoever.”

Last year, the TTC started a seven-year agreement with Viacom Outdoor Canada, which sells ads. The TTC will get $93.2 million over seven years, ending in 2011.

TTC commissioner Howard Moscoe, who plans to visit the gallery, said the TTC is trying to beautify its stations, starting with giving a museum-look to Museum station.

“I don’t disagree with their objectives, but I don’t think we can afford the financial hit,” said Moscoe. “If the public space committee wants to hold a public fundraiser to replace the advertising revenue, I will be the first to pull the advertising out of our stations.”

Meslin pointed out the TTC’s advertising revenue - about $13.5 million a year - amounts to about 4 cents per ride. So the committee is charging a nickel entrance fee - the extra penny to represent “pure profit” to the TTC - to make a point about how little money the TTC makes on advertising.

“Advertising only contributes 4 cents to every $2.50 ride,” said Meslin. “I think some people think if you took the ads away, it would be $4 or $5 a ride, that the ads are really subsidizing the rides. They’re not.

“If you had two doors to enter, one for $2.50 with the ads and one for $2.54 with no ads and really comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, I think people would pay the $2.54.”

Meslin said Torontonians are already used to ads inside subway cars and buses, and fears that children will grow up thinking it’s “normal” to see shrink-wrapped advertising outside buses and streetcars. “We’ve grown up seeing something covered in ads. We kind of assume it was created that way.

“What’s sad for me is when I see a streetcar wrapped in ads, it jumps out at me - that’s new. If I see Union Station with ads on the floor, that’s new. For kids growing up now, they think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“It’s getting worse and worse and becoming more normalized.”

You can visit XPACE Gallery at 303 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market from today until Sunday to see sculptures, drawings and digital images of common TTC sites.