More Train Tracker Displays, and More Ads, Are Coming to the CTA

An existing ad and info panel in the Orange Line's Midway station. Photo: CTA
An existing ad and info panel in the Orange Line's Midway station. Photo: CTA

As part of an amendment to the Chicago Transit Authority’s contract with its advertising concessionaire Intersection, which has exclusive ad rights on all CTA vehicles and real estate, 130 more digital displays are coming to ‘L’ stations, bringing the total number to more than 400, the transit agency announced today. The screens, which display Train Tracker arrival info and service alerts, as well as advertisements, will be installed at no cost to the CTA and will generate revenue as part of a profit-sharing deal.

Granted, it would be great if customers could look at a screen on the platform to find out when the next train is coming, without having to be a captive audience for advertising content. But if deals like this allow the CTA to install more Train Tracker screens without spreading its tight budget even thinner, which could lead to higher fares, and can help generate additional income, the increase in ad space on the system seems like a relatively minor imposition on riders.

“One of my top priorities is to continually seek out new ways of improving the customer experience and make taking public transit the most logical, easy and convenient travel option,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. in a statement. “The expansion of our digital advertising leverages this vision.”

As part of the contract amendment, 159 of the CTAs existing 283 ad displays will be upgraded. As a plus, the new and upgraded screens will have dedicated space for arrival info and service alerts that will be continuously displayed along with the ads. So while the screens will always be showing advertisements, you won’t have to wait for an ad screen to disappear and the Train Tracker screen to come up before you get the info you’re seeking.

The installation of the new screens, which will also include “urban panel” displays located by station entrances, will begin this summer and be finished next year. The CTA will get at least 65 percent of the ad revenue, depending on location, with the cost of the hardware and installation will be deducted from the CTA’s share. The transit agency says that ads on buses, trains and in stations brought in more than $27 million last year.

A bus shelter installed by J.C. Decaux. Photo: Dave Reid
A bus shelter installed by J.C. Decaux. Photo: Dave Reid

It’s a similar arrangement to Chicago’s contract with the outdoor advertising company J.C. Decaux, which gave the city thousands of bus shelter citywide, including ongoing maintenance, and generates tens of millions of dollars for the city every year. Unlike, say, our nightmarish parking meter contract, the Decaux deal has been generally beneficial for Chicago. But would it kill anybody to eliminate the spaces between the glass back panels and make them go all the way up to the roof of the shelter, so that rain and snow don’t get in?

  • Kelly Pierce

    This article does not fully explain the finances of the
    deal. It states that the screens come at no cost to the CTA but they will be
    paid through charges against the advertising revenue received by the
    agency. In the short term, the CTA will
    receive fewer advertising dollars to pay for the screens. This money could have been used for other
    services. The opportunity cost of money
    is a cost nevertheless. It is likely the new screens will generate more
    advertising revenue, but the article does not claim this. Is it possible that Intersection
    will reduce advertising payments to the CTA and then be unable to sell
    advertising on the 138 new screens, leaving CTA with less money than when it

  • Jacob Wilson

    Pretty soon, much like the internet now, the world will become totally unbearable because of the ads. Only there’s no adblocker for the real world…

  • Rose Lynch

    Regarding the bus shelters – why are they up and down LSD, Lincoln Pk West, etc but few or none in the regular neighborhoods?
    It happens all the time at busy intersections with tons of souls just standing there in the hot sun or getting rained on. Irving Park and Sheridan westbound is just one of many of them, not even a doorway to stand in to have protection from the elements.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It looks like the issue at Irving Park/Sheridan westbound is sidewalk width. If a shelter was installed, it might be difficult for people in wheelchairs, etc. to get past it. I’m asking the CTA for a map showing the distribution of the shelters.

  • Deni

    Ads, ads, ads, ads. Ugh. But the silver lining will at least be being able to see the arrival times all the time instead of having to stare at the screen waiting for the times to scroll back around. When I rode Taipei’s system several years ago they had extremely annoying screens that played video ads complete with (loud) sound, but at least the train arrival time never disappeared.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s a map of CTA bus shelters that have digital display signs (but not all of the shelters. Zoom in for more detail. Seems like the distribution is fairly uniform, with some bias towards denser parts of the city, plus a concentration of shelters in the Loop and North Lake Shore Drive.

  • Atticus Finch

    You complain about the bus shelters not protecting you from the elements, yet you support the bus “rapid” transit in the loop, which has shelters that are worse than the standard shelters?


More Ideas for Improving Rail Service at O’Hare Right Now

Last week’s Streetblog Chicago post about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s O’Hare express train proposal struck a chord with readers, with dozens of retweets and almost 100 comments. Lots of people agreed that the existing CTA Blue Line run between the Loop and “the world’s busiest airport” is already a relatively fast, high-quality service. Many readers also concurred that […]

CTA’s 846 New Train Cars Provide Opportunity For a Major Redesign

On Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority announced that it’s planning to upgrade its train fleet with more than 800 new rail cars. As the agency looks into what manufacturers can provide, this should be the time when Chicagoans influence the process and push for the best possible redesign. CTA’s “Invitation for Bids” [PDF] requires rail […]