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Beer Train Draws Criticism

Niagara Frontier Transit Authority executive director Kimberly A. Minkel and public affairs director C. Douglas Hartmayer found themselves on the hot seat before the Economic Development Committee of the Erie County Legislature Tuesday. The reason for the scrutiny is the in-your-face advertising for Coors Light Silver Bullet beer that completely wraps one of the authority’s light rail trains, advertising the brand to all passers-by as the rail cars move slowly up and down Main Street.

Erie county legislators Timothy Hogues and Betty Jean Grant joined a growing number of public officials, including Buffalo Common Councilman Darius Pridgen, who feel the advertising is inappropriate.

“NFTA, what are you thinking?” Pridgen asked on his Facebook page. “I don’t think I’m being a prude or over the top when I say that seeing a NFTA train that carries children to school wrapped in a beer advertising is outrageous.”

Minkel argued that beer advertising such as Labatt’s has appeared within the cars going as far back as 1984.

“The advertising for wrapping the rail cars is somewhat short-lived,” she said, “We are in the process of replacing those rail cars with beautiful new rail cars that I don’t have a desire to wrap. I want to show them off.”

The process of rebuilding the rail cars will take several more years but in the meantime the Coors wrap adds revenue to the NFTA—$100,000 this year alone, although the ad campaign could roll on for five years. Overall, 25 percent of the NFTA’s revenue comes from fares, the other 75 percent comes from county, state, and federal sources.

Eva Doyle, an educator, activist, and columnist with The Criterion newspaper expressed her outrage at the Coors ads. The young are impressionable, she observed, and people will see these ads whether they are riding the train or not.

“Shame on the NFTA,” she said. “There are better ways to come up with money. You must do it for the sake of our children.”

Kenneth E. Leonard, PhD, director of the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, noted with some irony that there are 30 behavioral health agencies on Main Street, the same route our subway travels. He asked if anyone could imagine ads like this driving through Buffalo’s suburbs. There are no similarly wrapped busses advertising beer in the NFTA fleet.

“Recovery is prone to craving,” Leonard said. “Sometimes the scent will trigger it. Craving is related to relapse.”

He also pointed out some veterans as another at-risk population. Of returning veterans, 20 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder. Of these, only 50 percent seek treatment, and self-medication is common. Many need to take public transportation.

Legislator Joseph Lorigo stood up for the ads, calling it a “slippery slope” for legislators to come out against the NFTA decision. After all, he said, the heavily county-subsidized Ralph Wilson stadium is loaded with beer ads.

Legislator Grant drew attention to a letter Pridgen sent to the NFTA board of commissioners expressing his concern. “For many students metro rail is their only means of transportation and I believe promoting the use of alcohol to such an impressionable group will most certainly have negative effects in their futures,” Pridgen wrote.

Grant also held up a resolution from the Buffalo Board of Education, to be introduced at the next meeting, which reads, in part:

Whereas the Buffalo Board of Education expects that the NFTA, like all of its major contract holders, will recognize some reasonable obligation to the goals and objectives of the Board, in this case the promotion of healthy and legal behaviors that assure the wellness of our youth;

Be it resolved that the Buffalo Board of Education requests that the NFTA immediately suspend its alcoholic advertising campaign on all transportation vehicles, by rail or roadway and all venues, such as bus or rail stops including buildings operated by the NFTA and terminate its advertising contracts with promoters of alcoholic consumption.

Be it further resolved that whether such contracts are terminated or not, the NFTA is requested to immediately remove the alcoholic promotional images and texts from all of its property accessed by the underage youth of our school district.

“The county must realize we can’t easily pull the ad without challenges,” Minkel concluded.

Hartmayer added that reasonable minds may have differences of opinion.

Should Coors lose its advertising placement on the city’s publicly subsidized transit system, an obvious option would be for them to place ads in Artvoice—an alternative newsweekly that is not subsidized by any public dollars and is widely available for free. In addition, according to the most recent media profile, 97.2 percent of Artvoice readers are over the age of 21—which translates to 224,322 monthly readers who are of drinking age.

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