How do they do that?

Metro bus with full wrap

How do they do that? is a new series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they cover the buses with those giant ads?

It’s all done by hand and it’s a time consuming process. Installing a full wrap ad covering the sides and back can take four to six hours per bus.

No paint is applied. Designers work from a template of the bus that will carry the ad to create the design, which is then printed on pressure sensitive vinyl like a giant sticker — but one that strips off easily so the bus surface is not damaged on removal.

Two or three people may work on a single bus installation. They start at the top, drop a wide vinyl roll down the side and then press it into place with a hard plastic tool. The pressure releases tiny balls of glue in the vinyl that attach it to the bus. Once a roll is posted the installers move over and post another until the bus is completely covered. They have to carefully trim the vinyl around windows, doors, vents and other features of the bus. A scant four to six hours later, they’re done.

The wrap glue is strong enough to keep the vinyl in place for a few years. But it is forgiving enough that when the ads have run their course, after only a short period of time promoting a movie or a TV show, for example, they can be peeled right off.

Not all ads are full wraps. Oversized ads that cover only part of one side of a bus can take only about an hour to install. But when you’re posting hundreds of them, the time can add up.

Like other transit agencies in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Metro’s bus-side advertising program earns money that is returned to the system to help keep the buses and trains running and the fares low; advertising on bus and rail is projected to net Metro $27.7 million this fiscal year. The agency’s entire budget for this year is $4.15 billion.

7 replies

  1. Wrapped buses and trains are great source of revenue, but more can be done with other ways than just this.

    I just spend three weeks touring Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore with a bunch of pictures and videos on how their public transit works and generate revenue.

    As soon as I get those pictures and videos sorted out, I’ll send them over to thesource to share.

  2. I’m not too familiar with vinyl or this process, and I was wondering how sustainable/environmentally friendly it is. Thanks!

  3. Whatever, Transit TV is still insipid and the spawn of Satan.

    Can we get it installed at the LA Metro cafeteria?

  4. I like the “Smoothie Ride” Gold line train Mc Donald’s ad I see every so often. I think about it while I’m being bounced down Wilshire on a Rapid…wishing for the Purple line extension, thinking bad thoughts about Beverly Hills….

  5. I wouldn’t be so sure that Metro can squeeze more revenue out of the ads, but even if they somehow managed to double it, it would still amount to barely one-tenth of one percent of the total budget.

    But the larger point I’m trying to make is that advertising revenue isn’t “free”; It comes at a cost, albeit one that’s difficult to quantify. The question we need to ask is whether the costs outweigh the benefits, and although no one has yet conducted the research to answer definitively, my intuition tells me that the ads hurt more than they help.

    In the end, if Metro decided to completely eliminate ads, it wouldn’t even amount to a blip in its operating budget.

  6. I disagree with R’s comment. Any revenue that can be found, at this point, is revenue to keep, frankly. And I don’t share the negative opinion of the ads. Granted, some of them are not to my taste, but in general they are no more intrusive than the billboards, animated signs, and building wraps that make up the rest of L.A.’s street scene. With some creative design, the wraps can be clever.

    I would think — given the audience of more than a million riders, not to mention the exponentially larger audience that sees a bus or two throughout the course of every day — that Metro could be getting more money for these ad placements.

    Same goes for Metro Rail. Is anyone else tired of seeing the same ad for Charles HunnaHustla’s “great American novel” at the North Hollywood station? I wasn’t going to buy it in early summer when the ads showed up, and I’m sure not buying it now. Clearly that space is dirt cheap, but I don’t really understand why.

  7. I realize that in the current fiscal environment this might not be the best time to bring this up, but does anyone else agree that the costs of carrying ads far outweigh the paltry revenues that they generates?

    Advertising provides 0.007% of Metro’s budget, which is a laughably tiny amount. Meanwhile, the ads themselves are highly visible, ugly, and intrusive, and their presence reinforces the stereotype that the bus is a down-scale mode of transportation that only poor people use.(This is doubly true of Transit TV.)

    Ad-free buses, emblazoned with stylish and attractive Metro branding, would go a long way to improving Metro’s image and to nudging more people to get out of their cars.