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Captivating an Audience

Large motion-triggered advertisements like those in this video could be coming to Washington's Metro system.Video courtesy Monster Media Inc.

But advertising has always been a sensitive subject at Metro. Unlike commercial transit systems, Metro was built to raise the image of mass transit. "A certain dignity and even elegance is sought after," Metro architect Harry Weese once wrote. There was to be "no stigma of cheapness or of the bargain basement," he said.

Last summer, the debate over how much advertising to allow so divided the agency's Riders' Advisory Council that it was unable to agree on a position. Some members said they did not want Metro plastered with ads. Others said they would prefer more advertising to higher fares.

Other transit agencies have taken the more-is-better approach. In addition to traditional ads, the London Underground has about 1,000 digital ads, including 19-inch digital screens mounted on the sides of escalators in 12 stations. The Tube is also testing cross-track projection, in which ads are projected across train tracks while commuters wait on platforms, said Nicky Cheshire, sales director for CBS Outdoor, which also has the advertising contract for the London system.

In the Tokyo subway and commuter train systems, ads plaster pillars inside stations, cover escalator panels and hang vertically from rail-car ceilings. They are also on overhead grab handles.

Metro wants to award a contract this summer for the installation of the flat-screen video monitors for real-time information and advertising. The winning bidder would be required to cover all costs. The first pilot screens probably wouldn't go up until the end of the year.

And since the beginning of the year, some high-ridership stations such as Farragut North, Metro Center and Gallery Place -- more than 50,000 people churn through each on an average weekday -- have been covered with wall banners, vertical ads on pylons and pillars, and large floor graphics.

At Gallery Place, the latest exclusive ad campaign is for the Library of Congress. Black and white ads depict famous Americans -- Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Jackie Robinson and Marilyn Monroe. At the Seventh and F streets entrance by the Verizon Center, a 12-by-20-foot floor ad of Lincoln greets riders after they pass through fare gates.

At Farragut North, the exclusive advertiser this month is United Technologies. Large, three-dimensional color graphics show the internal workings of a Sikorsky helicopter, a Pratt & Whitney jet engine and a spacesuit.

The ads are made of a vinyl designed to stick without leaving residue.

Metro expects to earn at least $69,000 for the station-saturating ads at Gallery Place and about $60,000 from the one at Farragut North, said Ron Rydstrom, Metro's marking director.

Other formats have started to appear on trains. On the Red, Orange and Blue lines, 50 rail cars are running ads for Air France on their exteriors for the next three months. Thirty rail cars have ads for American University's summer session that run the length of the ceilings.

The ads, which went up last week, are attracting attention. Patrick Meehan, an official on temporary duty at the Canadian Embassy, let Red Line trains roll by the other day as he gazed at the ad-covered pillars at Farragut North.

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