Berlin: Seen Through a Bus-Wrap

Many transit agencies depend on advertising revenue from wraps,  those advertisements that cover the windows of the bus as well as the rest of the side.  Berlin has them on some of its double-deckers.

Seen from inside this bus, Berlin’s beautiful central park, the Tiergarten, looks like this:
Fortunately, if you lean away a little, the image resolves itself more clearly:
Darrin Nordahl’s book My Kind of Transit mentions bus wraps as an example of a transit agency decision that is disrespectful of the customer and indicative of a lack of self-respect.  He uses this as a reason we shouldn’t respect buses, either, and obviously I don’t follow him there. (Streetcars and monorails are sometimes wrapped, too.)  There are better and worse wraps; I’ve seen better in America.

I admit that I haven’t researched how much revenue bus wraps bring, as opposed to advertising that doesn’t cover the windows. It had better be really substantial.

But still, to me it’s an unpleasant sensation to get off a bus and realise you’ve been looking through a billboard that isn’t even intended for you.  You’re just part of the advertising mechanism.

Wikipedia notes that all mobile vehicle adverising is illegal in New York City.

Are wraps ever a good idea?

9 Responses to Berlin: Seen Through a Bus-Wrap

  1. Matt September 6, 2009 at 4:57 am #

    No. It implies that the quality of experience of transit passengers is less important than the chance to make a buck from a passing pedestrian.

  2. marco September 6, 2009 at 7:16 am #

    Wraps are not a good idea at all.
    One of the advantages of public transport is the possibility of see the city trough its windows: when a city puts bus wraps (or even worst, eye-height advertising on windows), it makes its buses a lot less comfortable!

  3. Beige September 6, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Bus windows are usually scratched and dirty enough as they are without advertising blocking the view. From the outside, I have the somewhat mixed feeling of not really wanting to see big advertisements driving around, but those are the only buses that are clean and shiny and colorful, plus the wraps are usually nicer advertisements than the advertising signs on the sides and back of the unwrapped buses, which are mostly car insurance for people who have severe car insurance issues (I always thought an SR22 was an airplane from Cirrus), or don’t-beat-your-children public service announcements.

  4. Brent September 6, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    Transit advertising has been a sore spot in Toronto for a while now amongst public space advocates, who pointed out a couple of years ago that advertising makes up such a small portion of the TTC’s revenue that the TTC could go ad-free and only require a 5-cent fare increase to make up the difference.
    According to the TTC’s 2007 annual report (PDF), advertising revenue made up $16.6-million in 2007, compared to passenger fares totalling $778-million and total operating expenses of about $1.2-billion. The ad revenue includes traditional advertising (ad panels inside and on buses, streetcars and subway trains, and in subway stations), and also includes revenue from wrapped buses and streetcars and “station domination” campaigns (all advertising panels in a station relate to a single advertiser, plus there are vinyl wraps on some columns, walls, and sometimes the floor). We can’t tell from these numbers exactly how much of an impact wraps had on revenues, but I think it is fair to deduce that it is a relatively small component.
    I’m sure other transit agencies must post financial statements online, to see if advertising revenues are more significant in other places. I have heard TTC officials quoted as saying that they are generally in line with other cities but haven’t seen any data either way.

  5. Mad Park September 7, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    Wraps degrade the transport experience, compromise safety and look crass. Windows should never be covered and we should insist on buses with rear windows as well.

  6. Duder September 7, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

    Some wraps look cool from the outside, but inside, they do indeed suck balls.

  7. Peter Parker September 8, 2009 at 4:31 am #

    As well as the aesthetics and intangibles regarding ‘image’ that others above have mentioned, wraps should never be done on any public transport vehicle that operates after dark for the following reasons:
    * Passengers need to be able to see out to find their stop in the dark if travelling on an unfamiliar route. This means being able to identify street signs, buildings etc. Wrapping (especially if combined with too much bright lights inside the vehicle) prevents this visibilty.
    * The perception of safety is improved if there is visibility from outside in and vice versa (not that someone outside can do much about a incident happening inside a moving tram, but transparency still improves the perception of safety, especially given that new trams lock the driver away in a seperate compartment).

  8. Steve January 4, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    This route in Berlin is especially unworthy of wrapped buses. Routes 200 (pictured) and 100 are specifically designated as tourist routes — the 100 even has an audio guide one can download from the BVG’s website, It’s a shame these buses are wrapped, especially given the new high-quality, comfortable vehicles being used by the BVG.

  9. Mary Newsom September 23, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    This interesting topic got a link from a comment on my blog ( in Charlotte, NC, where the transit agency on 9/22 voted to begin allowing ads on bus exteriors. They didn’t specify that wraps were excluded, although there was some question about how many companies would have the $$ to do that, and that smaller ads provide more advertising opportunities for smaller businesses.
    The website for the MTA in New York City says it does accept exterior ads for buses.