City moves to ban mobile billboards

Mobile billboards would be banned from cruising Chicago streets under a proposal introduced by Ald. Bob Fioretti, (D-2).

If passed, Fioretti's plan would impose a $5,000 per day fine on billboard trucks caught operating within the city.

The alderman says the measure is in response to complaints from residents of his district.

"These types of vehicles are hazardous distractions to other motorists," Fioretti says. "They increase traffic congestion and increase carbon emissions which contribute to global warming."

But Chicago businessman Brian Younker says banning mobile billboards will hurt Chicago's tourism industry.

Younker is the owner of Younker Media Inc., which operates mobile billboard trucks throughout the city.

"It would be detrimental to the tourism industry for sure," he says. "Businesses are struggling to try to attract customers, especially with this economy."

Younker says the mobile billboard industry is an asset to Chicago as the city competes with places like Las Vegas and Orlando for conventions and tourists.

"I think the city council should concentrate on balancing the budget and protecting the city of Chicago from crime," Younker says.

Fioretti disputes the idea that eliminating mobile billboards would affect the city's convention or tourism business. He says he has not heard from anyone who opposes the idea.

"The congestion, the pollution - let me tell you - not one person I've talked to opposes this ban."

But Younker says the billboards are popular with advertisers. Even the city has used mobile billboards. This month, Younker says, the city rented space on a truck to advertise Headstart enrollment for preschoolers.

It's uncertain exactly how many mobile billboard trucks are cruising the streets of Chicago. Younker says it's between five and ten a day, while Fioretti believes there are between 50 and 100.

Arne Carlson, who owns Transportation Branding Solutions, a company which puts advertisements on semi-trucks, says mobile billboards add very little traffic to the roads.

Nationwide "there are about 40 million cars ... about 4 million trucks and about 2,000 to 3,000 mobile billboards," Carlson says. "So we're talking about a very small percentage of vehicles that are on the road."

Several other cities have banned mobile billboards in recent years, including New York City, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

Fioretti's proposal, introduced at Wednesday's council meeting, is expected to be taken up at the next meeting of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection, which has not yet been scheduled. 

The ban is also sponsored by Ald. Brendan Reilly (D-42), and Ald. Gene Schulter (D-44) who chairs the License and Consumer Protection committee.