Digital billboards atop personal vehicles would be banned under a motion up for discussion by a Los Angeles City Council committee Wednesday.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield said that local drivers have noticed an increasing number of digital billboards attached to the top of some Uber and Lyft ridehailing vehicles recently, and the signs he is targeting use digital LED technology to display changeable illuminated advertising.
“It was not too long ago that the Valley was blanketed with unhitched mobile billboards advertising everything you can imagine, and I am proud to have helped rid our communities of that blight,” Blumenfield said recently. “Constituents would come up to me all the time and ask what can we do to get rid of those awful mobile billboards? We learned then that some companies will go to extreme lengths to circumvent regulations.”
A company called Firefly, which installs the rooftop devices, was singled out in Blumenfield’s motion, which said Uber and Lyft drivers who agree to mount the digital screens on their vehicles may be paid an average of $300 monthly.
In November, the City Attorney’s Office informed Firefly that installation and operation of its devices is illegal under state and city law, according to Blumenfield’s office, which alleges the company disregarded the warning and continues to place the devices on ridehailing vehicles operating in the city.
In December, representatives of Firefly appeared before the Board of Taxicab Commissioners to request that the company be permitted to install its devices on the roofs of taxis pursuant to Board Rule 415(c), which allows commercial advertising to be mounted on a taxicab roof or trunk, according to Blumenfield’s motion. The board has not acted on the request.
The motion also says that 415(c) was adopted by the Board of Public Works many years ago before there was a Taxicab Commission or digital sign technology and was intended to allow static advertisements to be installed on taxicabs as long as doing so complied with state and city law.
Blumenfield’s office said state law authorizes vehicle digital advertising only as part of a pilot program on buses operated by the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, the city of Santa Monica, and UC Irvine.
“Digital billboards on cars are just the next generation of advertising blight on our streets. They enable companies to use, for free, our public rights-of-way to profit at the expense of our quality of life,” Blumenfield said. “Furthermore, they can be a dangerous distraction for drivers. We need a clear law to prevent this problem from becoming an epidemic.”
Blumenfield’s motion would direct the city attorney to prepare and present a draft ordinance to repeal Taxicab Board Rule 415(c) and request that the Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles Police Department take enforcement action against drivers operating vehicles with the devices within the city.
Advocates for the digital technology said that not allowing the signs could harm drivers’ incomes and lead to higher rates for riders.
“We need to be allowed to modernize and provide new opportunities for drivers to make additional income and compete,” said Andrey Minosyan of L.A. Independent Taxi. “Innovative digital mobile rooftop advertising allows drivers to earn more without working longer or increasing prices. Any ban would directly harm taxi drivers’ opportunities and the viability of the industry.”
The Transportation Committee is scheduled to discuss the motion during a 1 p.m. meeting at Los Angeles City Hall.
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