I’ve been spending an unusual amount of time on the Skytrain over the past month or so, and lately I’ve noticed that often 24 Hours and Metro will both have a hawker standing at the entrance to the station, competing for each passenger who passes through the doorway. The technique of positioning hawkers in high traffic areas around the city has been around as long as the papers have. The more papers these people hand out every day, the higher the papers’ circulation numbers, and high circulation numbers equal big bucks for the ad space provided in the papers (advertisers know this!). The competition created by locating both 24 Hours and Metro in the same doorway apparently elevates the level of aggression to the point where the hawker of one paper will often lunge back and forth to capture the passengers that the other has missed. It’s impossible to enter these stations without having at least one of them walk directly up to you to try to hand you a paper, and if you’ve spent any time in Vancouver in the past 50 years, this phenomenon will probably remind you of something else: aggressive panhandlers.
By 2004, aggressive panhandlers had become such a nuisance that the province passed a piece of legislation called the Safe Streets Act to make the streets of Vancouver feel more welcoming for tourists and convention planners. According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, which represents major convention and higher-end tourist destinations in the downtown core such as the Fairmont and Hotel Vancouver, estimates Vancouver hotels had lost contracts worth $500,000 due to safety issues involving aggressive panhandlers and drug dealers. But by July of this year, the Province was reporting that aggressive panhandling was down 80%.
Aggressive newspaper hawking, on the other hand, is up 100% since 2005, when the papers were launched. Out of curiousity, I looked at the wording of the Act to see how well it would apply to newspaper hawkers:
Solicitation in aggressive manner prohibited
2 (2) A person commits an offence if the person engages, in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to be concerned for the solicited person’s safety or security, in one or more of the following activities during a solicitation or after the solicited person responds or fails to respond to the solicitation:
(a) obstructing the path of the solicited person;
(b) using abusive language;
(c) proceeding behind or alongside or ahead of the solicited person;
(d) physically approaching, as a member of a group of 2 or more persons, the solicited person;
(e) continuing to solicit the person.
While I’ve never witnessed a hawker using abusive language, (a) (c) (d) and (e) are not uncommon. But wait! There’s more:
Solicitation of captive audience prohibited
(2) …a person commits an offence who does any of the following:
(a) solicits a person who is using, waiting to use, or departing from a device commonly referred to as an automated teller machine;
(b) solicits a person who is using, or waiting to use, a pay telephone or a public toilet facility;
(c) solicits a person who is waiting at a place that is marked, by use of a sign or otherwise, as a place where a commercial passenger vehicle regularly stops to pick up or disembark passengers;
(d) solicits a person who is in, on or disembarking from a commercial passenger vehicle;
(e) solicits a person who is in the process of getting in, out of, on or off of a vehicle or who is in a parking lot.
Hmm, a place where a commercial passenger vehicle regularly stops to pick up or disembark passengers…
(4) No offence is committed under subsection (2) (a) if the person soliciting
(a) has express permission, given by the owner or occupier of the premises on which the automated teller machine is located, to solicit within 5 metres of the automated teller machine, and
(b) solicits only on the premises.
So loosely interpreting item (4)(a), it seems like 24 Hours and Metro would probably need the permission of Translink to hawk newspapers on their property, right?
As it turns out, that’s exactly the case. In 2005 Lamar advertising renewed its contract with Translink for another 15 years, in order to serve as Translink’s exclusive advertising agent through the 2010 games. 24 Hours (and presumably Metro as well) was given the right to distribute its papers on Translink Property by Lamar, with a contract that goes back to at least 2005.Of course, the Lamar contract isn’t just about flooding the Skytrain system with crappy newsapers and television screens that can cycle through 36 ads every minute; it’s about making a profit by thrusting ads into commuters’ personal spaces in situations where the commuters don’t have any power or recourse to avoid them. Example? Jon Kanngiesse, a marketing sales rep for Lamar, describes the Seabus TV screens as appealing to “a captive upper income North Shore commuting audience waiting to board the Seabus” (emphasis added). What’s next? “Increasing the number of Blue Tooth communication boxes that are currently being used to convey direct text/visual messages to Seabus passengers’ cell phones.” It’s hard to say what I find more offensive: the ads themselves, or Translink’s double standard that says “up yours” to every passenger that passes through the Skytrain entrance.