OAKLAND -- BART train stations will enter the age of digital screen advertising despite complaints it may distract or annoy some riders.
After testing one screen at a station this spring, the BART board decided on a split vote Thursday to allow operation of 18 digital advertising and news screens at the busy Embarcadero, Montgomery and Powell stations in San Francisco.
BART expects over time to reap about $1 million a year in advertising revenues from the screens to be installed by Titan Outdoor LLC, BART's advertising franchisee.
The screens will have video and text but no sound.
The 7-2 board decision followed a spirited debate on whether an extra $1 million a year in revenue is worth the distraction of the digital screens, which have become common in many service stations, grocery stores and other places.
"I don't think a million dollars is something to sneeze at," said BART Director Gail Murray of Walnut Creek.
She and other directors said BART can use the money on many things, including maintaining and cleaning train cars.
BART directors Tom Radulovich of San Francisco and Robert Raburn of Oakland voted no, saying the advertising can be distracting and BART has little control over the content.
"We're not getting enough money to justify the intrusion," Raburn said.
Radulovich said he was unhappy BART didn't come up with a digital screen proposal by asking riders what they wanted. Instead, he said, BART relied on what the advertising franchisee wanted.
Under the program, the Titan screens on station walls will show 50 percent advertising, 40 percent news, weather sports and information, and 10 percent BART-sponsored messages. The screens also can be used to beam emergency messages to riders.
Milo Hanke, past president of San Francisco Beautiful, said the digital advertising will have a corrosive effect on station atmosphere and pave the way for screens at other stations.
"The downtown San Francisco stations are known as bleak and fatigued," he said. "With the addition of this obtrusive advertising, your stations will become bleak and annoying."
Titan will install the digital screens on wall spaces now used as frames for advertising posters.
BART managers said a survey of 451 riders found that 65 percent liked the digital screen installed in the pilot project this spring in the Montgomery station. Some 29 percent were neutral and 5 percent didn't like it.
Murray said she watched riders during the screen test at the Montgomery station and they didn't appear distracted.
Titan operates digital advertising screens on public transit systems in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the New Jersey Transit system.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.