Calgary Transit riders surprised by UCP text when checking arrival times

Some Calgary Transit riders have been getting a surprise political message when checking the time for the next bus.

'I wasn't aware trains had political opinions,' one rider wrote upon seeing unmarked ad

Calgary TeleText now sends ads along with bus arrival times. Some Calgarians complained the ad was for a political party. (Scott Dippel/CBC, @mindful_goat/Twitter)

Some Calgary Transit riders have been getting a surprise political message when checking the time for the next bus or train.

Riders can send a text message to the transit authority's "TeleText" system. They send in their stop and route numbers and get back an automatic text with the arrival time.

But lately, they've been getting the bus time and then the words:

"VOTE Apr 16 UNITED CONSERVATIVE PARTY, Alberta Strong and Free."

Included in the text is a link to the UCP's website.

"I'm shocked and appalled and just baffled why Calgary Transit would think it is ok to attach a political message to their service," one Calgarian wrote on Twitter.

"I wasn't aware trains had political opinions," another wrote.

Others chimed in, with Calgary Transit responding and offering to submit complaints on their behalf.

Distinguishing ads

Despite complaints, Calgary Transit spokesman Stephen Tauro said the authority has no intention of banning political advertisements from its services, saying that all ads are a good way to raise funds outside of fares and taxes.

"We just realized that you know we could do a better job of making a more clear distinction," Tauro said. "We're looking at ways to better identify that this is paid advertisement and we don't endorse the ad or sponsor it in any way."

The TeleText service returned an ad for a ski company, as well. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

The ad was only brought to the authority's attention Thursday, he said.

CBC texted the service Thursday and saw the same political party ad. Another text returned an ad for a ski and snowboard store.

Up to voters, PR prof says

Municipal service are allowed to sell ads to political parties.

But if Calgary Transit had enough pushback, it could be motivated to bar political ads on its TeleText service, Mount Royal University public relations professor Peter Ryan said.

It simply may not have foreseen the issue with political ads cropping up, Ryan said.

"It's up to Calgarians and the voters what they deem acceptable practice, and if clearly people are concerned about it appearing the city is supporting a political party, they should be changing their practice," Ryan said.

"They obviously don't want the issue to be detracting from what the app is trying to do... The story shouldn't be able its ads. The story should be about, is the app useful for transit?"

Calgary Transit said it hires a company to select and manage the ads, which is done "in alignment with Canada Ad Standards," which is the industry's self-regulating body.

With files from Reid Southwick