From Advertising to Navigation: How the Bus LED Screen Changed Public Transportation

Urban mobility is highly dependent on the efficiency of public transportation networks. For megacities like New York and Shanghai, rail lines and bus routes are the economy’s backbone. While public transportation was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, ridership is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels. In New York, for instance, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) recorded 1 billion passengers in 2022, 40% more than in 2020.

This high ridership makes transit OOH advertising a huge success in cities with a robust public transportation network. From London and Paris to Tokyo and Shanghai, bus shelters are coveted advertising slots guaranteed to generate impressions 24/7.

Early Bus Display Board

In the ‘60s, buses used hand-printed linen rolls to help commuters know their route and destinations. These rolls were backlit using incandescent bulbs during nighttime for better visibility. It wasn’t until the ‘80s that more durable, mechanically-printed blinds became popular.

However, hand painted bus sign boards are still in use in some parts of the world due to their practicality, cost-efficiency, and design flexibility. In the Philippines, for instance, sign boards are hand painted using a combination of different neon colors to make them pop out even in low-lighting conditions. These have become an emblem of public transportation in the country, with graphic artists even creating a font in its honor.

Today, scrolling LED signs are slowly taking over public transportation. You can see them in trains, trams, buses, and taxis plying major highways. While the function remains the same (i.e. to announce destinations), LED technology has made it possible to display other types of content in them.

Types of Bus LED Display Boards

Bus LED display boards are not limited to single-color signboards. While single-color displays are the most common, more buses are now equipped with full-color screens that serve various purposes.

LED Bus Destination Display Boards

Front-window LED screens are single-color displays used to show the bus’s destination. Typically installed outside on top of the windshield, these screens inform passengers of the bus number, destination, and route. LED bus destination display boards commonly use block letters in amber or white DIP LEDs for greater visibility.

Rear Window LED Display Boards

Rear window display boards, similar to front-window displays, install at the back of the bus. They can be attached directly to the window or mounted on a bracket. These boards flash the bus number, speed, turn signal, and warning messages, enabling vehicles behind to adjust their speed or direction accordingly.

Side Panel Advertising LED Display Boards

Buses have served as roving advertisements even before LED screens came into the picture. Bus wraps–which involve brands painting over bus exteriors with advertisements–are still popular today. However, LED side panels are now the go-to choice of advertisers for their practicality, as hand-painting a single bus could take days and require a lot of manpower.

With an LED display board, advertisers now have the option to place static or dynamic content that could pique the interest of commuters and pedestrians. These screens are strategically installed on the sides, where they can be easily seen as the bus navigates busy streets. The combination of their visual impact and garnered impressions make them valuable real estate for brands looking to widen their reach.

Interior Bus LED Display Screen

Similar to side panel LED boards, interior LED screens are full-color displays placed inside the bus. Typically positioned above the doors or behind the driver, these screens show the route map, current driving speed, and interior temperature. This type of bus LED display requires a finer pixel pitch and higher resolution as passengers view them from a close distance. While they are smaller than side panels, they can still play advertisements, albeit, limited with the kind of content.

Bus Stop Display Board

Bus stop LED display boards, installed in bus shelters or on nearby poles, connect to a central control system. This setup allows them to display real-time bus schedules and routes. Because of their strategic locations, full-color bus stop LED displays are popular out-of-home advertising mediums. More advanced displays use artificial intelligence (AI) for an immersive experience, like the Pepsi Max campaign launched in London in 2020.

How Does A Bus LED Display Screen Work?

Bus LED display screens usually come as a complete set, including the processor controller, power units, and media player. The media player, installed in the bus along with the screen, connects to a content management system from a central server. The CMS organizes, schedules, and distributes content over the cloud. The web-based central server is the main point for monitoring, supporting, and maintaining the bus LED display network.

Media Player

The media player is capable of storing content, GPS information, and campaign schedules. With special software, it can process the bus’ GPS location, time, and date and launch the content as scheduled. It can also self-diagnose issues and transmit the report to the CMS for proper action.

Content Management System

The CMS can either be hardware installed on-site or managed over the cloud from a central server. Bus LED display solutions providers have strategically located data centers that can manage a fleet within their area of coverage. This allows for a more efficient implementation of GPS-based content.

Users access the CMS via the web, allowing them to remotely control, distribute, and schedule media content. Users can also upload and store ads and schedule playbacks according to certain parameters within the system. 

Advantages of Installing LED Bus Displays

  1. Provide Accurate Information: LED bus displays can show real-time information such as departure and arrival times, routes, and traffic-related concerns. This can help with passenger navigation and trip planning. 
  2. Flexible Content Options: LED bus display boards are not limited to text. They can also show multimedia content. Screens installed on bus side panels and interiors can play videos or animations like government tourism campaigns, public service announcements, or sponsored ads.
  3. Opportunity for Commercial Advertisements: LED display boards can attract advertisers and generate income for bus operators. From the advertisers’ side, bus LED boards offer unmatched mileage; for the operators, the mileage can attract big brands willing to pay a premium for a space in their LED boards. Buses that ply more lucrative routes (i.e. intercity buses) are likely to generate more impressions.
  4. Visual Impact: The visual impact of high-definition LED screens can help with information recall. For instance, buses with LED signboards are more recognizable than those that use traditional route displays.

Bus LED Screen Installation Costs

Bus LED screens are typically marketed as a complete set with the screen, control system, software, and wiring. While it’s hard to pin down exact numbers, bus LED screen prices will depend on several factors:

  1. Pixel Pitch & Resolution: Displays viewed from afar like the side panel, front window, and rear window bus LED screens don’t necessarily need a small pixel pitch as interior displays do.
  2. Outdoor or Indoor: Bus LED displays installed outdoors need weatherproofing. Aside from the waterproof cabinets, the modules need a waterproofing layer to prevent water and/or moisture from reaching the internal components.
  3. Features: Single-color LED screens used in signboards are relatively cheaper than full-color screens used as video walls. This is because the former is limited to displaying text and numbers, while the latter can display static and dynamic images.
  4. Software: The price of the content management system used to connect the screen network can significantly affect installation costs.
  5. Fleet Size: Finally, the number of buses included in the network will increase the total cost. The bigger the fleet size, the more screens to manage and maintain.

Conclusion

Bus LED screens have carved out their mark in the digital out-of-home advertising industry. With the unlimited possibilities–content-wise and exposure-wise–they promise, advertisers have recognized how great of an investment they are. What started as handmade signboards has now evolved into an industry worth millions of dollars. 

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