Bus company that refused “Atheists.” ad back in the news

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Above is the final version of the advertisement that the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) won’t allow on their buses. Many readers of this blog likely know that I, months ago — as a representative of the NEPA Freethought Society — submitted a very simple ad containing the word “Atheists.” that was rejected by COLTS.

Here’s a quick summary of this, to refresh some memories, from a previous post on the matter:

This ad — with the intention of being a really, really, really inoffensive ad sparked by a post written by Richard Wade writing for Friendly Atheist and a collaboration between atheist activist Carl Silverman and myself — was partially a response to the “God Bless America” messages that had appeared on COLTS’ buses and a test, if you will, of COLTS’ highly subjective advertising policy.

When talking to a reporter regarding the rejection of the “Atheists.” ad, another solicitor from COLTS — Joseph DeNaples — referring to COLTS’ advertising policy, says COLTS does not accept ads “that are objectionable, controversial or would generally be offensive to COLTS’ ridership” as determined by the agency.

The same article with the previous comments from DeNaples said,

Mr. DeNaples said NEPA Freethought Society’s ad was rejected on the basis of another, broader provision in the policy. “Finally, it is COLTS’ desired intent not to allow its transit vehicles or property to become a public forum for dissemination, debate or discussion of public issues,” the provision says. Based on Mr. Vacula’s stated intention to “test” the advertising policy, along with other statements on his and the society’s websites, COLTS concluded the purpose of this ad was to promote debate and turned it down, Mr. DeNaples said. “It’s clear to us that his intent is to spur some type of debate about religious views or non-religious views, and it’s not our position to advance or promote or prohibit it,” he said.

Executive Director of COLTS, Bob Fiume, said,  “It’s the board’s intent not to allow COLTS transit vehicles or property to be a forum for debate and that’s what COLTS deemed these ads would be.”

After I attended a board meeting in which I, during the ‘public comment’ section, expressed my disapproval of COLTS’ rejection and pleaded that COLTS reconsider, COLTS solicitor Timothy Hinton made comments about the issue for a local newspaper article. The article explains, “COLTS solicitor Timothy Hinton reiterated the agency’s position Tuesday, saying the ad proposed by the NEPA Freethought Society would violate an advertising policy adopted in June in which COLTS stated its intent not to allow its buses to become a forum for the dissemination or debate of public issues.

Today, COLTS happened to be in two articles in the Scranton Times-Tribune. One article titled “COLTS eliminates North Pocono route, alters others in restructuring” details about how and why COLTS is eliminating not only its North Pocono route, but also several other routes. The article explains:

As part of a comprehensive route restructuring that will go into effect July 2, COLTS is eliminating its North Pocono/Daleville route and curtailing service on at least four others. On the flip side, several routes have been expanded to include more hours or additional stops.

In addition to concerns voiced by COLTS in this article, COLTS has been considering (and eventually will implement) fare increases because of economic woes. A PDF on their website explains,

The County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS) plans to increase its fares and will hold a series of public hearings to present its plans to the community…

“Our short term-goal is to increase fares to the rate of inflation, but we are sensitive to the economic impact this will have on its riders so we are looking at a two-pronged approach over two years,” said Executive Director Robert Fiume.”

This is quite interesting in the light of COLTS refusing the “Atheists.” bus ad considering that our ‘dirty atheist money,’ although it certainly won’t fix all of their problem, would help COLTS’ economic situation. Tom Borthwick, a local blogger who commented on COLTS’ refusal of the “Atheists.” ad, concluded his commentary noting, “As a resident of Lackawanna County, I want COLTS to take that ad revenue. God knows we need it.”

Another article, “Settlement reached between COLTS and ex-employee over workplace sexual harassment claims,” recounts events pertaining to a women claiming a COLTS supervisor’s alleged sexual harassment toward a COLTS employee. The article explains,

A federal lawsuit brought by a former County of Lackawanna Transit System receptionist claiming a supervisor sexually harassed her has been settled, according to an order issued Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani dismissing the case.

Mary Ann Casale of Taylor sued COLTS in November alleging former transportation supervisor Anthony Koloras made inappropriate references about her breasts, told her that she “would not believe the things” he could do to her sexually, and kept pressuring her to give him painkillers that she had been prescribed after a surgery.


Ms. Casale, who resigned in 2009, also claimed COLTS made no effort to meaningfully look into or stop the harassment, subjecting her to a hostile work environment. She also alleged she complained about Mr. Koloras’ behavior to the agency’s former executive director in 2007 and 2008, but the harassment continued.

It’s not looking good for COLTS…and they’ll soon be back in the news.

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