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Next Stop – The Aflac Reynoldstown Station On the Coca Cola Red Line

October 26, 2009

First baseball stadiums, next public transport.  Facing a $178 million budget deficit even after making $122 million in cuts, the Chicago Transit Authority has decided to get creative with ways to fund its infrastructure repair and renewal projects.

Apple would pay for refurbishments to a train station in exchange for “first dibs” on any and all advertising that would go up at the station. Not surprisingly, the station being discussed is North/Clybourn on the Red Line; construction is already underway on a new Apple store nearby. (Apple decided on that location for its new store after its much-publicized split with the Block 37 project.) One thing the deal, which could give the CTA up to $4 million in funding for the refurbishments, will not do is hand over station naming rights.

From Chicagoist

But why not license station naming rights?  MARTA is famously underfunded, frustrated by laws restricting its budget decisions. One great way to remedy this would be to allow corporations to rename stations, lines, trolleys, and buses.  If the practice was widespread it could be a coup for brands attempting to either enter a market or maintain their dominance.  Given how many people use public transport, it would also be quite lucrative for city governments.  (Cisco is paying $4 million a year for the naming rights to the A’s new stadium; no one goes to see them play.)

Companies could also compete for stop naming rights close to demographics that would be more likely to buy their products.  The hipster-ass Damen Ave. stop in Wicker Park could be the “American Apparel Damen Station,” A stop around Madison Avenue in New York could be sponsored by Tiffany’s.

Perhaps that would get confusing for visitors.  I would also object if my own neighborhood became known as the “place near that Kentucky Fried Chicken subway stop.”  Admittedly, corporate sponsorship of public transport might buff off that classy sheen most cities strive to cultivate.

However, sponsoring bus routes or entire lines certainly wouldn’t be much worse. What information is actually conveyed by “the 6” to a tourist?   Or being on the ‘green line?’ The impact on the broader level would be less intrusive and yet still provide value to potential advertisers.  Also, transit authorities could choose sponsors carefully to reflect the businesses most closely associated with the city.  Atlanta would obviously solicit Coke.  Goldman Sachs would be the logical choice for a Metro line in Washington, D.C. (they run everything else there already).

The Apple-CTA deal may prove to show us the greatest benefits of such a scheme. City governments simply do a poor job keeping their stations and facilities clean and safe.  This deal could align corporate interests with the public good.  Apple will be extremely concerned with the spillover effect of negative associations tied to filthy facilities, encouraging it to pump money into further improvements for image reasons.

Really the important thing is that CTA doesn’t go bankrupt or raise the fees to $3. Since I don’t want to be stuck in Hyde Park on weekends, I for one welcome our new corporate overlords.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Kurt Lamprecht permalink
    October 26, 2009 5:13 pm

    Corporate sponsorship of public transportation is not an entirely novel concept. In Cleveland, for instance, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals bought the rights to name the GCRTA’s Euclid Corridor the “HealthLine”. The RTA is also notoriously underfunded (as are most major public transit networks in the United States) and this was something they came up with to close the budget gap on their huge new project. I don’t think it’s all bad, but agree that I don’t want to be living by the “White Castle” stop (wait, maybe I do!).

  2. daniel permalink
    October 26, 2009 6:47 pm

    Cisco Field proposal fell through at the beginning of the year. Too bad, because I really liked the design, even though I’m no fan of the A’s.

  3. Ellie permalink
    October 26, 2009 9:33 pm

    “What information is actually conveyed by “the 6″ to a tourist? Or being on the ‘green line?’ The impact on the broader level would be less intrusive and yet still provide value to potential advertisers.”

    How do you figure that the impact of advertising would be less intrusive than, for instance, naming a station the “green line”, a phrase which lacks reference to any real or imagined object? At least, its apparent lack of reference is less intrusive than advertising which pretends to signify in the absence of meaningful communication (Wear Axe, get chicks) and fueled only by the machinery of profit…It seems that the psychological impact of this uniquely modern brand of “communication” is a more urgent social threat than the efficient upkeep of public transportation. Of course, contemporary society already barrages consumers with a clusterfuck of disconnected advertising slogans and various repetitive untruths (the mantras of capitalism) on a daily basis. 10,000 ads seen by the average person daily- what’s the harm in adding a couple corporate subway lines?

    • October 26, 2009 10:59 pm

      Well, I meant that it would be less intrusive to name the line itself rather than each individual stop. Does the word “green” signify meaningful information? Plenty of the world’s subway lines aren’t named after the color they are coded under; some just go by arbitrary letters or numbers.

      Tokyo is a great example. That city color codes while naming the lines after areas or god-knows-what. The names are totally unhelpful. I’d honestly prefer it if they were named the “Sony” or “Nintendo” lines.

      Also, naming a subway line after a corporate sponsor doesn’t seem radically different from naming a street or a highway after some dead or defeated politician. At least the former adds to the public coffers.

  4. Diana permalink
    November 5, 2009 11:25 am

    Actually, MARTA’s problems are different. It seems that way back when MARTA was being formed, then-Lt. Gov. Maddox (you remember Lester Maddox) ensured that a provision in state law would prevent MARTA from using more than 50 percent of its revenues for operations. This provision guaranteed that MARTA would always have to supplement the tax revenue with a hefty fare. Lt. Gov. Maddox’s goal was to keep poor people and “winos” off the train. So, MARTA doesn’t have enough money to keep it’s trains maintained and running, but they have millions of dollars they can’t touch for anything but capital improvements.

    Seems like a no-brainer that the state legislature would make it a priority to overturn this provision and allow MARTA to run more efficiently…but somehow it never seems to happen. This year it was State Bill 120. The bill passed the Senate, the House declined to act. The Governor refused to call a special session, even though MARTA was in such dire straights they were talking about cutting service on Fridays.

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