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June 10, 2009

The Highest Bidder

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Update 07/08/09: New York’s MTA today sold the naming rights of its Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station in Brooklyn to the British bank Barclays. The $4 million deal  precedes the completion of the Barclays Center, a sports arena set to open in the next few years.

Planetizen pointed out a thought-provoking story about (Arizona) Metro’s Rail Management Committee’s proposal to auction off light rail station naming rights to bring in revenue. Apparently, something similar has been done before by transit agencies in other locations. One place sold the right to name an entire bus line (“Healthlink”) to two hospitals along the route.

It’s an interesting thought. Do you think that public agencies should sell naming rights to commercial entities or other interested groups? After all, we don’t have a “Rams Dome” here, we have the Edward Jones Dome. And the ScottTrade Center. Educational institutions name buildings after benefactors; museums name new wings or improvements after large donors. One issue I could think of re: naming a bus route is, what if the bus route changes? Is there a limit on how long the agency promises to keep that line in operation and with that name? After all, we don’t know exactly what transit needs will exist twenty or fifty years from now; so any sale would have to take into account the transit agency’s need to tweak routes.

Tell me what you think: Should transit agencies consider selling their naming rights to bring in extra cash? And if so, how much should a light rail station name fetch on the auction block?

Economic Development

11 thoughts on “The Highest Bidder”

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    In this economy, I doubt you’d get much interest or money . . . Metro’s real challenge is convincing voters that you deserve more tax dollars. An extra ¼% or ½% in sales tax revenue will generate substantially more than anything you could expect to gain from selling naming rights. And remember, the big reason stadia are attractive, much like NASCAR races, is that the name gets repeated on TV in relation to sporting events that people want to watch. The only time a Metro station gets mentioned on TV is when a crime occurs, so most potential namers probably wouldn’t want to be associated with the event!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Good points, Jimmy, about the economy and the commercial reasons for wanting sports stadia vs. public transit stations. Just want to point out that Metro isn’t (by law) involved in any sort of campaign for tax money, just fyi. Still, I do think it’s in the interest of the agency to consider alternative sources of funding – that’s why transit systems make deals with ad agencies for the erection of bus shelters, for instance: Ad agencies pay for the bus shelter construction in exchange for placing ads on the structure. That serves Metro’s customers without any output of money by Metro. Good business sense.

    I’m interested in the question from a more philosophical standpoint, however: Should we support the commercialization of what is essentially a public property? Whether it’s practical or not is a separate question.

  3. Jimmy Z says:

    If you can find someone or some entity willing to pay, go for it. The only two reasons not to are a) not enough cash, and b) if the name doesn’t explain where you are. Out in Denver, the Nine Mile and Cold Spring Park-N-Rides continually confused people, since they were named using local historical references that few contemporary people know or understand. Here, if Barnes or the Galleria want to pay to claim the name of their respective stations, most riders would grasp it. But to rename the Shrewsbury station for, say, Shop-n-Save, no way!

  4. The purpose of station names is to tell people where they are and help them navigate the system. Their secondary function is to create a sense of identity between a station and the community around it. Both functions are disrupted if stations are named for any other purpose.

    The additional problem with corporate naming is that corporations are constantly failing or merging, causing continuous changes in the name. This is just not acceptable when we’re trying to present a transit system as stable and reliable.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I agree, Jimmy, the names would have to signify landmarks or some geographical location that everyone recognizes. I don’t think the “Greg’s Tacos” station would work, but people would probably recognize that the “Anheuser Busch” bus route (the “InBev Express”?) took them to the brewery. But as Jarrett points out, corporations change names and St. Louis landmarks evolve, and we want transit to be forever.

  6. Steve says:

    Yes. Do it. Why wouldn’t you seek to bring in more revenue? It’s not as if the people of St. Louis have said they will pay for mass transit. I would also support retail at stations. I have noticed that the billboards at Metro stations are often empty. If you can’t sell those I don’t know how you’re going to sell an entire station, but as I said, why not try?

  7. 63101 says:

    I have thought for quite some time that there should be public/private partnerships, and I think the first might be in sponsoring bus stop signs with higher information content.

    Bus stop signs in this city are truly atrocious. They provide no more information than simply a route number, and some don’t even include that. All a bus stop sign here tells you is that at some point today a bus will pass by that sign, and maybe not even that if that line does not have weekend service.

    It would be great if a business along that route could “sponsor” bus stop signs with more information. Chicago’s CTA bus stop signs show a small map of the route, and show how often the bus runs. I would envision something like that, as well as the sponsoring firm’s name/logo and address.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Interesting thought. I’ve talked to a couple of people in our Planning Department this morning and it seems to come down to two things: Cost, and responsiveness. Apparently we tweak our schedules and routes to fit the ever- changing needs of our customers; so it would cost a lot to constantly replace signs once they were in place. And the initial cost for covering the 10,000 signs already in our system would be very high as well, not to mention the cost of maintaining them. There is also the feeling that technology will soon render this need obsolete; and in the meantime, the Planning people are working on putting ID numbers on each sign so that people can get stop-specific information online. This is an interesting enough topic that I plan to follow up with a whole additional post sometime this week.

  9. Todd H says:

    This is true, Jennifer…and in addition to scheduling enhancements that need to be made here and there, the actual physical location of a sign along the route sometimes has to change as well. For example, a business owner may request altering the stop location to accommodate changes to the streetscape or another stop may need to be adjusted to ensure that Metro is meeting ADA accessibility requirements.

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