Selling commercial naming rights for Metrorail stations in D.C. — a proposal being debated by the WMATA board Thursday — could prove unpopular with riders. But as one board member recently pointed out, raising fares to support the cash-strapped agency would also, probably, prove unpopular.
The board is considering upping the system’s advertising revenues in several ways, according to WAMU, including “expanding its digital ad program, vehicle wraps and plastering more stations with colorful advertisements, known as a ‘station domination…’” The most controversial idea floated will likely be the sale of station naming rights — a practice that is currently forbidden by board policy, but not unprecedented. Station naming rights have gone out to bid in New York, Philadelphia and Sacramento.
When the board last considered the sale of station naming rights in 2012, public opinion was firmly against the idea.
“A majority of customers opposed commercial station naming,” according to the presentation to be presented to the board this coming Thursday. “Riders prefer brief location names that serve users as wayfinders.” The presentation adds that the public was “concerned about brand association with historic landmarks/icons.”
But as the Washington Post’s Martine Powers recently wrote, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Metro has suffered from years of ridership losses, although June data shows those numbers slowly creeping back up. According to WAMU, Metro has historically lacked a dedicated funding source, a problem that lawmakers are starting to take a hard look at. Still, the agency was forced to up fares and cut service at the end of this year’s budget cycle. Another deficit is expected for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2018.
Tom Bulger, who represents D.C. on the Metro board, dismissed critics of the branding idea to the news station.
“I think that criticism is out the window given our financial situation. If the critics are so adamant about this, then help us get dedicated funding,” he said, adding that “the public needs to know we are trying to figure out additional revenue streams so we don’t have to raise fares. I am sick of raising fares. Raising fares is killing us because we are losing riders.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.