Is Washington ready for Metrobilia?
Metro's director of public affairs, Cody Pfanstiehl, thinks so, and he has grand designs for the coiled metal shaving produced when subway wheels are rounded off -- provided he can find an interested entrepreneur. "They are out of this world in abstract beauty," he says.
Larry Bruno and Stewart McKeown bought 2,000 outdated, used subway maps from Metro, which they say are limited edition collector's items, and are trying to peddle them as posters or even wallpaper.
Someone wrote Metro proposing a Monopoly-type board game based on the Metro rail system map. (Example: You were found eating food on the train. Pay a fine of $100.)
"How about a Cartier or Tiffany silver or gold farecard holder?" says Metro's Alinda Bvurke, mostly in jest but with a wistful note of what-if in her voice.
It's not a new scheme to raise funds to prevent a Metro fare increase. It's just Metro beginning to realize, as many other large transit-systems already have, that logos and maps can help sell everything from ashtrays to zipper bags, whether as souvenirs or subway artifacts.
New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority, for example, has teamed up with designer Bill Blass for products toasting the Big Apple's subway. Under a licensing agreement, his name and subway maps appear on glasses and ice buckets sold at such trendy establishments as Bloomingdale's and Macy's. There are also Token Chocolates, 4 ounces of candy shaped like the New York token.
According to the system's director of merchandising, Linda Marshall, these and other products licensed by the MTA brought the transit system $35,000 last year and about $100,000 over the past four years.
The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, which makes a few thousand dollars a year from licensing agreements, has gone so far as to charge Coca-Cola $200 to photograph an ad on one of its buses, according to a spokesman.
And the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit System, which has always had a policy of charging for use of its logo, has an agreement with a model train manufacturer.
But unlike those and most other large transit systems, Metro does not collect fees for use of maps, logo and the like. It reviews and gives written permission for reasonable product proposals but gets no money in return.
"We would love to have everyone in the region wearing a Metro T-shirt and putting together Metro puzzles and drinking from Metro glasses," says Metro's Burke, assistant general manager for public services. "But we're investigating how to get this done and not to get in the way of staff time in keeping the public informed with what information they need."
"We don't have the person-power or the up-front money" for a merchandising program right now, says public affairs director Pfanstiehl, who has recommended one. "A lot of things could be merchandised with imagination that will make some money back for the taxpayers, but we don't have a person in this office to administer the program."
At any rate, he said, under the current system "we profit by the publicity, it doesn't cost us, and the taxpayer gets a little exposure."
At Metro's downtown headquarters, there is a three-inch file on ideas people have had for reproducing the Metro rail system map or logo on bath sheets, bandanna scarves, jigsaw puzzles, model trains, T-shirts, aprons, towels and pendants. There is also a mockup plan for a Metrogift catalogue. Most ideas have never gone beyond the talking stage.
However, Larry Bruno and Stewart McKeown, two local federal government employes, came up with a different twist last winter when they offered to buy old subway system maps that had been replaced as new stations opened.
Previously, Metro had used the outdated maps as souvenirs for visiting transit dignitaries and also sold a total of 298 for $3,698 to individuals or interior decorators who had happened to inquire about them.
Pfanstiehl and the two partners spent a dusty Saturday at a Metro warehouse sorting through the maps and came up with 1,019 in reasonably good condition, which were put out for bid.
Bruno and McKeown's bid of 50 cents per map proved to be the only one, and they set up a company called Transportation Graphics to sell them by mail. When a second batch of maps become available, they again were the sole bidders, winning 1,000 more with the same 50-cents offer.
Working from Bruno's basement and McKeown's dining room table, they say, they have sold 200 at $9.95 apiece. Each is accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Metro calling the maps "unique in the history of urban transportation."
Booster Pfanstiehl speaks of them with the enthusiasm some art collectors reserve for Picasso or Matisse. They're "limited edition" and part of Washington's history, he says. For example, he says, "A San Francisco map doesn't have the pizazz or sex appeal of having been in your nation's capital."
Pfanstiehl has some other ideas for making a little extra cash for Metro. From his desk, he whips out a box of orange buttons (vintage '60s) which say "Support Rapid Rail for D.C." and a pack of mock-farecards good for "a free opening day ride." He thinks railroad buffs would love them.