SUCH IS the the dire state of Metro’s finances that no idea about how to increase much-needed revenue should be rejected out of hand. But a plan that has been floated to sell the naming rights to prominent stations raises some alarms. Officials need to proceed carefully — with thorough study and debate — to determine if the benefits outweigh the downsides.
The proposal to seek corporate sponsorship for some stations is one of a number of options that have been presented to the board to help the cash-strapped system balance its operating budget for the coming fiscal year. “We have a brutal budget year coming up,” said Tom Bulger, vice chairman of the D.C. Metro board’s finance committee, and “I don’t think we can ask our riders to have increased fares.”
Transit systems in other cities have generated millions of dollars by selling the opportunity to name stations, and Metro staff have said there are potential opportunities with such high-traffic stations as Gallery Place, Metro Center, Navy Yard-Ballpark and L’Enfant Plaza. Officials who support the plan stress it would be tightly written and stringently vetted so there would be no embarrassment.
It is hard to imagine, though, how the system would avoid controversy if iconic names such as L’Enfant Plaza or Metro Center were muddied with corporate logos. Station names are tied to the neighborhoods in which they are located, making it easier — particularly for tourists and others unfamiliar with Metro — to navigate the system. That usefulness should not be sacrificed, and it’s a big reason why selling naming rights was opposed by a majority of Metro riders when the question was raised in a 2012 survey. Issues encountered in other cities should give pause. Los Angeles dropped its plans because of concerns that refusing certain sponsorships could open the system to lawsuits. Boston couldn’t find companies willing to pay what the system wanted. And didn’t Philadelphia lose a certain charm when it replaced Pattison Station with AT&T Station?
The solution to Metro’s money problems doesn’t lie in peddling its assets or other nickel-and-dime fixes such as increasing parking fees. Congress and the system’s regional partners need to establish a dedicated revenue stream for Metro.
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