Chicago Metra considers selling naming rights for train lines, stations

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chicago’s Metra is currently considering the possibility of selling the naming rights to its train stations, rail lines, and even bridges to generate more revenue. 

The regional rail system for Chicago and its surrounding suburbs has been experiencing revenue shortfalls, along with other public transportation agencies such as the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace. They all rely on sales taxes and fares to fund their services, but the recent recession has reduced sales tax revenues, and unemployment has caused ridership to fall. Compared to 86.8 million trips in 2008, Metra reported that only 82.3 million trips were provided in 2009. As spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said, “We’re looking at any opportunity to increase non-fare revenue.”

A law approved by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich in 2008 granted free rides to all seniors regardless of income, adding to the decreasing fare revenues as well. State lawmakers are trying to restrict the free rides to low-income seniors; Metra has not yet commented on the issue, however. 

New designs put on the agency’s website last September has attracted more traffic, and Metra is considering selling advertising space online. In addition, advertising space could be sold on the outside of train cars as well. As for the naming rights to stations and routes, Metra plans to hire a consultant that would figure out the details of such a proposal. Spokesperson Meg Reihle did not know how much money Metra could gain from the sale or which organizations would be interested in buying. 

According to Ms. Reihle, public transit agencies in other cities have sold naming rights as well, such as the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority in Cleveland and Long Island Rail Road in Long Island. TECO Energy sponsors a rail line in Tampa’s Hillsborough Area Regional Transit for US$1 million over ten years. 

Throughout its 26-year history, Metra has named several of its locomotives and renamed two stations: Ogilvie Transportation Center, which was previously named North Western Station, and Millennium Terminal, which was previously called Randolph Street. No transactions were made in renaming those two stations, however. There is also a Station named after the candy maker Mars, but that station was named before Metra took it over, and the company doesn’t pay Metra for any naming rights. 

I think the business community recognizes that transit is positive for their advertising benefit

Execuive Director Phil Pagano sees the proposal as a way for businesses to advertise themselves. “I think the business community recognizes that transit is positive for their advertising benefit,” said Mr. Pagano at a board meeting. In addition to businesses, hospitals located near the train stations could purchase naming rights as well. However, Mr. Pagano has also stated that “the agency would be selective about the type of businesses it partners with.”

Metra has said that it will be sensitive to the wishes of the communities near the stops, and town names will not be removed from station names. Rather, both the municipality and the sponsoring organization would share the naming rights, such as in renaming Naperville Station to “Naperville Boeing Station”. “I’m not sure whether [the old name] is first or second, but definitely it’s going to have to be there,” said Mr. Pagano.

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