Thursday, July 19, 2012

Names, Trains, and Corporate Deals

Frank Pasquale

The never-ending budget crises of American cities are claiming another victim: public transit. Managers are cutting services and workers. There are longer waits for rides—when they still exist. From the stygian gloom of New York subways to the retro interiors of the Bay Area’s BART trains, public transit appears to be declining as rapidly as the middle class.

The problem has become so dire that even station names are on the table. Transit authorities in Boston, Chicago, and Austin have hired IMG Worldwide to sell their naming rights. (IMG gets a 12 percent cut for its services; apparently the public sector is too depleted to negotiate its own deals.) New York City already shook hands with Barclays Bank, allowing it to christen a massive transit hub in Brooklyn “Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center.”

Like the Washingtonians who dare not speak the name “Reagan National Airport,” some New Yorkers are resisting the change. But most people are resigned to the latest corporate encroachment on public space. In a New York Times article on the name change, Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Board Member John H. Banks III defended the Barclays deal by joking that “It’s not like Taco Bell saying it wants Grand Army Plaza”—a notion that he admitted he wouldn’t actually oppose. And why should he? Why keep remembering the Union dead when fast food could pay for some turnstiles? As one straphanger put it, “They can call it anything they want, as long as my train’s on time.”

Well, for some arguments against that position, check out the rest of my take on corporate naming rights, at the Boston Review.

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