NEWS RELEASE
For More Information Contact: Angela Bradbery (202) 588-7741
For Immediate Release: December 21st, 2011

Commercial Alert Urges MBTA Not To Sell Naming Rights to Boston Subway T Stations

Commercial Alert sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary and CEO, Richard A. Davey, urging him not to move forward with plans to sell naming rights to Boston subway “T” stations. Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 225,000 members and supporters.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. Davey,

Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 225,000 members and supporters. We aim to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting higher values of family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy.

According to recent news reports, the MBTA has hired the firm IMG Worldwide to determine if there is a market for selling naming rights to Boston subway “T” stations. We write to strongly urge you not to move forward with plans to sell naming rights to T stations. Any names we attach to public sites and services should reflect history and honor civic virtue – they should not be vehicles for crass commercialism. While we recognize the financial imperatives that motivate you to seek alternative revenue sources, we strongly believe that this approach undermines the integrity of the city’s public transportation system and harms its citizens.

The sale of corporate naming rights to T stations will force citizens to pronounce the name of corporations in order to describe their destination or location. With each utterance of whatever corporation chooses to pay for this privilege, transit-takers are compelled to promote the brands of products and services. Which corporations will co-opt citizens into their advertising schemes? Will it be ones that contribute to marketing-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and smoking related illnesses? Or will subway riders travel to stations named for corporate felons, big business cheats, or major polluters? When a public service is named for a commercial interest, the city is explicitly endorsing the products or services associated with that name. These long term ethical and social concerns must take precedence over the desire for a quick buck.

T stations ought to have names that are associated with their geographical locations or nearby sites of historical importance. How long will it be before the corporation purchasing naming rights to a station is defunct, bankrupt, or bought out? What will the MBTA do when the name of a T station turns into the name associated with the next big corporate scandal? (Consider, for example, the case of the once-named Enron Field in Houston.)

As you know, attempts to sell naming-rights to T stations have not been successful in the past. Taken together, the lack of interest from corporations and the vehement opposition of citizens to these past plans should be enough to suggest that selling naming rights is still not the right direction for the MBTA. Not only does this plan compromise the public nature of transit services in the Boston area, it is also unlikely to alleviate the financial strain the MBTA is currently facing. In other cities, transit naming rights schemes have not yielded significant revenues. In Philadelphia, the recent deal between Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and AT&T will yield $3 million over five years. In New York, a twenty year deal to rename a Metro Transit Authority station after Barclay’s will yield only $200,000 per year. Were the MBTA able to raise similar revenues from its planned naming rights sales, they would amount to a drop in the bucket when compared to the reported $150 million deficit the MBTA faces for fiscal year 2013. Moreover, private corporations stand to benefit from any revenues the Transit Authority is able raise; consulting firms in the aforementioned examples have taken significant cuts of sales revenues, as they will in Boston.

Americans already face a deluge of advertising everywhere they go. In the historic city of Boston, we urge you to protect citizens from having to face still more advertising for the corporations you propose to name T stations after. We ask that you shield citizens from confronting the names of products and brands that are not only a nuisance and drain on our culture, but often injurious to our health. We hope the MBTA will stand up and avoid going down the (relatively unprofitable) path that neighboring cities on the East Coast have taken. Not everything should be for sale. Please help us to stop the spread of commercialism into more of our public spaces.

Sincerely,

Robert Weissman
President
Public Citizen

Elizabeth Ben-Ishai
Campaign Coordinator
Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert