Monday, April 28, 2008

Funding Ottawa's transit plans, part four: More business partnerships

Another possible avenue for transit fundraising, as published in the Ottawa Citizen this past weekend, would be an increased number of advertising or sponsorship partnerships with business leaders for bus stations. While there are already advertising posters on buses (and some buses that are advertisements outright) and in shelters, this option could see shelters or stations re-named after the sponsor/advertiser:

Mr. Curran, the man in charge of developing money-making initiatives for OC Transpo, has had naming rights on his idea list for some time now. But it hasn't gone anywhere because "so far, no one has approached us about it."

He's hoping that will change now that the issue has been raised in Toronto as a viable way to generate money for Canada's largest transit system.


In Ottawa, advertising revenue brings OC Transpo "$3 million-plus" a year, Mr. Curran said, and he'd like to add to that.

"Transit companies across Canada have to look at innovative ways of raising money," Mr. Curran said, adding that naming rights has an "interesting appeal" for many companies.

He pointed out that St. Laurent Shopping Centre, by virtue of its location on St.
Laurent Boulevard, has a transit station bearing its name.

"So there is some naming taking place naturally," he said. "It's a great idea."

Naturally, there isn't a consensus on this. Transit commission vice-chairman Joe Mihevc, for one, referred to the idea as further "corporatization" of Ottawa's public spaces, and Ward 17 councillor Clive Doucet stated that the idea "[i]t won't defray capital costs and Ottawa will lose the face of its city."

One interesting middle-round proposal is that of partnerships and sponsorships rather than traditional advertising, as suggested by University of Ottawa professor Michael Mulvey (who, ironically, teaches in the Telfer School of Management, so-named through a $25M sponsorship deal with the chairman of the mining company Goldcorp Inc.).

"With just a name, the potential impact is marginal," he said. "A company might be building awareness, but they've missed an opportunity to make their brand come alive."

As an example of what could be done, Mr. Mulvey said a landscaping company could sponsor a bus shelter and plant flowers around it. Or a company whose name appears on a transit station could sponsor inside space featuring work by area artists. And a big health company could team up with a non-profit organization such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, with public-service messages appearing in transit shelters along with the sponsoring company's name.

With a sponsorship, it seems advertising--in terms of positive public relations--would be more effective. If I saw some local company sponspored public art, gardens, or service messages would look make them a lot more freindly in my book than simply plastering their logo everywhere. Maybe Bridgehead should sponsor a free coffee bar in one...

Just another option to think about.

ADDENDUM: Today (Monday) the Citizen also published an editorial on the subject of station-naming, suggesting perhaps some of the station names be named after historical figures instead of street names.
Ottawa is alive with history. Could we not name one of the downtown Transitway stops D'Arcy McGee, where one of the few political assassinations in Canadian history occurred? Should we not have a Victoria station after the queen who designated Ottawa the capital of Canada and made the whole city possible? Can't we come up with better station names than Blair, South Keys or Heron?

Sounds nice, but there is something to be said about clarity. If I'm heading to Bank Street, it makes sense that I want to disembark at Bank Station; looking for Darcy McGee Station so I can walk down Bank is a little more complicated than it has to be.

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