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Montreal puts out call for subway line sponsorship

by Bertrand Marotte

Montreal’s transit commission wants to pitch private-sector partners on sponsoring rights to its subway lines.

In a move that would put it in the forefront of North American transit authorities’ revenue-generating programs, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is preparing to open up sponsorships of its four lines - which are colour-coded green, blue, yellow and orange - to corporate bidders.

But the STM says allowing the renaming of lines after companies or their products, or ditching the colour-coded lines, are out of the question.

“We want to do this in a subtle, aesthetically pleasing, design-conscious fashion,” said STM spokeswoman Odile Tremblay. “We won’t partner with just anyone. It has to be an entity that shares our ideas regarding the value of public transit and sustainable development.”

The pitches from would-be sponsors will have to be “in good taste, not invasive, with signage or other formats that are not too big but not pea-size either.”

Rob Warren, executive director at the University of Manitoba’s Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, said it’s the first time he has heard of a subway line sponsorship for a North American city. “They’re definitely ahead of anything I’ve seen,” he said.

The move makes sense in terms of transit authorities’ crying need for more revenue sources, he added. “In this day and age, everybody expects to see more of that.”

Even riders could be persuaded it’s in their interest if they are reassured that the move will help keep transit fares in check, Mr. Warren said.

But Alexander Norris, a Montreal councillor from the borough of Plateau Mont-Royal, said he’s opposed on principle to the idea of “the further corporatization of our public space.”

The STM has not been completely open in the past about how much it gets from existing advertising programs in the Métro, he said, and the information that is available appears to show that private companies are getting a sweetheart deal.

“There has been a growth in advertising but revenue from that has remained stable,” Mr. Norris said. “We must first determine that this would be a fair tradeoff for the public.”

Ms. Paradis said the proposal for the 10-year partnerships would be a “win-win” for sponsors and Métro riders; any revenue would be plowed back into commuter services and new technology to improve the system with real-time data about scheduled departure times and delays.

The STM also intends to more than double the amount it collects from sources other than rider fares and government subsidies.

“Transit authorities are getting very creative” finding ways to increase revenues from sponsors and advertisers, said Mr. Warren.

The STM has been swift to scotch reports that it is entertaining the idea of allowing renaming rights to its subway lines or is willing to let the Métro walls be plastered with ads.