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Chicago Transit Authority Should Avoid Selling Naming Rights, Reinstate Ban on Alcohol Advertising

March 26, 2012

Chicago Transit Authority Should Avoid Selling Naming Rights, Reinstate Ban on Alcohol Advertising

Letter Describes Advertising’s Harmful Effects on Developing Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) should not move forward with plans to sell corporate naming rights to its specialized services, and it should reinstate the recently dropped ban on alcohol ads on public transit, Public Citizen said in a letter sent today to Forrest Claypool, president of CTA. Any names attached to public sites and services should reflect geography and history, and the names should honor civic virtue, not crass commercialism, the letter said.

According to recent news reports, the CTA is seeking corporate sponsors to purchase naming rights to popular CTA programs such as the CTA Holiday Train, New Year’s Eve Penny Rides, Free Rides for Chicago public school students on the first day of school, Bus Tracker and Train Tracker. Public Citizen also requested that the CTA reverse its decision to allow alcohol advertising on public transit, given that its previous ban against such ads so effectively served the public interest and helped protect minors from exposure to adult beverage marketing.

Not only does the CTA’s plan compromise the public nature of transit services in Chicago, it also is unlikely to alleviate the financial strain the CTA is currently facing. In other cities, transit naming rights schemes have not yielded significant revenues.

“The sale of naming rights enables companies to skim off the positive publicity of deep and long-term public investment. This erodes the public’s support for the public investment that is the only major funding source for public transit,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

As a consumer advocate, Public Citizen is particularly concerned about the effects the CTA’s sale of naming rights and alcohol advertising have on youth.

“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?” Weissman said.

While acknowledging that the additional commercial revenue might be tempting, Public Citizen reminded the CTA that its first obligation is to its riders and their children. Long-term ethical and social concerns should take precedence over the desire for a quick buck, the letter said.  

 “Americans already face a deluge of advertising everywhere they go,” said Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator of Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project. “Names of products and brands are not only a nuisance and drain on our culture, but they also are often injurious to our health.”

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org