Home > Contemplations > An Alternative To Selling Naming Rights Of TTC Stations & Subway Lines

An Alternative To Selling Naming Rights Of TTC Stations & Subway Lines

Wilson Station's Subway Platform

In the news recently has been talk of the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) contemplating the sale of station & subway line naming rights to advertisers (see Torontoist’s article here). After that, Torontoist also came out with a joking new subway map which used all sorts of corporate and company names as part of the subway station names (see it here and here). A lot of people, as you can tell by those articles have ridiculed the idea of marring the naming of Toronto’s ‘beloved’ (OK, fine, ‘much maligned’ is more accurate) TTC system with names of companies instead of the names of stations or lines. However, as I have previously said they do need to do something to revamp the naming of stations and lines – I am not advocating for or against corporate sponsorship here – to make it easier to navigate in general.

TTC, City of Toronto, here is my idea – instead of selling the naming rights how about we start allowing advertisers to put signs in special places on subway platforms and near exits of stations letting people know what is outside and where…just like on the exits of highways! In case you don’t know what I mean I have included a picture I pulled from Google Maps Street View of Exit 320 of Highway 401 and posted it on the left. The sign tells me that at this stop there are places I can purchase food in this case the sign lists a Harvey’s, a Kelsey’s, a Starbucks, a Wendy’s and some place called Fifth Wheel Truck Stop if I turn left off the ramp and a Tim Hortons if I go right. Of course, what this sign doesn’t tell me (I assume because they aren’t paying for it) is that there is a McDonald’s closer to the highway (not by much but still) than the Harvey’s & Swiss Chalet and in the same plaza as those two there is also a Subway Restaurant. There are other versions of this sign which also tell me where they hotels/motels are at exits, where the gas stations are at exits and which exits have the interesting sights to see as well as where they are. These signs also exist (without the direction arrows) as you near the exit so you know to get over to the exit lane on the right and begin to salivate for the food, or check you gas gauge to see if you need to top up. Let’s tell advertisers that they we are putting something akin to those signs in the TTC stations on the platforms and near the exits. I don’t doubt retailers would pay a pretty penny for people to know there is one of their locations just outside the subway station.

Beyond that – but very much in the same vein – nowadays the TTC has automated announcements for each stop a bus/streetcar/subway makes. Why don’t we offer advertisers the opportunity to have their stores, restaurants, bars, pubs or whatever announced at the stop? Imagine you’re on your way home and you’re 2 short stops away from your bus stop when you hear “Main Street, Dan’s Delicious Burgers* right outside and open until 9pm every day”, you start thinking “Hmmm, I have had a long day today and I am feeling a little bit lazy to make my own supper. I may as well hop into Dan’s and grab burger, it is so much easier and I have had such a long day. Heck, I’ll even burn off some of the calories by walking the two stops home!” Even if you don’t get off the bus it sure is a great way to let commuters know about a new location in their area if you are just opening up or to make them think about your chain as they go about their daily lives or just to be aware that, hey, there’s a Dan’s Delicious Burgers location right near where they live.

*As far as I know there is no place named Dan’s Delicious Burgers let alone one on a Main Street in any city. My name is Dan and I decided to use my name in as the restaurant name rather than just call it Restaurant X or something equally boring.

That’s my idea for extra money to come in from advertising dollars on the TTC without changing the names of the stations – although I still think they could totally use it! What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

St Patrick Station (red arrow) Street (green arrow) and Church (blue arrow)

Another Thing I Got To Thinking About In Terms Of TTC Station Names: I want to mention that even the stations’ names, which people are saying changing to include corporate names will become confusing, don’t really tell an inexperienced traveler very much. For example, “St Patrick Station” on the University Line is at Dundas St West & University Ave. The station is named for a St Patrick’s Church which I didn’t even know existed (although I have probably seen it) before looking it up for this post – here’s its Wikipedia article (it isn’t so extensive). The Church itself is on McCaul Street but one block over from the church is St Patrick Street which was named for it (this makes no sense to me) and in case you are wondering this street runs a grand total of 650 meters north-south from Elm St just north of Dundas St West to Queen St West I didn’t know any of this until I looked it up for this post. So obviously it makes a lot of sense to name a subway station after a tiny street and a big church blocks away from the actual stop.

But it gets better – the TTC subway route map on all TTC subway cars don’t even tell you where you’re actually stopping! Check out the subway map to the right of this portion of the post, underneath Dupont Station it states that it is at “278 Dupont Street @ Spadina”. PERFECT! I know exactly where that is, no problem. But then take a look below it and again we will use St Patrick Station, it is at 449 University Avenue…great, where’s that? That address doesn’t tell me that St Patrick Station is at Dundas Street West. Sure I can look over on the Yonge Line and see that St Patrick Station and Dundas Station are parallel to each other but the map also makes clear that it is “not to scale” (cropped in this version of the map but it is clearly stated on all TTC subway route maps) so who knows where St Patrick Station really is?!?! Not to mention it has always been beyond me why the TTC chooses to make their subway route maps on a black background without even overlaying it on the most rudimentary road map but this is what they have.

  1. April 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm


    I quite like the idea of allowing advertisers to post “400 series” signs about what is close by to subway stations.

    That said, I don’t like the idea of combining advertising with the automated stop announcements. Leaving aside the potential liability to the TTC of pre-empted advertised announcements (i.e. if an advertisment had to be pre-empted due to emergency announcements, the TTC theoretically could be sued for non performance of contract.) it just doesn’t fit in with the purpose of the announcements.

    You may not know, but the only reason the automated announcements were installed by the TTC is that they were forced to, though a number of Ontario Human Rights Commission decisions against them. A blind lawyer (who I’ve appeared against a couple of times. Nice guy and a extremely good lawyer.) had brought complaints against the TTC because he wouldn’t know when to leave the Subway/Bus/Streetcar. At the time there was no policy about announcing stops. It depended on the driver. He won those cases and the TTC was forced to install them.

    Given this, to me it would be inappropriate graft on advertising to these announcements.

    Just my $9.62 worth. (At Legal Aid rates.)

    The Funky Barrister.

    • April 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Thanks for the thoughts Ray – of course you know the legal perspective much better than I do as I am not a lawyer.

      Couldn’t it be written into the contract though that emergency announcements will always preempt an ad announcement and the advertiser understands this? I know it probably happens more often on the TTC but what do the TV broadcasters do when theres an emergency broadcast? There must be some provision in place for that – couldn’t the TTC do something similar?

      I didn’t know that was why the automated announcements were put in but I don’t see why now that they are there the TTC can’t use them to their advantage…I do not see it as inappropriate personally…maybe I’m a jerk on this one. But assuming we agree it is appropriate to use the announcements like that how about in order to avoid confusion they use one gender’s voice for the ads and the other gender’s voice for the announcements?

  2. April 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I assume there would be such a clause in the contract. Just because that type of clause is in a contract, it doesn’t follow that there would be no lawsuits. A lot of Contract litigation deals with interpretation of clauses, for example was this truly an emergency announcment or not? Even if the TTC’s right, they still have to spend money on lawyers fighting it. So, why am I a criminal lawyer again? Oh right, as opposed to contracts, it’s interesting! 😉

    With respect to the issue in general, though. I guess my issue is that I don’t mind passive advertising on the TTC, but I have an issue with active advertising, especially since it is, technically, a government agency.

    • June 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      I was just looking at this post again and was thinking – any company that sues the TTC for money because their name was preempted when it was an emergency will look like complete @$$holes and the PR nightmare that would ensue from that probably wouldn’t be worth it in terms of money lost. Even if they felt that the TTC was wrong to preempt it.

      Also, they could very easily say that they can make it up to them by giving them extra announcements for free. Remember, the announcements don’t actually cost the TTC anything (I am sure the companies/ad agencies/media sellers themselves would be more than willing to pay for the creation of the automated announcements & installation onto the TTC system) so it is very easy to give away free “ad space” when they miss an ad for whatever reason.

      This also brought to mind what do TV & Radio stations do when the power goes out and no one is listening to/watching their broadcast (if they go out at all)? Or when the broadcasting stations don’t have power. I don’t think they get sued each and every time that happens – that would be ridiculous and the courts would never get anything done because there would be so many of these lawsuits.

  3. mark h
    June 14, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    My thoughts is your 400 series signs present a better advertising opportunity then the station names. TTC advertising obviously doesnt sell that well, but a more useful direct approach by saying “go left here for McDonalds” would be better.
    There’s no way people would call yonge station Bell station or something like that and advertisers would grow tired of it. Also being associated with a cruddy service is bad PR.
    I would sell the naming rights of the service as a whole though. Someone would pay big bucks to be on every ticket, map, uniform, ad and metropass, branding it to their name.

    Another idea is selling the ability to access wi-fi on the system. Extra cash for login rights for metropass holders.

    Good post. Thanks.

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