Chicago Sun Times

How about riding CTA’s ‘Selsun Blue Line’?

July 14, 2005

BY MARK J. KONKOL Transportation Reporter

For the right price, the CTA Blue Line – or any L train spur or station, for that matter – could get a new name, sold off to a corporate sponsor. The CTA would be the country’s first transit agency to hawk naming rights the way sports teams sell stadium names. It’s part of a pitch to boost revenue and streamline operations at the cash-strapped transit agency as it gears up for a certain budget crunch next year.

AECom Consult representatives, contracted to analyze CTA operations, told the transit board Wednesday that it should look for new ways to bolster advertising revenue, adding ATMs and even selling names rights, a la U.S.Celluar Field and United Center.

“A corporate sponsor might agree to sponsor … the Blue Line or Orange Line. Those are the kinds of things we looked at (for additional revenue),” AECom’s John Burns said.

CTA Board President Carole Brown said she’s keeping an open mind about the whole thing. “Everything is up for consideration … obviously we’re looking for revenue opportunities and revenue enhancements. Everything is a possibility,” Brown said.

‘Creative’ but questionable

Naming rights expert Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp Inc., called the sponsorship proposal “creative” but urged the CTA to use caution before going through with it. “There’s a lot of intriguing ways to sell sponsorship rights. This one is unusual. I’m not sure they should do it,” he said. “Usually, you try to avoid selling naming rights for places paid for and used entirely by the public … If something is done with the money that enhances the Blue Line, makes it a better place, maybe. But if it’s done just to plug a budget gap, it’s hard to see.”

The decision, CTA boss Frank Kruesi said, might come down to dollars and cents. “If the funds are sufficiently high, it’s something I’m sure we’d all take a look at,” he said. “But again, there’s different kinds of naming rights … That means whether it refers to just as a name or whether (it’s audio) announcements or putting it on signs.”

Union rules a target?

The AECom Consult report – which came just before the CTA Board officially rescinded planned service cuts and fare hikes – also suggests officials push for union work-rule changes to make the agency more efficient.

Those include allowing for “outsourcing” bus and rail operators, restricting overtime, changing work schedules and taking steps to improve employee absences, which are high. All those changes, AECom Consult officials said, would likely meet union resistance. Kruesi said the CTA has pushed for similar changes in the past, with minimal success.

“There are a number of these recommendations that we cannot do unilaterally. … They have to be done within the requirements of the collective bargaining process, which we respect,” he said. Amalgamated Transit Union officials were not available for comment Wednesday.

The AECom Consult report also called for retooling the CTA real estate division and hiring outside companies to take over some of the management functions.

What Wednesday’s report, a precursor to final recommendations, didn’t target was inefficiencies on the CTA administrative side.

“One could surmise from that, in terms of personnel and administrative positions, the CTA is operating rather efficiently and there are not going to be a great number of savings by reducing the number of administrative positions because we have done that over time,” Brown said.

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