For More Information Contact: Robert Weissman and Elizabeth Ben-Ishai (202) 588-7746
For Immediate Release: March 26th, 2012

Commercial Alert Urges CTA Not To Sell Naming Rights, Advertise Alcohol

Commercial Alert sent a letter to the Chicago Transit Authority President, Forrest Claypool, urging him not to move forward with plans to sell naming rights to CTA Assets and to reinstate a ban on alcohol advertising. Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 250,000 members and supporters.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. Claypool,

Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 225,000 members and supporters. We aim to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting higher values of family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy.

According to recent news reports, the CTA is seeking corporate sponsors to purchase naming rights to CTA assets. The CTA has also recently dropped a long standing ban on alcohol advertising on public transit. We write to strongly urge you reconsider these decisions, which further expand the reach of commercialism on public transit. These decisions put the city and the Transit Authority on a path that undermines the integrity of the city’s public transportation system and harms its citizens. While we recognize the financial imperatives that motivate you to seek alternative revenue sources, we believe this approach is wrongheaded.

Names we attach to public sites and services should reflect geography and history, and honor civic virtue – they should not be vehicles for crass commercialism. Should your plans move forward, citizens will soon be forced to pronounce the name of corporations in order to describe such assets 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. With each utterance of whatever corporation chooses to pay for this privilege, transit-takers are compelled to promote the brands of products and services. 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 transit riders travel to stations named for corporate felons, big business cheats, or major polluters? Ultimately, the sale of naming rights enables companies to skim off the positive publicity of deep and long-term public investment. As such, it erodes the public’s support for the public investment that is the only major funding source for public transit.

Not only does this plan compromise the public nature of transit services in Chicago, it is also unlikely to alleviate the financial strain the CTA is currently facing. In other cities, transit naming rights schemes have not yielded significant revenues. In Philadelphia, the recent deal between Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and AT&T will yield $3 million over five years – a small amount as compared to the system’s budget. In New York, a twenty year deal to rename a Metro Transit Authority station after Barclay’s will yield only $200,000 per year. Moreover, private corporations stand to benefit from any revenues the Transit Authority is able raise; consulting firms in the aforementioned examples have taken significant cuts of sales revenues, as they will in Chicago.

We are particularly concerned about the effects on youth of the CTA’s sale of naming rights and alcohol advertising. One of the assets included in your naming rights plan is the program offering free rides to Chicago public school students on the first day of school. This is a perfect opportunity for a corporation interested in marketing directly to children to step in. In the midst of crucial years of personal development and lacking the capacity to clearly identify when they are being advertised to, children are highly vulnerable to marketers intent on pushing unhealthy or inappropriate products on them as they get “taken for a ride” to school.

The CTA has designated boundaries for its planned alcohol advertising in order to ensure that such advertising does not appear in stations where student riders exceed 7.5 percent of total ridership. But such a percentage threshold is irrelevant. What matters is that CTA will be exposing thousands and thousands of children to more alcohol advertising. Moreover, ads will also appear on trains, circulating throughout the system. Children will undoubtedly be exposed to alcohol ads under this policy – and the effects of such ads are well documented. Children who see more alcohol advertising are more likely to engage in underage drinking, endangering public health and safety.

Americans already face a deluge of advertising everywhere they go. We urge you to protect citizens from having to face still more advertising from the corporations who will purchase naming rights to CTA assets and peddle alcoholic beverages. We ask that you shield citizens from confronting the names of products and brands that are not only a nuisance and drain on our culture, but often injurious to our health. Not everything should be for sale. Please help us to stop the spread of commercialism into more of our public spaces.


Robert Weissman
Public Citizen

Elizabeth Ben-Ishai
Campaign Coordinator
Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert