I quite like the idea of private firms sponsoring transport infrastructure.
Admitting this is risky business; even more so is the decision for a city to adopt such an approach. But it shouldn’t be. It makes economic sense.
Earlier this year, Transport for London announced it would be injecting some festive cheer into the lives of commuters with some station renaming malarkey. With no details and nothing yet released, it created quite the stir. And not for the first time.
In 2015, London flirted with the very same idea and, for one day only during the London Marathon, Canada Water Station was renamed Buxton Water. This deal with Nestle was the first of its kind for the London Underground, and its 152-year-old history. It wasn’t without criticism, with the RMT union stating, “We think it’s the thin end of a very long wedge. You could have the whole tube network with branded stations for private gain.”
And if they did? Well, you would have renamed, or “branded”, stations across the network generating income which could prove vital for future infrastructure investment and improvements. The integrity of London´s tube map and history of the network would remain unharmed.
Anyway, you have Madrid to thank for this initiative. The Spanish capital raised millions – €3m over a three-year agreement – by including Vodafone on the iconic Sol metro station, a first in Europe.
This was a paradox of sorts, thanks to Puerta del Sol´s reputation as a nucleus for protestors and Spaniards aggravated over the handling of the country´s economy in recent times. And Vodafone? Well, over 100,000 people use Madrid´s line 2 each day – so the benefits for them are clear.
Madrileñas didn’t love the idea, or the trial period with Samsung a year earlier. A boost of 10 per cent to the metro´s annual advertising revenues could easily be used to argue in favour of the commercial decision – but there are opposing arguments focussing on the history and tradition of landmarks within the city. Nonetheless, to me, these arguments lack substance when you consider the economic times we are in, Spain especially.
I live in Madrid. And whilst no metro stops have commercial sponsorships at the minute, I fail to see how it would tarnish this stunning city. Puerta del Sol still stands for all that it did and always will; Indignado protests, anti-austerity movements and all around democracy. This is not a corporate takeover, it´s metro signage.
Let us not get precious with our cities and stagnate progress. It’s not about choosing one option over the other, or corporate decisions over public desires. You can have a successfully dynamic and modern infrastructure model and retain the history and tradition at the same time.