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TTC approves plan to sell subway naming rights

TTC commissioners have given the green light to the sale of subway naming rights, refusing a request to let city council weigh in before it goes forward with the contentious plan.

The naming-rights proposal is part of a 12-year, $324-million advertising deal approved Wednesday by the commissioners. The contract, awarded to Pattison Outdoor Advertising, lists several new initiatives to be pursued by the firm, including the sale of naming rights for subway stations and subway lines, as well as the introduction of new technology for ads in stations and on subways, buses and streetcars.

Commission chair Karen Stintz said the new contract will bring in badly needed cash to the transit system, which relies on the fare box for almost all of its revenue. The deal includes a guarantee of a minimum $25.2-million in ad revenue for the commission in its first year, $11-million more than the revenue guaranteed in the existing contract.

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"This contract does allow opportunities to grow our revenue base," said Ms. Stintz, also a city councillor. She urged commissioners to "embrace the contract and its opportunities," noting that the funds are needed to update and expand the system. "By ourselves, we cannot do it," she said.

Toronto's transit system is looking to fill a funding gap that could swell to more than $100-million next year and ad revenues are expected to play a key role in that effort.

Councillor Janet Davis urged commissioners to let city council debate the issue, but her request was defeated by commission members.

"I believe that the commission and city council should have a say on the naming of our subway stations," she said after the meeting. "I don't think that the Coca-Cola subway station is something that the majority of the residents of Toronto want to see. I think that council, the commission and the public should be able to have input."

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a commission member, said any naming proposal will come to the commission and members of the public can comment then. There is no need, he argued, for the matter to go to council.

Ms. Davis also criticized the contract for expanding advertising space on the transit system and increasing the number of vehicles that can be "wrapped" in ads.

TTC general manager Vince Rodo said the new deal doubles the subway cars that could be wrapped with advertising to 24 and increases the number of buses and streetcars to 50 from 35, a small percentage of the fleet, he added. The deal also will allow the backs of all buses to be covered with ads, an increase from the 50 now allowed.

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Bob Leroux, a vice-president with Pattison Outdoor Advertising, said the TTC contract, which begins in January, 2012, is among the largest municipal ad agreements in the country. His firm does not have any naming deals lined up, but he pointed out that several city-owned properties have corporate banners, including most of the buildings on the Exhibition grounds.

Mr. Leroux said the ad firm will "absolutely" pursue the opportunity to sell naming rights, but the final decision will be made by the TTC and its commissioners, he added.

Branding deals for subway stops have been brokered in other cities, the TTC's Mr. Rodo said, including in Philadelphia, where a cellphone company has sponsored a station.

Earlier this week, Ms. Stintz told The Globe and Mail that busy Dundas station will be used as a test site for a potential naming deal and she singled out nearby Ryerson University as a possible partner.

After Wednesday's meeting, she said: "It makes sense to have Ryerson as a destination at Dundas. To have them partner with us rebuilding that station in return for an identifier at that location I think is appropriate."

The transit commission would like to redesign the busy downtown station, adding new entrances at the north end of the platform, and improving platforms and traffic flow, she said.

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Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said his campus would be interested in working to upgrade the station, especially if a new exit near the school's planned student learning centre was part of the renovation. The university, he said, has not had talks about a naming deal with the TTC.

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