MTA Director Heinicke Proposes Sponsorship of Street, Cable Cars

muni_bus_wrap.jpgA Muni bus wrapped in a Starbucks ad. The "sponsorships" of cable and street cars would be "unobtrusive." Flickr photo: etthekid

MTA Director Malcolm Heinicke must have heard the recent calls from advocates like Tom Radulovich for the MTA Board to follow the charter and "diligently" seek out new sources of revenue, but his latest idea is raising quite a few eyebrows. At today’s meeting, Heinicke, fresh from a trip to Chicago where he saw how some streets have honorary names, said he would like the MTA to explore offering "unobtrusive" corporate or individual sponsorships of street and cable cars. 

"For example, with the F line…the maintenance costs are significant. Those are beautiful vehicles. I mean, we have a brochure of people lining up to take their photos. Tourists love to ride on them. You can imagine that a good San Francisco company or a good citizen might be willing to sort of adopt that car in exchange for some recognition," Heinicke explained to reporters afterward, adding that the same concept could also be applied to some streets. 

But isn’t it moving toward privatization? "No," said Heinicke, responding to the question from the Chronicle’s Rachel Gordon. "It’s moving much closer to sponsorship or advertising than it is to privatization. The Adopt-a-Highway program administered by the CHP, I don’t think anyone would suggest that’s privitization of the highways. That’s good citizens coming foward."

MTA Chief Nat Ford said his staff would look into it.

A public commenter pointed out cable cars already have honorary plaques on them, and Heinicke said staff would need to check with the cable car division "to make sure we’re not running over any exisiting agreements."

Would something like this really work in these tough economic times, considering ad revenue is down? "We’ll find out," said Heinicke.

What do you think? Is it time to solicit sponsorships for street and cable cars? Or have we had enough corporate ads littering our transit system?

  • Another half assed idea by yet another hack appointed by the Mayor who’s too chicken to say the T-word or truly address the huge hole caused by the elimination of state aid. A few ads covering historical cable cars will do little to address the lack of stable funding by the MTA.

    Because the MTA is run by people who clearly aren’t interested in a serious discussion on how to create stable revenue sources, we can expect more of this half assed thinking. Yet another example of how when you let Newsom call all the shots, the end result is showboating BS.

  • Maybe it demonstrates at how “unobtrusive” sponsorship can be done that Director Heinicke is proposing something that’s already been done for decades. The cable cars have plaques of the corporate sponsors who paid for their rebuilding, one of them is Atari, and two of the F-line streetcars have the names of the city (in the case of sister city Zürich, which paid for the repainting of streetcar no. 737) and the Australian state of Victoria which funded the restoration and repainting of Melbourne streetcar no. 496.

    In the case of Zürich and Melbourne, the sponsorships not only helped pay for the maintenance, but answers one of the top questions, of what city this supposed to be? As I’ve seen happen over and over again, once you open the door to sponsorship it becomes a slippery slope.

    It never starts with selling ads, you do special deals with only appropriate and fitting sponsors, like Zürich and Victoria which you can, justifiably, point to as examples where it worked well and then the next time around you push it a step further, it’s not just the city which the streetcar is from, it’s “San Francisco company or a good citizen might be willing to sort of adopt that car in exchange for some recognition,” and after a number of years it’s nothing more than standard ad sizes.

    It ticks me off to no end that PBS and NPR programing runs ads for oil companies and big box retailers during programs about the havoc being done by oil companies and big box retailers. I once got all the way up to the NPR ombudsman over a Walmart ad saying how much they care about their community in a break following a segment about Walmart sinking small town economies and was told it wasn’t an “advertisement” it was an underwriter message or some such term because they defined an ad as having a call to action, specific offer or mention a sale or deal. In that example what Walmart was selling was themselves and took advantage of a loophole left by NPR to run an editorial about themselves exempt from any of the usual fact checking that would have been done by the news staff.

    I don’t see what’s happening here as any different. I recently came back from Barcelona, where this is no advertising inside their vehicles or in their Metro subway. I was impressed by the feeling I was not being taken advantage of as a captive audience and I was in a place where the city took enough pride in itself that it wasn’t going to nickel and dime me for more after I’d already paid my 1.50€ fare.

  • SfResident

    This may be a crazy idea but perhaps the city of San Francisco should look into sponsoring our public transportation system by providing adequate funding.

  • I don’t mind the ads on the sides of Muni buses, but I resent it when they cover the windows and passengers have to look out at their city through a grid of dots.

  • CBrinkman

    Common ground found at last! I agree with Rob Anderson on this issue – I wish they wouldn’t cover the windows on the buses. It’s nice to see your city out the window.

  • What CBrinkman said!

  • Last year, after “testing” wraps on the light rail vehicles (the pilot wraps were for Wall•E and Google Transit, the feedback was more positive than negative though I doubt most riders knew there were comment cards for feedback on board) an internal study found that wrapping the LRVs was a safety hazard. Both for passengers inside who’s visibility is reduced, but also for those driving by outside who can’t see in and cannot tell the doors are about to open and let off passengers into moving traffic.

    I thought that study had settled the wrap issue, but I see they are starting to do it anyway.

  • ZA

    On principle, any advertisement concession on a public utility like MUNI should be pegged to a direct public improvement. If the maximum eyeballs-valuable F-line is to go to the auction block, I’d argue that only internal pre-existing advertisement space be offered, and then should directly fund shelter improvements & maintenance on the islands along the route.

    I’d even go so far as to suggest some sort of bikeshare arrangement in those tourist areas, with pods at key points of the F-Line. More tourists on bikes may mean fewer tour buses, which is all for the local good.

    The external bodies of the trains should be kept off-limits, since the unique mix is the tourist golden goose.

  • Meghan Newell

    I wish our society would stop allowing corporations to be the middle man between our money and the things we value and require as citizens.

    We should’t need to buy a product in order to support our transit system. Raise taxes if need be. The money is coming out of our pockets one way or the other. Why must every municipal structure be renamed for a brand?

  • Why not sponsorship for jet fighters, humvees… the deck of an aircraft carrier represents an amazing opportunity!

    OK, I have doing some work on these for some time:


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