Commuter train stations in Ontario could soon bear the names of companies and corporations, and those naming rights could give sponsors access to anonymous transit data under a new proposal from the Ford government.
The naming rights for five regional GO train stations are potentially up for discussion: Whitby, Pickering, Exhibition, Clarkson and Oakville, although other stations’ names may also be up for grabs, according to Metrolinx, the government agency responsible for transit in the Greater Toronto Area.
Corporations could pay to attach their names to the stations – the same way sports venues, such as the Rogers Centre or Scotiabank Arena, get their titles.
In addition to train stations, sponsors could also name parking lots, bathrooms and areas such as quiet zones or bike zones.
In a statement, Caroline Mulroney, the Minister of Transportation, said the government is looking to maximize the value of Metrolinx’s assets. She said the move is in line with Premier Doug Ford’s pro-business message and is part of an effort to keep fare costs down.
“This is what the Premier means when he says he’s looking for new sources of non-tax revenue. We’re sending the message that Ontario is open for business,” the statement says.
For a company, having a train station, or part of one, named for it would be valuable – helping to build a brand and be recognized, according to Chris Stamper, a retired chief marketing officer at the Toronto Dominion Bank and a former chair of the Canadian Marketing Association.
Sponsored stations would inject private funding into public spaces, and, if the company takes an active role in using and improving its sponsored space, it could enhance people’s commutes, he said.
Under the proposal, naming rights would be available for between five and 10 years. Metrolinx said existing station names would not be changed completely but could be altered to include a sponsor’s name, so as to avoid disorienting passengers: TD-Clarkson station, for example.
The opportunity was posted online to gauge interest and kicked off a period where interested parties can begin to discuss the purchase of naming rights with Metrolinx. All proposals will have to go through a rigorous approval process, the agency said.
The posting also suggested sponsors could access “anonymized GO Transit ridership data” for “research collaboration and customer mapping."
New Democrat MPP Sara Singh said the possibility of transit data being shared with private companies is concerning. She said it’s unclear how data will be collected, where it will be stored and how it will be used.
“I think people expect when they’re swiping their Presto cards that their information is being used in an appropriate way,” she said. “I don’t think they’re expecting that their information is being sold off to, for example, Coca-Cola station.”
In a letter to the province’s privacy commissioner on Thursday, Ms. Singh asked for an investigation into the consequences of sending transit user data to station sponsors.
Transit data are sensitive and can be used to create a detailed profile of a user, according to Brenda McPhail, director of the privacy, technology and surveillance project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
“I don’t think that an individual’s personal information, about where and when and how they travel, should be shared with a private corporation who has the privilege of putting their name on a transit station,” she said.
Mr. Stamper said the data would be attractive to a company looking to understand more about potential customers, but would need to be used carefully so as not to seem intrusive to transit users.
In her statement, Ms. Mulroney said any agreement would protect customer privacy.
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