By Anthony Campisi
The SEPTA Board voted unanimously Thursday to approve a five-year agreement that would give AT&T the naming rights to the Pattison Avenue station on the Broad Street Line. As part of the deal, SEPTA will change every reference to Pattison Station throughout the system and online. The agreement will net SEPTA and Titan Outdoor LLC, which has a contract to manage advertising for the authority, more than $5 million. Of that, about two-thirds, or more than $3 million, will go to SEPTA.
The deal is part of ongoing efforts by SEPTA to raise revenues through non-traditional means — something that a state transportation funding commission called on SEPTA to do. Though the vote was unanimous, Philadelphia resident Jerry Silverman criticized the decision, saying it opened a “pandora’s box” for further name changes that could cause rider confusion and serve to embarrass the authority. He pointed to a dating website for adulters that wanted to buy naming rights to the new Jets and Giants stadium in the Meadowlands.
Scott Maits, vice president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, asked SEPTA to use the money it’s getting from the deal to roll back parts of the recent fare increase, especially the hike in paper transfers to $1 and the elimination of weekday off-peak fares.
After the board meeting, general manager Joe Casey said the authority would announce the formal date of the name change in the late summer. SEPTA will include the new station name in new signs being printed for the July 25 elimination of SEPTA’s regional rail numbers. Casey added that no other company had bid for the naming rights and that, though he would have preferred retaining a reference to Pattison Avenue in the new station name, AT&T refused to go along with that idea.
While SEPTA will be pursuing future naming rights deals, Casey said any change “has to make sense for us” and explained that rider confusion and the authority’s image would be a factor in any future agreements.
In a statement, AT&T vice president Dan Lafond said the name change allows the company to “stay connected to who and what [customers] need most — and in Philadelphia, that means sports.” The company is also the only cell phone carrier that provides coverage along the Broad Street Line and in the belowground portion of the Market-Frankford El.
Separately, the board approved a series of contracts reviewed in last week’s committee hearings, as well as a proposal to transfer $26 million from the authority’s service stabilization fund to end the fiscal year with a balanced budget. That transfer will bring the fund’s balance below $100 million.
At the same time, however, SEPTA’s ridership continues to improve. May marked the third consecutive month of ridership gains from the previous year. City and suburban transit divisions saw gains of 3 percent from 2009, and regional rail ridership was up 2 percent.
The authority closed May with a $1.1 million surplus.
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