Is subway modernization worth the cost of corporate rebranding?

No politician wants the credit for crumbling infrastructure. No politician wants to look into their lap and see that the hot potato of blame for New York’s troubled public transit system is lying there. This runaround the responsibility game has been going on for half a century, and it’s reached a state of emergency. In an attempt to raise funds that may or may not have been misspent on upstate ski resorts and generally mismanaged away somewhere, Governor Andrew Cuomo is now proposing corporate America bail out the MTA by adopting a subway station and providing the “needed” (or just poorly spent) cash to fix our hot mess of a public transit system.

“Through this first-of-its-kind program we are giving private sector partners an opportunity to play a part in bringing our subway system into the modern age,” Cuomo said at the Association for a Better New York breakfast late last month, according to Gothamist. That these “private sector partners” would be granted station naming rights is “very possible,” according to the MTA’s Chairman Joe Lhota, Gothamist reported.

When it comes down to it, commuters want a reliable subway that doesn’t cause daily anxiety and doesn’t make us LA-levels of late. That said, one of the perks of the subway, despite it being so darn dysfunctional, is its vintage charm. There is so much evident, if ancient, love in the tiled titles, the names harking back to a long gone era, the fonts recalling a time when “artisanal” masonry was the norm. There is no faking it here, down in New York’s sagging main artery: The history, authenticity and decay are all evident and indisputable.


A digitization of a subway mosaic via the NY Train Project
A digitization of a subway mosaic via the NY Train Project

If Cuomo could clap his hands and replace the signal system, fix the flood damage, and bring New York City’s public transit into the 21st century, but all stations would suddenly be named after major credit card companies (“This train will be going express from MasterCard to American Express”), would the price be worth the improvement? I vote yes, because as consciously and subconsciously depressing it would be to lose all those gorgeous names (Hearst just doesn’t have the same ring as Bleecker Street), the price is not so high if it truly allows us reliable public transit.

It is unlikely, however, that the corporate sponsorship would be the subway’s saving grace as the adopt-a-station program would funnel money largely into the adopted stations’ aesthetics, Lhota told reporters. So, more realistically, as you climb down the stairs to the Carroll Street Station – now McDonald’s Center – you’ll be greeted by a more modern, cleaner platform, but your G train will still take 30 minutes to arrive, even though it’s morning rush hour.

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