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Your next stop is sponsored by ... Metra eyes naming rights
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/13/2010 12:00 AM

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Is there a Grand Victoria Casino/Elgin train station in Metra's future? Or maybe a Central Continental Bakery/Mount Prospect stop?

Transit agency leaders Friday said they're exploring selling naming rights to stations or rail lines in order to bring in more cash.

In the next few months, Metra will seek proposals from advertising firms to advise on marketing opportunities for its properties and recently revamped Web site.

Hopefully, the moment is right for a partnership between Metra and businesses looking for a highly visible way to get their name out, Executive Director Phil Pagano explained.

"I think the business community recognizes that transit is positive for their advertising benefit," Pagano said at a Metra board meeting.

A possible example could be a hospital located near a Metra stop purchasing naming rights. The agency would be sensitive to communities along its rail lines and town names would not be eliminated from station branding. Instead, they could be shared with an advertiser, Pagano said.

Metra also redesigned its Web site in September with new features that have attracted a lot of traffic. Now it's time to see if there's a market for buying ads on the site, officials said.

Pagano noted that the agency would be selective about the type of businesses it partners with.

The initiative comes as Metra, the CTA and Pace find themselves short on revenues.

The three agencies rely on sales taxes and fares to pay for service. With the recession, sales tax dollars are lackluster and ridership is down because of unemployment. Metra officials noted passengers decreased last year with 82.3 million trips provided in 2009 compared to 86.8 million trips in 2008.

Adding to the downward spiral is a drop in fares caused by giving seniors free rides regardless of income, a policy instituted by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2008.

Some state lawmakers are moving to restrict the freebie to low-income seniors this session; however, Metra officials had no comment on the issue.

Metra also announced that in March it would launch a mobile version of its Web site that should provide a streamlined source of information for people with mobile devices.