Naming Rights

AT&T StationSEPTA just changed the name of one of its subway stations to AT&T. It’s not the End Times, but it is a little odd.

It makes sense that AT&T would want this. They provide cell service underground, which is pretty cool. They have a huge marketing budget. So, give them ad space down there. Give them sponsorship of a station, a logo on every sign and next to the station’s dot on the map, tiles that match the logo or the CEO’s grandmother’s favorite colors. Whatever. But changing the name of the station is just weird.

Stations are normally named after the streets they are located at or landmarks nearby because it makes sense for them to have some connection to the city they serve. Even if it were named after a corporation that had some kind of roots in Philadelphia — Aramark or Comcast or Sunoco — that would make more sense than AT&T.

Imagine using it in conversation: “I need to get off at AT&T.” “Transfer to a bus at AT&T.”

Conceivably, any number of stations could be called AT&T. How confusing would that be?

It’s different for something like a regional train station. Call that anything you want, it doesn’t matter. For all any traveler cares, 30th street station is just “Philadelphia.” Penn Station is “New York.” South Station is “Boston” and Union Station is “Chicago.” Their precise locations and names are less important.

But within a city, on a transit map, which is essential for intracity navigation, we need names that make sense. A geographical connection between the subway map and the geography it represents is kind of important. Or should we just give up on any sense of utility for SEPTA maps.

Of course this will continue. Advertisers need to work harder and be more clever if they are going to get to us. (AT&T’s best advertisement is the service it provides underground, not a logo on a map.) But I hope we can limit it in a way that makes sense.


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