The MTA, now with less corporate shilling

By · Published in 2008

Stories such as this one make me believe that simply by jettisoning former chairman Peter Kalikow, the MTA started heading down a better path.

This story begins in 2006 when subway conductors started mentioned “Top of the Rock” as trains pulled into the Rockefeller Center station. Now, Top of the Rock is the rather expensive observatory level at the top of 30 Rockefeller Center, the tallest building in the complex. It opened, not coincidentally, in 2006. At the time, New Yorkers were rather critical of the move. We didn’t need to hear some tourist trap plugged on the subways. Little did we know the true extent of the corporate shilling going on.

Pete Donohue from The Daily News tells us more:

The plug – unpopular with train crews – came about because developer Peter Kalikow, then Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman, wanted to extend a “courtesy” to one of the building’s owners, authority officials said after the announcements began in 2006. In late November, not long after Kalikow left the post, subway managers told conductors to stop shilling for the tourist site…

An MTA spokesman in 2006 said that one of the principals at the real estate firm Tishman Speyer initially asked if the entire station could be called Top of the Rock. Kalikow rejected that but offered a compromise, the spokesman said.

So one real estate mogul did a so-called favor for another. I wonder what Kalikow got back in return for this free advertising in the subway.

When Kalikow gone, the current MTA leadership instructed train conductors to drop the Top of the Rock reference from their announcements in November. The Transport Workers Union, for one, was thrilled with the change.

“We applaud the new administration for rectifying this,” Curtis Tate, a vp at TWU, said. “We didn’t think it was appropriate. We pass a lot of landmarks and popular places, and we don’t advertise them or call them out. We don’t announce ‘Joe’s Pizzeria,’ this place or that place.”

NY1’s Bobby Cuza had more feedback from subway conductors. “We don’t advertise for other businesses. So why advertise for Top of the Rock? I don’t even know where it is,” one of them said to Cuza. “I never been there.”

I could have done without the announcement from the start. I think it’s pretty inexplicable that a public official was using the New York City subways to advertise for another real estate buddy of his, and these announcements probably should been halted soon after they started. But such is the state of MTA oversight in the city.

As I wrote in July, I’m in favor of the right approach to corporate sponsors for train stations. But clearly, a free plug for some real estate buddies and the Top of the Rock tourist attraction wouldn’t be a part of my plan.

Categories : MTA Absurdity

4 Responses to “The MTA, now with less corporate shilling”

  1. jk says:

    Now can we get rid of the “This is Maria Bartiromo of CNBC reminding you to watch the gap” announcement in Grand Central?

  2. Peter says:

    Whoa. JK – – I was about to ask the same thing.

    The question, perhaps, is “How did the Maria Baritolomilolimo… momo…omo… spot get there in the FIRST place?” IF CNBC paid for it, OK, but to who, and how much, and for how long will it run?

    There is a constant tension between commercial promotion and passenger amenities in Mass Transit. Early on the IRT Co. plastered their stations with advertising (look up some old photos of the stations), much to the dismay of many riders and City Beautiful advocates.

    Many people believe GCT should be entirely unsullied by Shameless Commerce in the form of advertising, particularly illuminated posters. On the other hand, many folks miss the giant Kodak ad, and the big clock that used to hang on the south side of GCT’s Main Concourse.

    It is somewhat ironic that so much 21st Century New Media has to be promoted upon that 19th Centuriest of environments, the railroad. Advertisiing brings hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue to the MTA, because transit is where people actually are, and where – unlike the internet – an advertiser can be sure people will see a product or service.

  3. ScottE says:

    JK, you might have gotten your wish. This morning, Ms. Bartiromo’s “watch the gap” warning, which has been played repeatedly at Penn Station and all LIRR stations (and I assume MetroNorth/GCT as well), was replaced by an anonymous announcement by an anonymous male voice who sounded as if he’d rather be diving into gaps thaning record these stupid announcements.

    Meanwhile, this morning at the Hicksville LIRR station, I heard a different voice shouting in my ear saying something to the effect of “Hi, this is Juliet Papa from 1010 WINS reminding you to speak quietly on your cell phone”.

    What’s next — Smokey the Bear reminding us that “only YOU can prevent track fires”? (Perhaps I dated myself with that comment!)

  4. The Secret Conductor says:

    The order to say, “TOP OF THE ROCK” at Rockefeller Center was not resended. If supervision decided they will not discipline conductors if they don’t say it is meaning less if the order was not taken away. In other word they can still use it against you if they want to until the order is resended.

    Currently there is a bulletin that states you must make “top of the rock” as part of your announcement. Only when the bulletin is resended will conductors stop saying it (although some stopped because… well some guys are just a little lazy lol).

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