(James Chan/Special to S.F. Examiner)

‘Google train?’ Caltrain puts naming rights up for bid

Google San Francisco Station? Facebook Menlo Park Station?

Names like this may be in Caltrain’s future after its governing board on Thursday approved the adoption of a naming rights policy at its regular meeting.

That policy will allow companies and other entities to purchase naming rights to Caltrain “assets,” which the agency confirmed can be stations or even trains.

“I’m visualizing a ‘Google train,’” said Ron Collins, a new Joint Powers Board of Directors member, at the body’s regular meeting Thursday.

Caltrain finds itself “challenged” to identify funding for system operation, the agency wrote in its naming rights policy, though the board later amended that language out of the policy at its meeting.

Naming rights agreements could secure anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million per agreement annually, according to a staff report that noted the policy would hopefully lead to “future revenue generation.”

Though the board ultimately voted to approve the policy, it was not without misgivings.

“I’m very uncomfortable with naming rights and selling our name in order to balance the budget,” said Monique Zmuda, who represents San Francisco on the board and was appointed by Mayor London Breed.

“Having lived through 3Com park, and AT&T Park, and others, it’s the Giants stadium to me,” Zmuda said. “The money in some instances doesn’t seem to be worth it.”

Another representative from The City, Cheryl Brinkman, who also serves on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, acknowledged differing views but said Caltrain may need it “from a revenue point of view.”

However, Brinkman said, the board should retain the right to say “no” to naming sponsors whose mission and values don’t align with Caltrain, she said.

“As long as we retain a final say-so, I am OK with this,” Brinkman said.

Staff confirmed the board will need to give the final approval for any naming rights deals.

Transportation systems in San Diego, New York City, Cleveland and more have all looked to naming rights agreements to generate revenue, according to Caltrain staff.

The policy also states that place names will be maintained even if a corporate sponsor is given naming rights, in order to ensure the Caltrain system is “easily navigable.”


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