D.C. Metro leaders think it’s time to start selling naming rights to its subway stations because of the agency’s worsening financial plight. But whether any company would risk its good name on the subway is another question.With ridership falling, the agency is looking at a $125 million hole this fiscal year. It anticipates a shortfall of $290 million in the next. D.C. Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld warned that all the one-off tricks to balance the books will soon be exhausted. Tom Bulger, vice chairman of the D.C. Metro board’s Finance Committee, says the troubled agency needs money. “We have a brutal budget year coming up,” Bulger said Monday. “I don’t think we can ask our riders to have increased fares.” Neither Congress nor the regional partners have established a tax that would give Washington’s mass transit system a dedicated funding stream.
But companies are always looking for ways to advertise. Metro makes an estimated $24 million a year from advertising, which is a pittance compared to its overall budget. Washingtonians and their visitors have become accustomed to seeing Metro buses wrapped in ads and temporarily filled with wall-to-wall commercial advertising.What Bulger supports is the idea of a tightly-written pilot program that would allow Metro to cash in on station names with entities that wouldn’t embarrass anyone. Metro is already pulling ads for a new book by controversial alt-right writer Milo Yiannopoulos. A Metro rider had raised concerns about the promotional posters that appeared throughout the transit system last week. “The ad violates Metro’s advertising guidelines. We are in the process of removing the ads,” Metro spokesman Richard Jordan said in a statement Friday. Metro uses a third-party contractor, Outfront Media, to solicit and design advertisements for the system. Not all ads are reviewed by Metro officials before they are posted inside stations and on trains and buses. Transforming a city bus into a rolling billboard isn’t such a big deal, but renaming the stations is another thing entirely. It also doesn’t matter whether the companies are reputable or not. The negative impact on Washington’s image would be lasting. It only reinforces the notion that in our nation's capital everything and everybody has a price.