Here's why we should all be cool with private firms should sponsoring metro stations

Sol, brought to you by Vodafone. Image: Getty.

I quite like the idea of private firms sponsoring transport infrastructure.

Admitting this is risky business; even more so is the decision for a city to adopt such an approach. But it shouldn't be. It makes economic sense.

Earlier this year, Transport for London announced it would be injecting some festive cheer into the lives of commuters with some station renaming malarkey. With no details and nothing yet released, it created quite the stir. And not for the first time.

In 2015, London flirted with the very same idea and, for one day only during the London Marathon, Canada Water Station was renamed Buxton Water. This deal with Nestle was the first of its kind for the London Underground, and its 152-year-old history. It wasn't without criticism, with the RMT union stating, "We think it's the thin end of a very long wedge. You could have the whole tube network with branded stations for private gain."

And if they did? Well, you would have renamed, or "branded", stations across the network generating income which could prove vital for future infrastructure investment and improvements. The integrity of London´s tube map and history of the network would remain unharmed.

Anyway, you have Madrid to thank for this initiative. The Spanish capital raised millions - €3m over a three-year agreement – by including Vodafone on the iconic Sol metro station, a first in Europe.

This was a paradox of sorts, thanks to Puerta del Sol´s reputation as a nucleus for protestors and Spaniards aggravated over the handling of the country´s economy in recent times. And Vodafone? Well, over 100,000 people use Madrid´s line 2 each day – so the benefits for them are clear.

Madrileñas didn't love the idea, or the trial period with Samsung a year earlier. A boost of 10 per cent to the metro´s annual advertising revenues could easily be used to argue in favour of the commercial decision – but there are opposing arguments focussing on the history and tradition of landmarks within the city. Nonetheless, to me, these arguments lack substance when you consider the economic times we are in, Spain especially.

I live in Madrid. And whilst no metro stops have commercial sponsorships at the minute, I fail to see how it would tarnish this stunning city. Puerta del Sol still stands for all that it did and always will; Indignado protests, anti-austerity movements and all around democracy. This is not a corporate takeover, it´s metro signage.

Let us not get precious with our cities and stagnate progress. It's not about choosing one option over the other, or corporate decisions over public desires. You can have a successfully dynamic and modern infrastructure model and retain the history and tradition at the same time.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.


How the big freeze of 1962-3 killed off Britain’s canals

Little Venice, London. This was actually 2010, but you get the idea. Image: Getty.

The English are internationally renowned for banging on about the weather. When British drizzle is compared to the hurricanes of the Caribbean or the cold faced by more landlocked countries, our complaining seems wholly unjustified.

Still, our weather can have ruinous effects on whole industries. The particularly cold winter of 1962-63 was the final nail in the coffin of a centuries old water-borne trade.

At one time canals played an essential role in the UK’s economy. In the early days of the industrial revolution, canals snaked across the map, connecting the coal mines of the countryside to the factories of cities. They fuelled the furnaces and kept the hearth fires burning, allowing for cities to rapidly grow in the closing years of the 18th century.

A map of British and Irish waterways. The canal network is in orange. Image: Peter Eastern/Wikimedia Commons.

Economics is rarely sentimental, though, and when more effective modes of travel came along the canals began their slow demise. Whereas European canals widened to accommodate for ever larger boats, the thin British canals –bar the mighty Manchester ship canal – slowly gave in to the supremacy of those new-fangled trains.

The rise of railway also saw the odd canal being bought and shut down by railway companies. In most cases this was simply about eliminating the competition, but in some the straight canals proved a perfect place for new railway tracks – the fate of South London’s Croydon Canal.

Still, the bargepeoples tightened their belts, and the canal system limped on as a viable option for freight until the early ‘60s, when nature came in with the knockout blow. The Big Freeze of 1962-3 was, as the name suggests, uniquely cold for the UK. Records going back as far as 1659 only recorded two winters colder, and the canal system froze solid.

Somerset, January 1963. The snow stayed for so long it stretched phone wires out of shape. Image: Howard Dublin/Wikimedia Commons.

Facing months of no service by barges, industries that had been reliant on the canals switched to alternatives on the rail and road networks. When the ice finally thawed, and with grim memories of that winter on mind, few returned to using the canals for freight. Besides having dire consequences for that years football calendar, the winter mostly finished canals as a component of British industry.

Luckily many of the canals themselves survived to be repurposed, first for leisure and more recently for living. London’s canal system currently holds around 5000 boats, 60 per cent of them permanent homes. These liveaboards, driven there by the desire for the slow life or the rest of the city’s crippling property prices, are changing the face of London’s waterways.
The water dwellers, along with those drawn to these lateral parks for leisure, have brought business back to the city’s canals. Now books shops, grocers, coffee shops and even bakeries can be found floating on the waters.

So next time the trope of the weather obsessed Brit comes up, you can scoff at other countries hailstones the size of Chihuahuas, or sun you can cook an egg in. Tell them that the weather has shaped British history, too – and with huge climatic shifts on the horizon, it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook