Clipper vs. TransLink

The Metropolitan Transport Commission decided to rename the TransLink card ‘Clipper.’ This has sparked an angry response from some bloggers and tweeters. Some don’t like the name Clipper. Some are complaining about the price tag for what they believe is unnecessary rebranding. The MTC estimates it will cost around $1.4 million.

I’m not an expert on transportation issues, but I like the name Clipper. It recalls, for me, the big airplanes that PanAm flew around the world in the 1930s and 1940s. Those were amazing looking planes and a reflection of the optimism of that generation. Clipper also recalls the fast wooden ships that sailed into San Francisco Bay in the 1800s. I think it’s a nice word.

The other issue is the cost. $1.4 million dollars seems like a lot of money for anything. But in context, is it really too much? First of all, if you accept the reasonable estimate that there are 3 million employed people living in the Bay Area, you could state the cost as 50¢ per every employed person. I don’t mind kicking in my share — 50¢ seems like a reasonable amount for something that may help attract new users of a system wide transit card. Some will argue that they don’t use the public transit, or that the public shouldn’t have to pay for frivolous marketing projects. That’s just wrong. Our social contract is based on our willingness to share in costs the benefit the public, whether or not we receive a personal benefit. I no longer have school aged children, but I don’t have the right to opt out of my share of the cost of public education.

The fact is that some of the money spent on the rebranding will end up in the pockets of workers in the Bay Area. Sure, some will be skimmed off as profit, but the designer who labors to redesign the MTC’s website will be paid. The graphic artist who lays out all the new signage that must be created will earn something. The printers will be able to pay employees to run the presses that print the materials. The workers who install the signs will be paid. The MTC is moving $1.4 million dollars through the economy. It’s putting money in motion.

Money is useful when it’s moving. That’s the theory which underlies the idea of federal stimulus spending. That spending creates inertia. I don’t advocate wasting money on silly things, but some things, like the name of a transit smart card system, can benefit from a little thoughtful design. And the money spent (a miniscule per capita expenditure) could benefit Bay Area workers, and just might entice someone to look twice at the option of using a multi-agency transit smart card. That doesn’t seem so horrible to me.

Posted 13 February 2010 by Mark ·

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