Intercity Rail Ontario Transit

Neither here, nor there: the folly of transit naming rights

On Tuesday, October 4, Metrolinx announced a new name for Oshawa GO Station, the eastern terminus of its busy Lakeshore Corridor. In a ten-year agreement with Durham College, a publicly funded post-secondary institution, the station will now be known as “Durham College Oshawa GO.” This was announced on Metrolinx’s Twitter account, Durham College’s social media, and on the GO Transit Lakeshore East Twitter account, which usually advises passengers of train delays and cancellations.

GO Transit Lakeshore East Train tweet on October 4
“Allow us to reintroduce ourselves” – promotional poster at Oshawa Station proclaiming the new “Durham College Oshawa GO” name

Metrolinx, the regional transit agency that operates GO Transit, claims that “the partnership allows us to better serve Durham Region and the GTHA” in its communications, including an informational poster in front of the station building.

The news did not go over well with GO Transit customers and transit users across the Greater Toronto Area; Metrolinx later deleted its tweet after it was “ratioed” — meaning that negative comments and quote-tweets outnumbered the number of positive responses by a large margin. It is easy to understand why the station renaming was not popular.

Firstly, though “Oshawa” remains in the station name, Durham College comes first with the new moniker. Schedules, signs, and maps will be updated to reflect the new name, while announcements by on-board staff and digital schedule information already reflect the new name. VIA Rail, which shares the station with GO Transit, is not a party to the agreement, and will likely continue referring to the station as “Oshawa.”

Specific details of the agreement, such as how much Durham College is paying for the branding agreement, remain confidential.

On GO Transit schedule boards, Oshawa Station now appears as “DC Oshawa GO”

The new policy of naming rights agreements goes against years of Metrolinx policy for naming stations. When planning the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, it developed five standards for naming stations and stops:

1. Simple. Simple names are easier to remember

2. Logical. Logical names provide a mental link when trip planning: they should be relevant to the area they reside

3. Durable. Names should be relevant as long as the station exists

4. Self-Locating. Names should allow users to mentally locate themselves within the region

5. Unique. A unique name is one that cannot be confused with any other.

Metrolinx principles for determining new names

“Durham College Oshawa GO” violates most of the above principles. The name is now a mouthful, much like “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre” (another controversial station name that the TTC objected to, but was overruled due to political considerations), and is no longer simple. The agreement only lasts ten years, so it is not durable. As I will explain further, the name is also neither logical, self-locating, nor unique.

Durham College has three campuses. Its main campus is located in the north end of Oshawa, on a site shared with Ontario Tech University. GO Transit has a bus stop there called “Ontario Tech/Durham College” that is served by GO Transit Route 56 on weekdays, and Route 52 on weekends and holidays. The main Oshawa campus is a two hour walk from the GO station, a 25-35 minute GO bus ride, or a 20 minute drive from the station. This was the main reason why transit users were ridiculing the new station name on Twitter.

Durham College’s Whitby Campus is much closer to Oshawa GO Station, in fact, it is less than 500 metres from the Oshawa GO Station parking lot as the crow flies. Oshawa Station is actually right on the border of Oshawa and Whitby, with the “Welcome to Oshawa” signs next to the main GO Transit parking lot. The overflow lot for Oshawa GO is actually in the Town of Whitby.

The “Oshawa: Prepare To Be Amazed” sign marking the city limit sits next to the GO Station parking lot.

However, the Whitby campus is even harder to get to from Oshawa GO than the main Oshawa campus because it is separated by Highway 401. It is a 41 minute walk between the station and the Whitby college campus along Victoria Street (which has no sidewalks along most of its length), Thickson Road, Stellar Drive, and Champlain Avenue, though a footbridge over the highway would reduce the walking time to a more comfortable 15 minutes.

Google Maps directions from Oshawa Station to Durham College Whitby Campus
Looking northwest from the Oshawa GO parking lot towards Durham College Whitby Campus, the large grey building above and to the right of the green Thickson Road exit sign
Looking east on Champlain Boulevard in front of the Whitby campus across Highway 401 towards Oshawa GO Station, which is marked by the tall digital billboard towering over the roadway

The irony is that both major Durham College campuses are better reached from Whitby Station than the newly named “Durham College Oshawa GO.” There are no direct buses to the Whitby Campus from Oshawa Station, but Durham Region Transit (DRT) Route 917 provides regular service from Whitby Station. Furthermore, DRT operates more frequent service on Route 905 between Whitby Station and the Oshawa Campus than GO Transit does from Oshawa Station. Google Transit itself recommends transferring at Whitby to DRT, rather than at Oshawa, because the connections are more convenient. GO Route 56 operates only every hour on weekdays, and Route 52 runs every two hours on weekends and holidays. Meanwhile Route 905 stops in front of the Oshawa campus every 15-30 minutes, 7 days a week.

The connection at Oshawa Station to Durham College’s main Oshawa Campus makes sense only when transferring from a VIA Train, or from GO Transit Route 88 from Peterborough and Clarington.

Excerpt from Durham Region Transit system map, with Oshawa and Whitby stations and both Durham College campus locations highlighted

Therefore, at this point, renaming Oshawa Station to “Durham College Oshawa GO” makes no sense. The new name violates basic wayfinding standards, while Durham College itself is better accessed from a different GO Station. Perhaps Durham College could operate a shuttle service to its campuses from the station, making the co-branding a more plausible.

More concerning is that future renamings are in the work. In February, I noted that Metrolinx was looking for expressions of interest for station naming opportunities, specifically four Lakeshore Corridor stations: Whitby GO Station, Exhibition GO Station, Clarkson GO Station and Oakville GO Station, but noted that they would be willing to consider other proposals as well.

Though I am critical of the process, I am sympathetic to Metrolinx’s position. I do not believe they were supportive of the province’s decision to rename a major LRT project for a political ally and paid advisor to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives. I strongly believe there are many within the organization who are not happy about the station renaming agreements either. They must work with a very “hands on” government that is eager to promote new transit projects and benefit their supporters.

Such is the state of things in Ontario.

One reply on “Neither here, nor there: the folly of transit naming rights”

The craze never ends. If one drives there instead of taking GO, do they use the Macdonald–Cartier Freeway, or the 401?

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