Saturday, March 7, 2009

Brûlé: Rail Transport Quality and Market Streets

Tyler Brûlé's weekly column in the Financial Times today World-class city or grim ghost town? addresses two of my favorite subjects: quality in rail transport and vacant storefronts on shopping streets.

First, transport. Brûlé is right-on in his questions about EuroStar and Belgium's rail stations. My favorite Belgium railway story is that in the International Airport - picture thousands of people coming from all over Europe every day to do EU business - the automated ticket machines don't take credit cards (photo above is of the ticket machine, photo on right is of the lines waiting to buy tickets - note they don't even use customer-friendly queuing system).

You can use your VISA card to buy gasoline at every gas station in the world ... when will railways learn?

By the way, I've written a song about the railway ticket machines, music video coming soon!

Second, empty storefronts. Again, Brûlé raises some interesting questions as he praises the large number of home-grown businesses on Lisbon's shopping streets. I have always thought that landlords are short-sited when they throw out solid local businesses in favour of chain stores.

But, crisis brings opportunities. We need to develop business models, call them market 2.0 streets. These streets would be managed using a cooperative approach: say one chain store, five local businesses with the six landlords sharing the profits. Add-in ideas like locally-based programming, extra cleaning and more safety - paid for jointly by the cooperative and we may be on to something.

Better yet, cheap storefronts on these streets for local businesses would be incubators - helping creative people to develop new ideas and products ... real products and services that people need. Could these market 2.0 streets be a path out of today's economic problems?

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