I left Lagos for Ibadan this morning by train. It was my first time traveling by the much talked about train.
Approaching the train station in Yaba made me proud to be a Nigerian. The station stood out like a sore thumb, the car park was decent enough as I had been informed and it was secure enough for me to leave my car there and travel as long as I would be returning the same day.
Still can’t understand why we can’t buy tickets online almost 2 years after this service was commissioned.
Anyway getting into the station I approached the ticketing counter and requested for a 1st class ticket @ N6K, I was informed that this was no longer available. I requested for a Biz class ticket @ 4,500, I was informed this was also exhausted. So I purchased an economy ticket. I was determined that NOTHING would spoil this experience for me.
Started my journey to the sitting area to wait for the train and I took in the grandeur of our world class train station feeling really proud.
Then the retailer in me kicked in. Train stations especially those that serve as terminus usually offer train passengers a very vibrant shopping experience. Supermarkets, coffee shops/snack bars, fashion and lifestyle and so on. Think Kings Cross St. PANCRAS, Zurich Main Station, Paris Gare du Nord and so on. Please note that the stations charge an arm and a leg for such retail spaces
Why was the shopping here missing. So far I had only seen one store… a Pharmacy in one of the stores on the outside of the station.
The architecture was totally wrong.
I am not an architect, but from what I know of retail and train stations, the architecture is such that from when the passenger enters the station to where he eventually boards the train he would have been made to pass by several shops.
This is what retailers pay for. The more eyeballs that see your products, the higher your chances of selling. Train stations are high-traffic areas and usually, the traffic is a mixture of all classes and the Mobolaji Johnson terminus was no different.
While I was trying to buy my ticket, at least 6 other people requested 1st and business-class tickets and had to settle for the economy tickets. So train passengers are not the bottom of the ladder, kinbottom-of-the-ladder of passengers.
Unfortunately, the station is designed in such a way that passengers can buy their tickets and get to board the train having passed in front of very few of the shops available. This to me was a sign that proper thought wasn’t given to other sources of revenue apart from the sales of train tickets. this is a serious blunder.
As majestic as our station is, the usual Nigerian culture of poor maintenance is beginning to show. Several of the less trafficked areas showed they had not been cleaned in a while. What would it cost to detail a company to make sure that the entire station is always in top-notch condition?
Anyways finally got unto the train and the economy class cabin I sat in was filled with several people just like me who would have gladly paid more for 1st or biz class tickets.
The air conditioner on the train was very un-Nigerian. Most I am sure many would agree with me that at most of our public services somehow we never get the air conditioning right. In the train many of us had to be getting up to take a stroll so as not to freeze.
With the exception of the speed of the train which was rather pedestrian, the journey itself was rather pleasant.
Along the way though I noticed that the clocks at several of the stations along the way had stopped working. One of passengers sitted close to me also complained that the toilets where also no longer as tidy as they were in the early days. I didn’t use it so I really can’t comment on this.
The train could have done with a bit more detailing where cleaning is concerned though.
Getting off at Ibadan, I tried to buy my return ticket on the 4pm service so I could get a 1st class ticket and I was told they wouldn’t start selling tickets until 2pm. I wonder why.
I engaged one of the managers at the Ibadan station on my observations and you could tell he also was exasperated. None of my observations were new to him. They had reported these observations to their superiors several times and were hoping something would be done soon.
For a project that a loan was taken to execute, breaking even shouldn’t be the goal of the NRC, but profitability so that at least a portion of the profit can be used to pay back the loans.
There is too much money being left on the table.
- There is no reason this train should have only one 1st class coach sitting only 24 passengers and Biz class with 2 coaches sitting 124 people when there were several people (at least based on my own experience) willing to pay for the premium service.
- If it is too late to redesign the station to give the shopping spaces greater visibility, then the management needs to look at how they can redirect the flow of passengers so they pass through the shopping spaces making them more desirable. As they presently are, I wouldn’t rent a store there.
My conclusion was that this was a project that was done just to deliver an infrastructure project and was not one done from a business perspective.
While the former isn’t necessarily bad, for a country in dire straits like Nigeria and needing to take a loan to finance the project, the latter would have been more desirable.
Considering the fact that we still have several stations under construction, the NRC would do well to be a bit more business-minded in the operations. It would be a crime to see the quality of this service deteriorate or be lost outright due to funding issues.