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If someone asks me what is the business project that you would like to see in Saudi Arabia before you die! Although I have some projects in mind, I would say that I would like to see and use a metro or underground system in our cities! (If, by any chance, there is someone reading this post from London, Paris, or even Cairo, please stop laughing :()
Today, it has been announced that the constructions of ‘Riyadh metro’ has just begun. A 36 stations light transit railway project is on the way as reported by Arab News. Although some specific details about the project have been provided in this press release (e.g. distances between stations, stations number on each route, passenger capacity, etc …), there is no mentioning whatsoever about the project time plan (no comment!!)
Anyway, if this project is really coming (God only knows when??) I would not really brag about it a lot because it is coming too, and I mean tooooooo, late. Our main cities (Jeddah and Riyadh in particular) are suffocating for many years now under huge car traffic and lack of organized public transportation in its simplest forms (bus system, or even controlled taxi cars.) I always wonder how is it possible for our cities to reach this miserable level of public transportation given that they have been constructed, as modren cities, in the last 40 years or so. Just put in your mind that the first underground system has been built in London in 1863 (yes, you read right, it is 1863!!)
Moreover, I always find it intriguing to the mind to imagine what will happen if we finally got ourselves a metro? How Saudis will react to this entirely new concept in their lives (again, London, Paris, and Cairo people; stop laughing once and for all!!) Will Saudis abandon their cars in exchange for public transportation system? I know a lot of Saudis who do not use underground systems when visiting big cities in Europe or America and they still prefer to rent a car or use expensive taxies instead.
I believe this issue would be a very interesting marketing case to study. We, Saudis, tend to developed a certain mix of specialties about the way we look at our society and the way we evaluate new products and services entering our country. We have a mental association between public transportation and low class workers. We do not pay much respect to time in our daily lives, so how are we going to deal with a system entirely based on timing and accuracy. The car in Saudi Arabia is not only a mean of transportation, it is more of a mirror to our social ranking (this is a global view to cars but it is certainly more emphasized in Saudi.) In addition to that, the social barriers will start to come into play; shall we have separate trains for women? May be separate stations? If not, how are we going to sit in these trains? You are not suggesting my daughter will be standing next to a strange teenager in there now, are you? What about our VIPs, can we have VIP metro trains as well? Will the trains be operating during the pray time?
Now all these are normal and expected barriers; normal in the sense that the cultural background of a market is always the most difficult barrier to address in marketing. The solution will lay in the strategy used by the government to promote such public transportation project and how it will brand it. Anyway, this could be a future post when we really have such a system.