Monday, September 04, 2006

Pringles and Pharaohs

When I did my grad school work, one of the topics I was interested in was urban transportaion, particularly subway systems. The first thing I found out is that almost none of them made any money! Even huge systems like New York, Moscow, Boston, always ended up in the red. I couldn't believe it - the same is true incidentally for essentially all types of mass transit, none of them turn a buck.

Except for two systems. One is in Toyko, the other is Cairo, Eqypt. Cairo makes money because the officials who invested in the system were businessmen. They couldn't afford to drop billions of dollars in public money and have the system be a failure; they made it cheap to ride, and brutally eliminated all above ground competition - cut bus routes, restricted taxi zones, etc. so people were forced to take the subway. And it worked; as the only subway in Africa, it is a smashing success.

In such cases, necessity is the mother of invention. It's beautiful when it works. Compare that to some of the things pouring out of America, like Pringles and GoGurt, where invention seems to be the mother of necessity. And for green computing? Forget it. You won't find a lot of answers in America. We're too rich, too full of Pringles and GoGurt to care a lot. We've got some good players, yes, but look abroad for bleeding edge innovation. Because they need to be.

Which brings me to my article today, from CIO Asia which seriously looks at how much money they could be saving in IT operations. These are the conferences where you will see numbers like 80, 90 percent IT cost savings thrown around like teenyboppers in a mosh pit. They are serious.

1 comment:

B said...

The goal of public transportation is not to turn a profit, but to move as many people as possible. As such, if a public transport system is turning a profit, then they're doing something wrong---they have money left over that could be used to expand service. The systems you list are gigantic, constantly evolving, and absorb public money to keep running, which all sounds like a healthy system.

I'm posting this partly because the `public transportation should be profitable' principle is sometimes used to cut services. [I recall Chicago did this a few years ago.] The privatization harpies will deny it, but getting people around town efficiently is a worthy use of public funds.