IEB: which city in the world has the cheapest subway system?
A clever reader: Tehran! otherwise why should you have started an Iranian economic newsletter with this question?!
IEB: Wrong! The correct answer is “Pyongyang”.
Sadly, North Korean capital beats Tehran subway price to make it the second world’s cheapest public transport system.
But only to some extends. There is a big difference: although a metro ticket in Pyongyang costs 5 PKW (about 0.006 USD), this applies to local passengers only. While Tehran subway ticket costs 15000 rials (0.06 USD) regardless of the passenger’s nationality.
It goes without saying that how internationalized we are!
Unfortunately, despite all the effort our government is making to bring us closer to our rival (by worsening the exchange rate), it might not be very easy for Tehran subway to catch up.
Ride two trains with one ticket
Therefore, we thought of some creative solutions to make our subway system more famous and cheaper globally.
We concluded that if Tehran Metro Company adds very few elements to its service, it can really become unique in the world, if not in the universe.
Here it’s how: Imagine that you are sitting in a train, and all of a sudden power goes off. While you have no clue as to what is going on and you have already (slightly) panicked, imagine some horror figures jump in front of you, in semi-absolute darkness.
Now, for the same ticket price, instead of being on a normal urban train, you are in a “ghost train”, which certainly will be the cheapest one ever!
A reader might consider our suggestion suitable for a sci-fi movie only; arguing that in a real world, no subway train power would go off completely because back up generators would supply emergency power, etc.
In February 2018, the Power Company of Mehrshahr, cut off the power supply to some of the metro stations to force the transportation company to clear its debts. It took more than two hours until the power was reconnected, i.e. the debts were paid. Even the signaling system was left without power. No sci-fi, no movie, no imagination, 100% real!
But why we are bringing such an old story up now? Because in those days, Tehran Metro Company was having its best days and was still unable to pay its debts. What are they going to do now that they are facing some of the hardest economic times ever?!
Tehran subway in its best days
Stepping into subway stations in Tehran, it is impossible not to notice that almost all advertisement banners and billboards are empty. Even in trains, there is no ads to be seen, whereas we used to have hanging ads on grab handles. Today we just hang on the boring handles!
Oh, no! We don’t hang anymore. Because trains are so empty that very often you have a place to sit. (Indeed, it’s not a good idea to be on a ghost train while standing.)
Since the Coronavirus outbreak, many people tend not to use public transportation, in particular avoiding the subway system where the air circulates in closed areas, not to mention those who work from home. That’s perhaps why companies decided not to install their advertisements where very few people come across.
We walked through different stations in Tehran and our observations show that about 92 percent of dedicated places for ads were empty.
That means that Tehran Metro Company’s income from selling ads should currently be around 11.8 billion rials per month, from previously 145 billion rials/month.
Tehran Metro in its non-corona days was transporting more than 2.5 million passengers per day. Considering how low ticket prices are, it never brought them more than 37.5 billion rials. Now its income from tickets has been reduced as well.
So, if Tehran subway was already unable to recover its expenses when it was using all its capacities, how could we expect it does so now? That is why we thought of a solution to turn the threat into an opportunity.
Some studies show that scary movies in general are among the most profitable genres. If this is the case, why Tehran Metro Company should not use the opportunity to increase its income with just very little effort?
Well, some passengers may pass out and the author of this newsletter is certainly among the first ones. However, considering it as a “Public-Private” project, as residents we have to have our share of sacrifice too. In the end as Tehrani people, we will have the global (and most probably universal) cheapest ghost train!