While category ‘A’ stations have generally received large amounts of investment and are the absolute pinnacle of the industry, many mid- range stations are not maximising their revenue potential. This is partly due to the fragmented way development is implemented, but also due to the lack of ability to create an optimised layout.
Currently, a fragmented investment process is in place. It is obvious that there is an enormous amount of work to do and not everything can be fixed at once. So the temptation is to fix it in part, to form individual project task teams covering revenue protection, or gating, or waiting facilities, or CIS installations, or cycle shelters – the list is endless.
This solo working means that only the individual task at hand is implemented with specialists who deal with that singular discipline. The solutions they create are very credible but the wider picture is not being controlled effectively and a certain amount of ‘tripping up’ occurs. This can be detrimental to station development, but the main impact occurs to bottom line potential revenue.
So what is meant by ‘tripping-up’, and how does this occur?
It is when an engineering or improvement scheme, although perfectly executed, prevents further development due to poor planning and a lack of joined-up thinking. For example, gating schemes have blocked prime ‘grab & go’ retail expansion, cycle shelters have been placed in valuable development areas, and elements of plant often occupy the centre of rooms, wasting potential staff facility space. The most common offenders are the blank facades of staff or storage facilities placed on prime passenger routes.
The potential value in railway stations is phenomenal, but the issue is not just the odd square foot being wasted. Design Mad recently carried out a study on a number of category C stations. Taking one particular example, through a careful re-planning exercise within the existing station foot-print, the retail area was increased by some 24%, and passenger facilities by 28%. Then, with a new-build extension, the retail space was enlarged again from 24% up to a 38% increase in lettable area.
High street retail is all about customer manipulation. Fractions of margins translate into serious revenue, merchandising is highly controlled and every square foot of retail space has a value. In stations, the future is not just about finding and creating space – that’s easy – it’s about how the spaces interact, their hierarchy, the facility placement and fine- tuning to provide maximum total returns.
Stations are more complex than high street retail and the design strategy is moving to the next level of sophistication. Yes, retail tenants pay turnover rent, which in itself is an incentive, but there are also direct passenger revenues to consider; there is a lot more scope to come in passenger revenues and feeding the fare box.
Customers, not passengers
However, a very different attitude is required to achieve maximum revenue. The word ‘passenger’ (a person who is travelling) needs to be replaced by the word ‘customer’ (a person who purchases goods or services). This shift in thinking will help to create an optimised facility. That doesn’t mean a pressure selling environment, more of a structured environment into which an ordered process is implemented, placing facilities at the exact point of need in the customer journey or process. The more logical the process, the more relaxed customers are and the more inclined they are to enjoy the experience, spend and repeat their visit.
Consideration needs to be given also to the two types of customer journey, a ‘fast journey’ and a ‘slow journey’ through the station environment. This may sound overly simplistic, but the station has to be structured to cater for both types of journey – one time rich, the other time poor – and respond to the revenue opportunities these create. Facilities have to be in the right place as defined by a hierarchal order, customers don’t want to buy a coffee before they get their ticket.
Careful placement of a facility at the exact point of need will ensure customers are enticed and the returns are maximised. This is not just about providing spaces for retail or customer facilities to be retained within, it’s about ensuring a sophisticated web of placement or grouping of facilities is as optimised as it can be.
So how can a coordinated approach succeed when work is implemented in a cellular way?
There is an enormous amount of good work being already achieved in rail, but it is important to formulate a ‘master plan strategy’ for the more important stations. An overview – a future vision that provides a framework for controlling the development – is essential to ensure investment is optimised. With so much financial potential at stake, this piece of work has to be a sound business investment.
Written by Mike Arthur, director of specialist rail and transport design agency Design MAD