Interview with UITP Secretary General, Alain Flausch

Interview with UITP Secretary General, Alain Flausch

From Milan to Montréal

Interview with UITP Secretary General, Alain Flausch

This year Canada will host the UITP Global Public Transport Summit. Why was Montréal selected?

  1. As you know, UITP’s biennial flagship event sees us visit a different city on each ocassion. The last three editions were held in Dubai, Geneva and Milan but we’re now heading to North America and the Canadian city of Montréal. Why? Well, it has a lot to do with the city’s recent achievements in developing public transport, which can be considered an historic success over the past few years.

The concerted efforts of the Québec government and Greater Montréal Area municipalities have yielded impressive results, driven in particular by the first Québec Public Transit Policy which aimed to increase services offered and ridership. Consequently, the Montréal region achieved, in 2013, an all-time ridership record of more than 725m passenger trips.

The 2017 Global Public Transport Summit will actually be the second time that Montréal has played host to the biggest event in public transport, the first occasion dating back to 1977. It will also be the third time that the event has visited Canada, with the event last visiting the country almost two decades ago in Toronto in 1999. 2017 will be an exceptional year for Montréal.

Not only will the city be celebrating its 375th anniversary, but it will also be the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.

Montréal metro has just celebrated its own 50th anniversary as well so, all in all, it’s an exciting time for the city.

What can we look forward to at the 2017 UITP Global Public Transport Summit?

  1. At the Summit we will see the international public transport community, transport ministers, mayors, industry CEOs and urban visionaries all come together to debate and explore the strategic vision of this dynamic sector.

The slogan of the 2017 edition, ‘Lead the TRANSITion,’ reflects the rapid changes that are currently underway in urban mobility. When we are facing such rapid urbanisation, increasing digitalisation, improvements in green technology and the arrival of new mobility players, our message is that the public transport sector cannot afford to stand on the side-lines and have its future determined only by others. One of the key topics that will be covered at the Summit is therefore to look at how autonomous vehicle technology and new transport services have the potential to completely redefine how authorities plan and improve public transport, but also how public transport is taking the lead in the deployment of autonomous mobility services. The Summit will focus on trends in digitalisation and the constant innovation that are together driving the need for new skills in the sector.

In order to continue serving the needs of customers, as well as stay competitive, public transport operators and manufacturers must adapt to – and even take part in developing – these new technologies, whilst dealing with challenges in cybersecurity.

 The public transport sector is driving innovative solutions, such as alternative propulsion systems, that are allowing for ever-greater energy efficiency.  

During the Summit a diverse range of industry leaders, including vehicle manufacturers and transport operators, will show how they are embracing these technologies and share cutting edge industry techniques. Throughout the programme, we’ll also be having a close look at the challenges of urban mobility in developing economies and there will be an entire day dedicated to exploring the North American public transport renaissance.

 Meanwhile, the 30,000m² exhibition will offer a real showcase for the very latest developments and innovations that the public transport industry has to offer. The previous edition in Milan attracted almost 300 exhibitors, offering a tangible glimpse at what the future of urban mobility has in store.

Montréal will be no different and numerous exhibitors are set to officially unveil their world premieres and there will also be a dedicated North America pavilion, providing a showcase of what the region has to offer. This is the place for public transport professionals to meet clients face-to-face, see what industry rivals are doing and create new business contacts.  

What’s happening more broadly in North American public transport?

What we are seeing is that North Americans are becoming more supportive of mass mobility. Not many people may realise this but in the recent US elections, 33 of the 48 local and state-wide public transit measures up for vote were approved, which is a very encouraging sign. Evolving demographic patterns, continued demand for a cleaner environment and a new willingness of governments to allocate funding for improvements and new projects are promising steps for the future of public transport in the region. Of the many ongoing projects, light rail transport really seems to have taken off in terms of popularity.

Today, cities like Los Angeles are returning to light rail as a way to address growing urbanisation. LA’s increasingly pedestrian-friendly downtown is accessible by public transport and has many other mobility projects in progress.

Beyond LA, some 30 cities in the US and Canada are working on light rail projects such as preserving existing lines, extending networks or creating brand new systems. Two notable projects are the Valley Line light rail project in Edmonton and the Evergreen Line extension in Vancouver. This renewed focus on rail in North America is combined with a growing interest in innovation, industry best practices as well as the maintenance and safety of ageing, legacy infrastructure. This topic will be covered during the Summit, where a dedicated North American day will explore these and other topics affecting the continent.

What does the future of urban mobility look like?

Over the last couple of years we have seen the rapid emergence of what we call ‘new mobility players’ onto the scene. Whether it’s ride-selling services, free-floating car-sharing, demand responsive shuttles or even autonomous cars, what’s clear is that the traditional ‘private vs public transport’ distinction is becoming increasingly blurred. The question now is how we best integrate these news services into a holistic, shared mobility offer. Despite what the car industry may say about autonomous cars, public transport will remain unbeatable for carrying large amounts of people on key corridors at peak hours.

There is a space and a demand for these new services in our cities and if we can successfully integrate urban and transport planning then we can steer the growth of public transport in complementarity with these services in a productive way. We can also expect greater efforts to ramp-up the electrification of public transport as we work towards the objective of low or zero carbon urban mobility; public transport is already 40-50% electric so there is still a way to go, particularly with buses. As the recent COP22 climate event illustrated, there is increasing recognition from policy makers for public transport to play the ‘backbone’ role in providing low or zero carbon mobility.

Finally, the buzzword of the day, ‘digitalisation,’ is also opening exciting new doors for public transport. The massive increase in data that is now available to public transport companies is allowing us to increasingly enhance customer service, whether it’s developing new apps or smart ticketing solutions. It’s also allowing us to be smarter: big data will allow us to better match supply and demand and to enhance our own operations. This is a major trend and will affect how public transport interacts with its customers, other transport modes and urban services.

It’s the beginning of an exciting journey.


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