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Redefining public transport: we cannot do it alone

There is no denying it: cities around the world are growing at an alarming rate. City leaders and those working in the public sector, are tasked with the incredible responsibility to adapt to this massive population densification to best meet the needs of the people.

For the public transport sector, this means keeping people moving, as efficiently and sustainably as possible. To answer this great challenge, we must ask ourselves, first and foremost: what is best for the people we serve?

This is essentially what inspired BBC StoryWorks in the production of a mini-documentary series filmed with our members, and what Mohamed Mezghani, UITP Secretary General, asks the audience to consider at the opening of the UITP Summit plenary session ‘Redefining public transport’.

Indeed, major challenges like these imply a redefinition of our business model. Mass public transport will—and must—remain the backbone around which all sustainable mobility solutions will thrive. However, “mass public transport projects cannot be the only answer to this rise in demand for more efficient mobility solutions”, said Mohamed.

This brings us to the question of new mobility actors that have quickly taken their place in the urban mobility market. These new mobility services, such as on-demand ride-hailing or car/bike/e-scooter-sharing schemes, have drastically changed the way we move.

“We will have to complement [mass transit] with new modes of public transport to answer the question of first mile/last mile,” said Manfred Rudhart, Chief Executive Officer, Arriva Plc, on the first panel of the session.

The real question is: how can we work together and integrate these services to provide a better mobility offer to customers and improve the quality of life in cities?

“We have to acknowledge that we cannot work alone, and stop thinking about who will be the system integrator”, said Sabrina Soussan, Chief Executive Officer, Siemens Mobility GmbH. “At the end of the day, everyone will play the role of integrator.

Despite differences in approach, it appears these big names in urban mobility did have one important thing in common: a shared vision of the future. “We have a simple, but provocative vision of a world that is free of traffic jams”, said Nat Parker, Chief Executive Officer, REACH NOW (formerly, moovel North America).

It seems that Uber, too, is committed to achieving this same goal: “We view ourselves as a complement to public transport and we share a common goal with public transport agencies,” said David Reich, Head of Transit, Uber, “which is to make individual transport a thing of the past.”

However, redefining public transport is more than just changing the business model and mobility offer for citizens. Policy and decision makers need to get on board and share this common vision with us.

Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport, explains how she sees the future: “I want people to enjoy their community and land, use it as public space where they can engage, meet, cooperate and co-create”, said Bulc. “In order to make these cities of the future, we’ll have to redefine the way public transport looks.”

The second panel of the session featured politicians and public transport authorities who could better answer the question of regulation in this redefining public transport process, basically, “who can ensure that the whole is better than its isolated parts?” asked Melinda Crane, Journalist & Presenter, and moderator for this second half of the session.

“In every city, either the sector leads the change, or the government leads the change”, said H.E. Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, Director General, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors, Roads and Transport Authority, Dubai. “In Dubai, RTA is leading the change.”

In Moscow, the goal is “to present the people who live in Moscow with the best choice for any different kind of transportation”, said Maxim Liksutov, Deputy Mayor & Head of the Department of Transport and Road Infrastructure of Moscow. He shared some of the city’s plans to improve the public transport offer, including more car-sharing systems which will replace about 140,000 cars in the Russian capital.

Finally, Catherine Guillouard, Chairwoman & Chief Executive Officer, RATP Group, explains how in Paris, they set aside venture capital specifically for start-ups to help innovation grow. She says, “If you think about the city of tomorrow you will have a versatile city. During the day you will have roads, but maybe at night it could become parking lot, or during the weekend a basketball court.”

What Guillouard imagines is more than just a redefinition of public transport… this is a redefinition of cities, transforming how we look at urban space. Redefining public transport is actually just a building block in the long process of creating a better, more sustainable future.

So how do we achieve it?

“It is with a people driven mindset that we will succeed in redefining public transport”, said Mohamed Mezghani, “to the benefit of all.”

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