September 17 – public transport Saturday

How about leaving the car at home and travelling in other dimensions? This is the question public transport day (Journée du transport public) is asking France on September 17. An intiative by GIE Objectif transport public, the theme of this year’s campaign is… connected mobility.

journee-du-transport_cover

From Alpes-Maritime to La Rochelle to Vienne, 2/3 of the public transport network (covering 3/4 of the Hexagon) are actively involved in this awareness raising effort (which, by the by, takes place during European Mobility Week).

The 150 initiatives essentially involve offering cut-price tickets and free unlimited travel. A number of participants are also launching and/or promoting digital services, e.g. SMS ticketing in Rouen, Wi-Fi in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, and real-time information in Dax and Antibes, amongst others.

Paris is conspicuous by its absence, but due to various reasons (unclear to Passion4Transport) it is simply taking a year out of the event, reassures GIE Objectif.

To reward networks for their communication action vis-à-vis existing passengers and actions to attract new, GIE Objectif is holding a competition offering eight awards in the categories of network information; new services; behaviour change; and the connected passenger.

Dans l’air du temps

“Connected mobility is in the air, yet digital devices need to be further developed as service tools, and the offers better coordinated and structured,” Jean-Luc Rigaut, president, GIE Objectif, told journalists on September 14, Paris.

He pointed out the role of connectivity in facilitating modal shift, particularly among the younger generation [Ed. see also Y4PT], as well as opening up opportunities to exploit innovation potential in the public transport sector.

According to a survey carried out by GIE Objectif, 95% of networks in France are currently proposing services linked to new technologies, e.g. mobile apps, journey planners, online/mobile ticketing, and real-time traffic information.

Another finding: from among public transport regulars, 70% are aware that digital tools are available and peceive them in a favorable light.

Nevertheless, only 22% of passengers in the know – under 35s, those living in big cities and middle management (cadres), in particular – actually use the tools, saying they don’t see the point. It’s hardly surprising. When given the chance, we humans do tend to be creatures of habit.

‘L’habitude tue l’imagination, il n’y a que les objets nouveaux qui la réveillent.’

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)

So the task ahead really involves boosting  awareness and uptake of the digital on offer. “Public transport is more practical with digital tools at your fingertips,” says Mr Rigaut. Yes, as long as you are comfortable with using them, connected, and… see the point.

Data – still open for debate

There is much appetite for the data stacking up from the digitalisation of public transport. Yet as networks follow the leads of LTA Singapore and Transport for London (TfL) and fling open up their vaults, there is concern in some quarters over who is best placed to manage this valuable asset, and how best to exploit it.

“We operators have no problem with open data if used by start-ups to develop services applications for public transport users,” says Jean-Pierre Farandou, president, UTP (Union des Transports publics et Ferroviaires).

“It’s not an issue for operators within UTP,” confirms Louis Nègre, president, GART, “but this isn’t the case when it comes to sharing economy actors like Uber – here we have to establish constructive partnerships.”

His fear? That once digital giants get their hands on the data, established authority-operator relationship and managemen of public transport may be seriously undermined, risking compromising the public good for the benefit of private interest.

The recent move by Google in the US – offering the city of Colombus ‘smart’ technology from its tech company Sidewalk Labs – is further fuelling the debate. Will Google gain private control of public data and services, and so take over the city’s transport system?

Little consolation, but the realm of public transport is not alone in facing this perceived threat to its established order and business models. Just about every other sector of the economy is feeling intimidated, too.

These days, something of a mix of the fear of sharks and the thrill of big-wave surfing pervades the executive suites we visit, when the conversation turns to the threats and opportunities arising from digitization.

Angus Dawson, Martin Hirt, & Jay Scanlan – The economic essentials of digital strategy

Changes in the air

Compared to running and travelling a car, using public transport is cheaper, generates less CO2 emissions, and the accident risk is far lower. Yet these benefits, while encouraging, are not enough to encite passengers on board.

People are more enclined to go places by public transport if it means travelling efficiently and without any unpleasant surprises, confirms a study carried out in Boston and San Francisco finds that

A happy customer is a regular customer. Keeping the public at the heart of public transport services and striving to offer the best is obviously the way to go. Multimodal offers, for instance, must be easy to understand and use, relevant, and reliable, which calls for perfect interoperability.

At the same time, as the sector goes increasingly digital, the core activity of operators, i.e. to physically transport people, is expanding to include the running of supporting services and applications.

“One thing’s for sure,” sums up Mr Farandou. “Tomorrow’s mobility will be shared, connected, increasing electric, and driverless.”

“Readily accessible information, thanks largely to mobile, is becoming the great democratizer of products and services.

“People no longer need to consider themselves singularly as a ‘car person’ or ‘health nut,’ but rather as an individual with complex, changing, and even contradictory needs. This challenges businesses to offer new levels of transparency and to consider partnering with competitors.”

Neela Sakaria, senior vice president, Latitude

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