Transporting Marseille

Clean tech buses, floor space dedicated -to start-ups, exhibitors making hashtag statements on the future of mobility, and a change in attitude towards la petite reine…. At this year’s French public transport fair in Marseille, Passion4Transport (P4T) gauged the temperature of a sector in disruption…

RNTP17_first in article_Oct 2017

“At the dawn of the third mobility revolution, new players are appearing with an extremely militant discourse on mobility.” Thomas Barbelet, group executive director, brand & communication, Keolis, explained at length why the group has revamped its logo (which, by-the-by, was designed by Saguez & Partners, the same design firm behind the controversial ‘inOui’ rebranding of the French high-speed TGV).


“We want to establish ourselves as a more militant brand, as a pure player of new shared mobility services,” said Mr Barbelet. Keen to reaffirm its mode-agnostic positioning, the group sees the future ecosystem panning out as a combination of mass transport modes (metro, tram, bus) and on-demand shared electric services.

“Urban cable works.” This was the message from Christian Bouvier, vice president, POMA, who gave P4T the lowdown on two French systems his company is delivering. One is the 3km line for Toulouse, which will link up a cancer research centre, a  hospital and university, spanning over the river Garonne along the way. “Not a tourist route, but genuinely designed for everyday use, it connects directly with the metro, coach station and buses, so is part and parcel of the public transport network,” said Mr Bouvier.

In the process of finalising the studies, POMA expects to start construction in 2018.

3_Urban cable_Orleans
Source: Agence Duthilleul/Orléans Métropole

Building of the urban cable system for the city of Orléans (above) is due to kick off at end-2017. The 600-metre link may be short, but it’s crucial; by flying over a swathe of railway tracks, the cable will join up a district-in-the-making to an existing mainline rail station.

Plan Book Ticket by Kisio Digital is an all-in-one mobile app for all public transport and shared modes.


As its name suggests, the app covers the whole travel ‘experience’ from journey planning to buying and receiving/storing tickets. What makes it a particularly valuable tool for operators are functions designed to tackle fraud.

“A coloured bar [photo above] on the screen shows if the ticket is valid, which is an easy and direct visual message for controllers, plus its barcode changes every three seconds,” explained Simon Hupont, product manager, Kisio Digital. The solution is already deployed in the French city of Montargis.

Facilitating access to public transport, providing information in-your-pocket, and queue busting are among the passenger-orientated strengths of mobeePASS.


Based on NFC HSE architecture and complying with Calypso standards, this mobile app for purchasing and validating public transport tickets “requires no heavy investment, e.g. for the validators, since it’s designed to function with existing infrastructure,” says Dominique Descolas, CEO, digimobee. “The operating costs are extremely attractive. To date, it is up and running in the French city of Nice, with others in the pipeline.

Sylvie Cassan, director of BIM projects for Région France at engineering firm SYSTRA, sat down with P4T to discuss Building Information Modelling (BIM).

TAE section aérienne avec station et aménagement
Above ground section of the Toulouse Aerospace Express (TAE) with station & installations ©SYSTRA

A relatively new method of modelling for transport, BIM enables the design of structures in the form of digital models, allowing visualisation of the progress of a project at any time; the models also serve as references further down the line.

“It delivers benefits not only at the design stage, but most importantly for the entire life cycle of a piece of infrastructure, even going so far as dismantling,” said Ms Cassan. “The approach makes projects more robust faster, as well as responding to sustainability concerns.”

Toulouse Tunnels et systèmes
Tunnel section of the TAE / ©SYSTRA

SYSTRA is using BIM on the Grand Paris Express (new-build automatic metro), as well as Bogota metro and Crossrail in London. It also received a silver award from the Fédération CINOV in 2017 for its work on the third line of Toulouse metro, the Toulouse Aerospace Express (TAE). Recognition that clearly delights Ms Cassan. “It involved 25km of BIM including 20 stations, plus we implemented the method right from the preliminary study phase.”

The company is currently using BIM for the first time on a high-speed line – the Ostlänken in Sweden.

Talking about the development of urban cable service worldwide, Christoph Grob, marketing & sales manager at builder CWA Constructions, insisted on the importance of quality systems. He also agreed that while in Europe people are averse to the idea of cabins flying over their houses and gardens, in other regions, inhabitants of cities like La Paz, Bolivia, or example, find this prospect far less of an issue.

As well as Nimbyism, the role of public consultation, of course, also plays a big part in whether cable systems fly or are grounded – do the city authorities ask people what they think, or tell them it’s happening?

After taking a ride on the autonomous shuttle operated by Transdev

RNTP17_Transdev 2

… P4T put some questions to the group’s head of autonomous vehicle (AV) prototype resources, Jean-Christophe Smal (pictured below).

RNTP17_Transdev 1

He said the company’s autonomous division, created in February 2016, aims to become an expert in this fast-developing transport segment. As part of the plan, also up its sleeve are ‘robo-taxis’.

A fleet of five autonomous cars, which include two Renault Zoe models, will enter a pilot phase in the French city of Rouen, February 2018.

What about issues like insurance (Matmut is on board the robo-taxi project)? “Insurers want to be sure they can find the cause of a problem, should it arise,” said Mr Smal. “They want to avoid situations where the object at fault can’t be identified.”


During a press conference, outspoken GART president Louis Nègre made some interesting remarks on topical issues.

“Given that drivers represent 70 to 80% of the payroll for public transport operators, we are in favour of AVs. But while the technology is highly advanced, current testing doesn’t reflect real-life conditions. The US is ahead of the game, but in France we have the engineers and the capacity.”

On the ecotax (a proposed road charge for heavy goods vehicles in France, which appears to have been abandoned), he urged French decision-makers to “look what’s happening elsewhere, in Switzerland, Sweden for example. This approach isn’t the only possibility for financing transport infrastructure.”

“There are just three bus builders in the world today that can do it all – BYD, Bolloré, and Tesla,” says Bertrand Berger commercial director, BYD France (left in photo below, with after sales manager François Pallier). And when it comes to batteries, with 25 years’ experience under its belt, the company, is confident it delivers on all fronts – performance, reliability, and security.

RNTP17_BYD France

To boost its European capacity, in 2017, the firm has opened new plants in Komarom, Hungary, and in Beauvais, outside Paris.

COP21 in 2015, it seems, was the moment Wang Chuanfu, chairman of the BYD Company, decided France is one of the places to be for developing its electric bus business. Other factors include the government’s desire to shift the country’s transport towards electromobility, with buses in the front line,.

What about the afterlife of batteries? We use Lithium Iron Phosphate, which is the safest technology available today,” said Mr Berger. “While the service life of a bus is around 15 years, the batteries can have a second life powering fork lift trucks, for instance, or trucks operating in mines, or vehicles on airport runways, and even a third life storing solar or wind energy.

“The battery recycling sector is developing in parallel and is complementary to e-mobility,” he added.

Change in the air: “Two years ago, at the last edition of this trade fair, there was the same atmosphere, we heard the same speeches as in the past. This time round something’s different,” Olivier Razemon, journalist with Le Monde and the blogger behind ‘L’interconnexion n’est plus assurée’, told P4T.


“Both in the conferences and among the big players like SNCF, RATP, UTP, the GART, and public authorities, people are taking cycling seriously, whereas before it was considered a joke. Now they are considering the mode as a bona fida part of the mobility mix.”

Why this shift in attitude? He suggests it might have something to do with French president Emmanuel Macron having mentioned bikes in July 2017, when he announced the country’s love affair with big transport infrastructure projects (high-speed rail/TGV) was over; that it’s now time to focus on everyday mobility needs.

“Also, perhaps the government realises they don’t have the budget anymore, which explains this drive to do ‘more with less’ – and cycling fits in well here!” he added.

“Of course this doesn’t mean everyone is expected to get on their bike,” he pointed out. “The goal is simply to encourage a greater percentage of the population – living in both cities and the country – to adopt cycling for trips when feasible.”

Umbrella Marseille_2014




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