Public transport is a major ingredient of the city life

2013-05-29 08.53.06Interview with Alain Flausch, UITP Secretary General

Four years after the launch of the UITP strategy on doubling the public transport market share by 2025, PTx2, results are visible, as more and more countries are trying to adapt their lifestyle, investments and policies to increasing and developing public transport. The 60th edition of the International UITP Congress (Geneva, 26-30 May 2013), attracted more participants (+34%), from 78 countries. This indicates that the industry in the sustainable mobility sector expands rapidly and gains importance in terms of economic development. UITP has developed urban mobility scenarios for 2025 which accentuate the urgent need to improve the quality of the entire public transport system. According to scenarios, 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2025, which means that mobility needs in the urban area will increase by 50% (compared to 2005). Consequently, it will be necessary to transform mobility by promoting public transport, to deliver competitive services that would reduce the use of motorized transport means. It is also necessary to promote transport as essential element for attracting investments and social inclusion and to increase its popularity among citizens and suppliers.
To get into the details on the way in which the UITP strategy, PTx2, but also UITP’s latest approach on public transport (Grow with Public Transport), are understood by the authorities, operators and users, the differences between regions in stimulating public transport, the promotion of these services as economic and social importance, the need to attract investments and the place of electric transport, we have discussed with Alain Flausch, UITP Secretary General, in an interview for Railway Pro.


RailwayPRO: How comes this new brand “Grow with Public Transport” and what is meant to be new compared to PTx2?
Alain Flausch: The idea was that PTx2 was very well understood by the people of the transport community, but it didn’t mean much to politicians, decision-
makers, PTx2 is a nice name, but it can hardly mean something for the general public and for the decision-makers. So in order to maintain the momentum of the PTx2 strategy, we thought it would be interesting to create a more popular type of label, of motto, so we looked around for “to grow with” and we played with it and the idea was to have a friendly picture of people using public transport, being into a public transport environment. It actually came from my previous job, when I was CEO of STIB in Brussels, we had a campaign also with people, a very successful campaign in the city, and I transferred it here in a different way, because it used to be coloured, here is black and white, on purpose, just to make it different and it can be a very nice way to federate all the public transport companies. As you may know, we are going to organise during the third week of September, during the European Mobility Week, a day where we hope that many of our members will use that campaign to post on the flank of either tramways or buses and then we will also make a TV video showing that all over the world on that day of that week, many public transport operators will be using this and will make the argument for public transport.

RailwayPRO: At the same time, do you think that this campaign should be a standard all over the world or it can be adapted?
Alain Flausch:  It is adapted. It is not just about the UITP, it can be used by all local public transport operators. Of course they can choose the type of picture, the only requirement that we have is that they stay in the same area. For instance, in Portugal they hired a very nice girl, who looks very Portuguese, but they kept exactly the same format. So basically, the UITP doesn’t care about whether it is in Romania or in Belgium, but if one sees RATP in Paris together with UITP, at least we can do an event of the fact that everybody is using this campaign. So there will be a world movement to some extent.

RailwayPRO: Because of the financial crisis that is already expanding on five years, did you notice if there is a tendency in emerging countries of reducing public transport?
Alain Flausch:  PTx2 is supposed to stimulate the entire transport sector, there are plenty of places in the world where ri-dership has grown and there are more and more people with no car. For example, in Brussels, the ridership has doubled in 10 years and the trend continued in France, in Germany etc., not at the same pace, of course.

RailwayPRO: Unfortunately, in Romania, and in Eastern Europe in general, the trend is going down, the number of trips has reduced, especially in public transport.
Alain Flausch:  That is special to your region, but it is also because you have started very high. I remember in the Czech Republic, public transport had 80% and then it went down because the car was gaining momentum, but that’s something that will stop. At some point in time, car meant freedom, especially after the communist era, which was more collective than individual. In 2001, I went to Poland and I met the Minister of Transport and listened to his speech and he was talking about having received EU funds. 97% of it was dedicated to roads and infrastructure rehabilitation and, indeed, the whole road system was in poor shape, so I thought it was normal to invest in roads. But then I told him that it was ok to do that with the first EU funds, but that they shouldn’t do the same mistakes that we did in Brussels in the 60s and the 70s in relying on cars and buses. He said that, from the political viewpoint, he couldn’t do differently, but today Poland is investing in public transport.

RailwayPRO: In Romania it is difficult to introduce regular bus services to the suburbs of a city or to its neighbouring villages because of the poor shape of roads and this is a problem for operators.
Alain Flausch:  This is exactly UITP’s belief, that there is no universal solution and no universal situation, the situation in Eastern Europe is different from Western Europe, it’s different from the USA, from Asia, from Africa and every time our goal is to try and find common grounds and try to take examples and recipes from other places.

RailwayPRO: But I think it is important to compare present times instead of past-present times, as I was talking with some of the participants, they compared Eastern Europe with Germany in the 60s or 70s so in 2013, I don’t want to imagine that Eastern Europe will only be there in 2050…
Alain Flausch:  No, you will go much faster…When you look at the Chinese or the Indians, they have developed very ra-pidly and they don’t have the same background as you do, Eastern Europe was a very developed region in the past. They go fast, but they don’t go deep. The Chinese are making mistakes, they think that they know, but I think they should have taken more time to absorb the knowledge. I believe it is different in Eastern Europe, because it was a solid ground there and it is still there and I think you will be able to catch up very much faster.

RailwayPRO: I remember an analysis I’ve seen two years ago regarding the Chinese public transport market and the share of public transport was 15-20%. A large share of individual transport went to bicycles and a little share to the car. In time, the share of private cars went up shrinking that of bikes and public transport remained more or less the same. So when people found out they had money, they chose private cars, at least this is my explanation.
Alain Flausch: Yes, but today in Europe the bike has come up dramatically. Because when people don’t want to go by car because they think it is too congested, the fastest way to move in a city is the bike.

RailwayPRO: In order to help develop public transport, do you think that a more regulated or unregulated market would be helpful for getting access to funds?
Alain Flausch:  I don’t think that non-regulation would help funding public transport easier. I think that some sort of non-regulation is interesting in terms of efficiency, because if you have to make profit out of a contract, obviously you’ll be careful with spending the money. Also, if you are responsible for your net profit, you’ll take care of your client more than if you are in a monopoly situation, the old public monopolies have been very bad in terms of client orientation. So, some sort of non-regulation is useful, but public transport is a major ingredient of the city life so it has to be done in a framework which is defined by the state or by the region or by the city, which then can tender part of the service, but in a logistic approach, because territorial space is very important. So, I’m kind of a promoter of the type of the regulation that Europe is promoting that is a choice for the competent authority either to give the business to its in-house operator or the right to have some sort of tendering in a regulated manner. I think the French are doing fine, I think the British are doing fine and I see that the German model is also efficient. I’m not sure that there is one-size-fits-all. It’s a choice that politicians should make and it has been quite successful in Germany and in England as well.

RailwayPRO: But, in all these countries that you’ve mentioned, also in Belgium and Denmark, the public authority is very involved in the design of the network, in setting the routes and maybe even in setting the timetable compared to the actual trend in Eastern Europe where because there is no money, the public authority wants to withdraw…
Alain Flausch:  Yes, but I think it’s a pity…because if you just go commercial, there are plenty of people who will want a good service and I think the state should not bend on this, it is the role of the city, of politicians to design the city, what sort of city do I want, do I want everybody to move, there is a right to move and if you relegate people in places where they cannot move, then you will have the case of the suburbs around Paris where people are poor and there is violence and so on. I think that the social inclusion part of transport is also important and that is a duty of the state and it requires money, of course, but it is a choice. If you don’t provide people with transportation than you get in other troubles, as collateral damages.

RailwayPRO: The existence of the actual transport service is sometimes more important than the comfort inside the vehicles, if you don’t find a bus, or a tram or a train in your station, there’s no use if the vehicles are fitted with WiFi…
Alain Flausch:  It is our right to go to school, it is our right to go to work, to move, it is one of the fundamental rights that we have.

RailwayPRO: Based on your experience as head of a transport operator, do you think that promoting the existing transport services and attracting people to public transport will make public transport more popular or we only have to wait for investments, to complain about poor services to suburbs and in cities? In Eastern Europe, the current pressure is to be commercially efficient rather than a tool for social inclusion.
Alain Flausch:  It should be a mix; it is a pity to go one way or the other. An only social service is not the way we want to convince even richer people to use public transport. Public transport is a mode of transportation for everybody. The state should, at the same time, enhance and stimulate client orientation, but they should continue to subsidize public transport in some parts of the cities where the service is not competitive. Unfortunately, the national institutions, we’ve seen this now even in Western Europe, have this new recipe of cutting everything, but cutting the state subsidies has led to recession. Obviously, the state may need to have some savings. Personally, I think that the recipe of institutions such as the IMF has led us to recession. There are two things that I can say in that regard: regarding operators, at some level we have to maintain the service because we do not want to relegate the people away from society. It is a choice. Public transport and mobility used to be considered a second choice, first there was health, education and so on. Today, we have to review this priority; we have to admit that mobility is a priority too. Some of the money that was given to education or to health also makes some savings because social security is awfully expensive, so if we were running social security more efficiently, maybe we would have some money spared for mobi-lity. In the past 12 years, I’ve seen that there is a change in the government priorities, at least in some countries. Suddenly, because of congestion and under the pressure of the citizens and climate change, there is now a pressure on the politicians. Mobi-lity is now an irritating issue that they have to fix. I’m very convinced that there are public service obligations and that those public service obligations are just a duty that the payer and the user are financing, even if the taxpayer is paying more than the user to maintain the social peace of the city.

RailwayPRO: Nowadays electric buses have become quite fashionable. Since we are at the beginning of this services and taking in consideration the experience that we have with the trams and the metros, do you think that is should be a standardization or should we let every city to decide what it’s best for them?
Alain Flausch:  It’s the chicken and the egg situation there. The manufacturers are ready to produce electric cars and electric buses but there is no infrastructure to make that choice. I believe that there is a draft regulation according to which every country will be forced to have the minimal infrastructure, for example Germany would have 3,000 places to load your electric car. Once you have this minimal standardized infrastructure, then people can go with this choice and buy electric cars and public transport operators will also buy first hybrid and then full-electric buses. But first of all we need the infrastructure and then the market would develop.

RailwayPRO: But are you confident that electric traction will be successful in the next decade?
Alain Flausch:  My perception is that there is a strong push to electric mobility. In Vienna, for instance, they have set for themselves targets of passing from 49% of electric mobility today to 60% in ten years. It’s becoming really a target for the city to try to reach that percentage, which is very good. I believe we have to do it, we have to move to electric buses on the long-run. In the meantime, I’ve seen that Volvo is developing hybrids, they think that they will be valid in ten years and that full electric buses will not be a solution before and I think they are right. When you see the savings that you can do in consumption with hybrid buses, I think it is really worth trying. There is also the biogas. In the north of France in Lille they have a plant which uses the waste to make gas for 200 buses.

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