Public transport in cities faces a growing number of challenges, says UITP (International Association of Public Transport) secretary general Mohamed Mezghani.
The first is a growing urban population with increasing demand for mobility. With 50% of the world’s population living in cities, it means that the demand for mobility will grow, says Mezghani.
“This means the need to develop large public transport systems, within shorter time frames.”
Mezghani says it is taking too long to develop public transport systems, with the process often too bureaucratic.
“It also takes too long to launch tenders, to choose suppliers and build [these systems].”
Another challenge is the diverse demographics of cities, which means that different people have different expectations, also in terms of transport – for example, the old versus young, or women, who are sometimes in need of safe transport, such as travelling in their own train carriages.
Growing car ownership is another challenge, notes Mezghani. Not only do cars cause traffic congestion, they also emit harmful emissions.
“We need to rediscover the health benefits of public transport.”
While electromobility will perhaps solve the air pollution issue, it will not impact traffic congestion.
“A green traffic jam is still a traffic jam. Something like teleworking means we can avoid congestion.”
The rise of digitalisation and connectivity also mean the advent of technologies such as driverless metro trains and self-driving cars, which require a mind-shift within a city’s management and its inhabitants.
For example, households may, one day, no longer need their own cars, as they can access ride-hailing services.
Another challenge is that cities must realise that traditional supply-led public transport networks, with fixed routes and stops, remain essential for any metropolis, as this forms the backbone of any system that has to move large amounts of people.
However, shared economy public transport options are often viewed as the more friendly option, as they are flexible, on-demand systems, with a range of new actors challenging the traditional model.
However, says Mezghani, “the shared economy has its limits”.
The new public transport model sees a mix of old and new players, with traditional players often partnering with startups to diversify their offering.
“So, we are moving from mass transit to shared mobility. Mass transit is now only a part of public transport.”
The UITP’s definition of public transport includes ride-sharing, chartered service and carpooling, for example – “any mode that is not for individual use”, says Mezghani.
However, this new mix on offer creates its own set of challenges, he adds.
Mass transit public transport will have to up its game and focus more on service excellence, instead of merely supplying an operational fleet in a take-it-or-leave-it manner.
Cities will have to manage the merging of these old and new public transport systems by means of a new governance model, including a new regulatory environment defining each player’s role and, perhaps, also allocating territory to each player.
“It is becoming more complex, with more actors operating some form of transport,” says Mezghani. “There is no universal solution. Each city will have to look at its own strengths and the popularity of each service.”
Mezghani notes that the cost structure of urban transport is also changing, as digitalisation, electromobility and automation alters the landscape. For example, automated driverless trains mean less drivers. Electric buses requires a change at a city’s bus depot, with fuel pumps to be replaced by charging stations.
One sobering fact Mezghani shares, is that for a city such as Paris to change its 5 000 diesel buses to electric buses, it would require the electricity supply similar to a city of 80 000 inhabitants.
“Cities will have to negotiate with electricity suppliers, they can’t just make the change themselves.”
A new public transport model also opens up the opportunity for a new funding model.
This model could see everyone who benefits from public transport contribute by funding public transport projects.
For example, says Mezghani, a new metro line can be funded by all those who would benefit from the line. In one such project in Canada it was estimated that land about 500 m from the station should see a 13% to 15% growth in land value, which meant the city could collect tax on the land and real estate to make the metroline possible.
This tax was collected as soon as the developer secured a construction permit.
A new public transport model also requires a new skill set, concludes Mezghani. Public transport operators now require skills in areas such as data analytics and cybersecurity.
“However, public transport is often not viewed as a very attractive sector. We need to strengthen public transport as an employer brand.”