IT-TRANS interview with Sylvain Haon, UITP Director Knowledge & Membership Services and responsible for the IT-TRANS conference programme
What is the focus of the 2016 IT-TRANS and what can we expect?
SH: IT-TRANS 2016 is about smart travellers and smart systems. There’s a growing emphasis on the customer within the public transport sector and the amount of data available is changing the sector. It’s changing how we operate, how public transport businesses are run, the way we deal with our customers and it’s leading to greater efficiency. From the customer’s perspective, greater access to information means lower barriers to public transport and greater accuracy about our services, other mobility services and city services as a whole. IT-TRANS 2016 will be heavily focused on the customer: with data we can know and understand the customer better and can as a consequence plan and provide better services.
What have the developments in IT been since the last edition in 2014?
SH: The proliferation of data is enabling public transport to better plan the way it operates based on better knowledge of the customer. This is nothing radical, just an acceleration of a process that was already in motion. Data is also leading to new and disruptive services – for example, ridesharing – thanks to IT. Automated vehicles are also part of the equation. From public transport’s perspective though, what we’re seeing is a constant questioning of the sector’s positioning with regards to new service providers.
The amount of data available to public transport networks is huge. Should public transport work with others with this data or go it alone and take the urban lead?
SH: I think working with others is definitely the best approach. Public transport companies can own their data and their systems and take a lead but at the same time use a collaborative approach and work with others to develop new systems.
Should public transport be worried about the emergence of new mobility providers?
SH: These new mobility providers may represent a certain competition for public transport in the sense that they are attracting the attention of political decision makers.These services will eventually find their place within the urban mobility landscape and a certain complementarity with traditional public transport services. For this to happen there needs to be a clearly defined framework as to the scope of their activities. However it should be noted that, a strong public transport network is, and will remain, the ‘backbone’ of efficient urban transport and this is where we need to invest.
The event will also be looking at the digital customer experience – how will this change and should public transport fear losing its customer-facing role with the arrival of new players on the scene?
SH: Public transport’s relationship with its customers is changing rapidly due to the knowledge available about them but also because customer expectations are evolving: in a word, they’re becoming more demanding. The amount of transport apps available now means customers have ever greater expectations about public transport.The public transport companies will still retain the customer interface but opportunities are also opening up to work with others.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to the ‘open data’ approach? Is it a potential revenue stream for public transport?
SH: The advantage for public transport of opening up its data is that it accelerates the ability to provide customers with timely and relevant information about their journeys, though public transport needs to ensure that certain safeguards are in place when sharing their data. The risk for public transport is that the market will not provide all the services that an operator wants to give its customers which means public transport operators and authorities need to play a significant role. As to whether public transport should sell its data, the sector is still exploring the various potential business models. Even if public transport companies chose not to open their data there is a risk that the data will be taken anyway which, from public transport’s perspective, is the worst case scenario as they’d lose control.
Smart cities are also on the agenda – what makes a city smart and how does a smart city make for better public transport?
SH: A smart city integrates public transport better into the wider urban fabric.The smart cities concept is all about integration enabled to a large extent – although not entirely – by data and IT.
Finally, why should people come to IT-TRANS 2016?
SH: IT-TRANS is the only place where people from across the industry can come and see how IT can practically and efficiently improve public transport and urban mobility and make it more sustainable. It’s where public transport operators, authorities, manufacturers, developers come to discuss the practical applications of IT and the outlook for the future.