Despite cuts in funding across Europe, Jens Mullak, the UK managing director of INIT, believes that new technologies can enable cost savings

After entering the UK market a decade ago, German technology firm INIT was keen to expand and establish a permanent base with a new headquarters for its UK-based operations.

With a number of major customers based nearby, it was perhaps logical that Nottingham became the UK home of INIT, however Jens Mullak, the managing director of the UK business, admits that there were other more pragmatic reasons.

“We are based in Karlsruhe in Germany and it just so happens that Karlsruhe’s twin city is Nottingham,” he reveals. “There was some gentle persuasion from the city fathers, but it has proved to be the right choice for us.”

Indeed both Nottingham and Karlsruhe have plenty in common when it comes to transport. The German city is well known for its innovative transport network that pioneered the use of tram trains that blend the traditional boundaries between light and heavy rail. Meanwhile, Nottingham not only has a growing light rail system, but has two local bus operators that have taken the coveted UK Bus Operator of the Year Award.
It is also, according to recent research, the UK’s least car dependent city.

Of course away from the more physical aspects of public transport operations, technology is playing an ever bigger part in the transport picture and INIT’s man in the UK is keen to exploit that. “There’s a trend in the UK towards better integration between transport modes and tools that will improve the quality of service,” says Mullak “I think there is further potential in terms of optimisation and more sophisticated tools.”

However, he admits that the UK market is very different to many of the other markets around the world in which INIT works, simply as there is greater private sector involvement, particularly in the bus industry. “There must be a business case for every investment you undertake,” Mullak adds. “Our job is to create awareness of the potential to deliver cost savings and quality improvement.”

Mullak points to the recently introduced AVLC system at Nottingham City Transport. Supplied by INIT, this sophisticated system has not only improved service quality on a day-to-day basis by allowing improved management of the vehicle fleet, but the data is also being manipulated to create real-time running schedules for routes that reflect the actual rather than theoretical realities of modern bus operation.

“They’ve effectively gone from using pencil and paper to this new technology,” Mullak adds. “For them this technology has become ‘mission critical’ after a really short time. The technology is giving them the tools to radically improve service quality.”

He believes that this use of technology to realise a whole host of benefits will become increasingly widespread in the coming years. Mullak points to the increasing dominance of smartphone apps in everyday life and how they are transforming customer service and realising significant efficiencies for businesses.

“When I go to London and need a taxi I don’t spend time trying to hail one on the street,” he says. “There’s an app and it means that I can get on with some work or continue my meeting and I know that the cab will be there waiting for me at the end. It makes my life more efficient and it also makes things more efficient for the taxi company. It’s a win-win for both the customer and the business, but can public transport offer that level of convenience in the future?”

However, despite a background of continuing austerity that is constraining investments across Europe, Mullak believes that technology is actually benefitting from a need to improve value for money. Returning to the taxi app example, he says that transport operators are increasingly looking for efficiencies that can only be realised through the use of new technologies.

He continues: “Austerity has prompted a cut in spending on some major projects, but it is also promoting spending on some technological investments. These are relatively small in the bigger picture, but they have the opportunity to be transformative for a relatively modest sum.”

Mullak points to reforms of the Bus Service Operators Grant that reward operators that have the latest smartcard-enabled ticket machines and GPS vehicle location equipment installed. “These are little things, but they have the ability to be transformative,” he adds. “It means that more and more vehicles will be able to accept smartcards and more and more passengers can benefit from real time information. These are transformative things from the passenger’s point of view.”

He believes that the UK government has invested a lot in smartcards but adds that there’s still more to do. While he is supportive of the impact that Norman Baker has had as a transport minister, Mullak suggests that the reforms to BSOG could be taken further in order to incentivise operators, rather than local authorities, to invest in emerging technologies.

“I feel that maybe appropriate funding and project support should be given to operators who are willing to bring their service quality, service monitoring up to a certain level,” he says. “You can of course force an operator to invest, but the greatest successes quite often come about when there is a genuine interest in participating. That can have real benefits for the industry as a whole.”

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.
Click here to subscribe – 25% off until the end of this month!