The biggest event in public transport returned this week, in Montréal, and discussion centred on rapid evolution in the sphere of urban mobility


The opening ceremony of UITP’s Global Public Transport Summit in Montréal


The global public transport community gathered in Montréal this week for UITP’s Global Public Transport Summit. And the secretary general of the international association of public transport, Alain Flausch, had a message for them – your sector is entering a new era.

The biennial summit, formerly known as the World Congress, was being hosted outside Europe for only the second time since 1999. It attracted 2,250 participants from 80 countries. The accompanying exhibition covered around 30,000 square metres – equivalent to four football pitches – and featured 280 exhibitors.

The summit comes at a time when the “urban mobility industry” is witnessing a rapid and significant transition. It addressed the issues of urbanisation, digitalisation, advances in green energy and the emergence of new mobility players like Uber.

Flausch is adamant that the public transport sector can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and allow others to determine its future. Instead the sector must face up to these challenges to find and develop its role in this new ecosystem for public transport and urban mobility.

“We are entering a new era,” said Flausch. Public transport used to be a “very dusty and conservative industry”, neglected by public authorities, highly unionised and insensitive to customer needs. But he said that things have changed, and the arrival of new agile mobility players means that transport authorities and operators simply cannot afford to be complacent.

Flausch’s view is “if you can’t beat them, join them” and UITP is currently in the process of making Uber a member of its organisation.

“I think we need to partner with [new mobility players],” he said, with the aim of providing a door-to-door transport solution reduces car dependency. But he also foresees a scenario where the access of new mobility providers is restricted in areas where public transport provision is strong and they are instead encouraged to cover the elusive “final mile”.

The UK city of Bristol is home to a pioneering new service, Slide, which was cited at the summit as an example of an established public transport operator taking up the new mobility challenge. French group RATP Dev launched the on-demand minibus service last summer (PT140). Other UK transport authorities are keen for RATP Dev to offer the service in their cities.

Meanwhile, Omid Ashtari, president and head of business at London-based app developer Citymapper was among the speakers at the three-day summit.

Public transport is not an old fashioned industry. It’s full of technology, it’s full of innovation

Flausch wants innovation to be at the heart of the public transport sector. “Public transport is not an old fashioned industry,” he said. “It’s full of technology, it’s full of innovation.”

The summit was the venue for the final showdown of the world’s first ever Global Transport Hackathon. This UITP-backed initiative saw hackathons organised in more than 20 cities across the world (including Cambridge and Manchester) to explore new technologies in sustainability, whilst encouraging talented, young programmers to get involved in the sector.

The next Global Public Transport Summit will take place in Stockholm in 2019.

Further UITP Summit coverage in the latest issue of Passenger Transport:

Autonomous vehicle revolution is coming
UITP summit hears that the world should be braced for a fourth industrial revolution that will see the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles

Growing acceptance of transport benefits
Growing political support is now driving transport investment


This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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