Building back after the pandemic was a consistent theme at last week’s IT-TRANS show, which was addressed by the boss of the Kyiv Metro

Viktor Braginsky, CEO of Kyiv Metro, gave a special address on the first day of the show

One of the first major gatherings of public transport professionals since the relaxing of Covid restrictions took place in Karlsruhe in Germany last week.

Since 2008, the biennial IT-TRANS event, co-organised by Messe Karlsruhe and UITP (the International Association of Public Transport), has brought decision-makers and industry experts together to discuss and develop digital solutions.

Around 6,500 visitors from 71 countries attended the three-day show, which took place across two exhibition halls for the first time. An accompanying conference programme attracted 800 delegates and heard presentations from around the world. The challenge of building back passenger numbers in the wake of Covid was a common theme.

Kaan Yıldızgöz, senior director of membership, marketing and services at UITP, told Passenger Transport that public transport in Europe is now typically 70-80% of pre-pandemic levels. There are, however, huge variations globally. Istanbul, for example, has seen a complete recovery in patronage levels while some cities in China have seen huge drops as a result of drastic new Covid restrictions.

Addressing the conference, Alexandra Reinagl, COO of Vienna’s public transport provider, Wiener Linien, reported that patronage there was back to 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels.

Reinagl expects 2-3% of previous users to stay away permanently, believing that they are instead making shorter journeys on foot or bicycle. With an annual travel pass that famously costs just 365 euros a year, the operator did not see a huge decrease in the number of pass-holders during the pandemic, but Reinagl believes that public transport in the Austrian capital cannot rest on its laurels. It must keep moving forward.

Renée Amilcar, general manager, transit services for the City of Ottawa, reported that patronage in Canada was a long way behind. In Toronto the figure is 60-65% and in Ottawa it is lower partly because the large student population are still at home.

Both Reinagl and Amilcar identified staff recruitment and retention as a major challenge. “Where are the people? I don’t know,” Amilcar lamented.

In Germany, the government has responded to the rise in living costs with an initiative to provide public transport for just nine euros per month in June, July and August. Alexander Pischon, CEO of VBK, is the municipal transport company for IT-TRANS host city city Karlsruhe, said this presented a big challenge but “it’s a great opportunity”.

They come to the metro, not to be transported, but to save their lives

The challenge of post-Covid recovery doesn’t compare to the one faced by Viktor Braginsky, CEO of Kyiv Metro, who gave a special address on the first day of the show. Commenting on the role that his network played after Russia began its assault on his country, he said: “They come to the metro, not to be transported, but to save their lives.”

Braginsky explained how Kiev’s metro first opened in 1960 with the Cold War in mind. But even today the infrastructure continues to support the people of Ukraine. He added: “We have 46 metro stations. They can shelter 100,000 people, but also transport 1.5 million people every day.”

The IT-TRANS show is all about harnessing technology to improve public transport. The show’s 274 exhibitors touted their solutions to transport authorities and operators – but it was also an opportunity for them to examine opportunities to collaborate. For example, Ticketer exhibited at IT-TRANS for the first time having established a dominant position in the UK bus ticketing technology market over the past decade. Addressing the event, Antonio Carmona, Ticketer’s general manager international and head of UK Sales, urged suppliers to come together and develop solutions rather than trying to do everything on their own.

‘Essential, vulnerable and under-valued’

Public transport demonstrated that it is an essential service during the pandemic, remaining the main actor in cities around the world while other sectors shut down, Kaan Yıldızgöz, senior director of membership, marketing and services at UITP, the international association of public transport, told Passenger Transport in Karlsruhe last week. But the crisis had also revealed that public transport is vulnerable and under-valued.

Governments need to help the sector by providing stable funding and pro-public transport polices. He observed that cities around the world are becoming increasingly ambitious in terms of their goals for decarbonisation, but he added that this could not be achieved without modal shift from cars to public transport and active travel. He said that the current energy crisis further underlined the importance of public transport.

He urged the sector to adapt to meet changing customer needs, but also made a plea for help. “We have to redefine what public transport means and we have to see where we can innovate. But the elephant in the room is cars.”

The full story appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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