Oliver Wolff, CEO of the Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen, on the prospect of offering bus and train drivers a uniform public transport experience, the digitalization necessary for this, and the federal government’s specifications for getting people to switch from private to public transport.
Interview conducted by Bernd Henseling, Telekom Account Manager Public Sector, and Philipp Greiff, Head of Expert Sales Public Transport at T-Systems.
Ideally just as easily as for ski lifts, even though the ecosystem of just the necessary features we need to offer companies nationwide, as well as our highly diverse fare structures, is disproportionately more complex than what you get on the slopes. Specifically speaking, we initially need comprehensive, sensible passenger information in order to sell a nationwide ticket. It needs to be digital, 99% accurate, and also allow additional use cases, such as a lost & found function for luggage. This pushes prices back up, because quality and improving the service for customers always costs money.
In principle, however, we need to be moving in the direction of switching to digital wherever possible and developing and offering a correspondingly suitable solution nationwide. There’s no changing that.
You mention the exact point the federal government continues to neglect. The federal transport minister can’t only be focusing on a fare model; he also needs to take citizens’ demands for a more expansive public transport service seriously. Not only to achieve climate targets, but also to get people to switch from private to public transport. So fares are one thing, that’s clear. But buses and trains do also need to operate – as frequently and punctually as possible. This requires a massive investment package that has been talked about forever, but which is yet to progress under this federal government.
The federal government’s coalition agreement states that 1.5 billion Euros in regionalization funding also needs to be paid to the states for public transport operation. This is where the gloves finally need to come off, along with the considerable investments required for the rail network. Specifically speaking, it’s about buying buses with climate-neutral power units, and replacing the entire depot infrastructure, as this will need to meet different demands in future compared that of the current diesel-powered fleet. Many old metro systems also need to be cleaned up, and there additionally needs to be a focus on expanding even tram systems here in metropolitan areas.
And we mustn’t forget that needs are different in rural areas. The existing bus services, which are primarily geared around school-bus services, need to at least be supplemented with a new digital system to ensure people in these areas have access to transport services meeting their requirements. The on-demand services therefore need to be expanded and integrated into the public transport system.
It’s true that it takes many years to establish infrastructure, meaning there won’t be anything more than the current infrastructure available over the next few years. In light of this, the fastest option for expanding public transport by 2030 is to expand bus services. This actually makes sense, as it can be done through flexible routes geared around citizen requirements, ensuring both fast availability and a high degree of flexibility can be factored in when developing the service.
As I mentioned, on-demand services are one of the things that need to be expanded, particularly in rural areas, and this really is a digital system in terms of determining routes. This means that the entire digital infrastructure necessary for developing such systems actually needs to be available Germany-wide. It includes real-time data, buses sending their exact location, availability of all fares, and developing systems with client capability/interoperable penetrability.
This means putting an end to a past where industrial providers offered their own system, which then was unable to engage in digital dialog with competitors’ systems, i.e. did not enable data exchange. You can regulate things either through common standards, which then actually need to be followed, or by creating a platform that is available transparently and non-discriminatorily to everyone, but which is also mandatory to use.
An open data broker would be the linchpin for all mobility services if it were run by a neutral party and if connection and usage were also mandatory. These days, unfortunately, we’re still suffering from there being too many providers and transport companies for the customer numbers, and from there not being any mandatory strategy for offering end customers a uniform public transport service, including at a digital level.
Mobility Inside is an attempt made by a joint industry initiative to make individual companies’ fares mutually available. For example, Munich’s transport company or the Rhine-Main transport association can sell tickets in Dortmund or Mannheim. In this respect, Mobility Inside is certainly the first step toward consolidating the entire industry. Further investments need to be made here, and more companies need to participate, so that public transport can offer a one-face-to-the-customer service digitally, including for strategic reasons.