Bus and rail companies in transformation
Germany is undergoing change. As a result of ever-changing framework conditions and new goals - for example, the ambitious climate protection targets for the transport sector - German transport companies and associations are driving forward technical and organizational transformation. The Covid pandemic has already acted as an accelerator of this development. Other drivers include rising electricity and fuel prices, the shortage of skilled workers and labor while the world of work is changing, the goal of reducing noise and particulate emissions, the electrification of public transport on rail and road, the transformation of cities for a better quality of life and greater traffic safety - and, last but not least, the expansion targets for buses and trains themselves. Some factors are at the same time the consequence of other developments and in turn have a dynamic effect on other processes. The best-known example of this change is the introduction of the Deutschland-Ticket with all its consequences - and in digital form. After all, one solution to many things often lies in the digitization of processes.
It is usually the case that there are already digital model solutions for a wide variety of challenges - but they vary from region to region, not uniformly across the country. Public transportation is part of the provision of public services and is organized at the state or county level for good reason. This structure has many advantages - passenger numbers have been rising for years - but the disadvantage is that innovations are not oriented to a target standard everywhere in Germany and are implemented and financed in lockstep. So if you want digitization, you first need homogenization via nationwide minimum standards. On the plus side, the VDV, as the industry and trade association, formulates and recommends the standards. The Deutschland-Ticket is also currently setting an example: The federal government has specified the design in principle ("digital") and also finances it proportionately with the states - this solution can serve as a blueprint for other areas: The digital form for the customer side requires digital background systems. So if all transport companies can sell the ticket, whether by app or chip card, then the usual local tie at the ticket machine or the regional app is no longer there. For the companies, this poses significant financial risks if they do not know whether tickets will continue to be purchased from them directly or from another company's app. Area-wide data of a high standard will therefore have to be available for revenue sharing and passenger count data. The industry is facing a tour de force, but one that could also yield strong synergy effects.
The BRAIN industry initiative expects one billion additional passengers to use public transportation by 2030. From the customer's point of view, but also for transportation planning ("passenger guidance"), it is advantageous to know when buses and trains are in greater demand - and when the vehicles tend to be empty. For passengers, this means orientation: Not only can the expectations for the trip - active notification via smartphone - be adapted to reality, but the selected carriage on the train or even the departure time can be flexibly arranged. This technology also ensures faster communication in the event of a disruption. There have been and still are successful pilot projects in Hamburg, Berlin, and the Rhine-Main area, among others. Corona led to a greater need for distance among passengers and thus to additional dynamics; the VDV recommended that its more than 640 member companies make greater use of these systems. However: Due to the dynamics and because of funding programs that require different approaches, many local solutions have emerged that now have to be technically combined again. There is additional financial expense for the integration of different solutions to one standard.
Example: real-time data: The provision of area-wide real-time information for buses and trains is well advanced. Based on this, there are many projects that take this into account: sharing offers (e.g., Mobility Inside), status information of escalators and elevators (e.g., at the KVB in Cologne), dynamic transfer information, or the aforementioned vehicle utilization. But: The presentation of the information is often different locally. How should several subsequent stops be displayed on an interior display - from top to bottom? The other way around? How should the routing at large stops be designed? How do I get to the right exit in a subway station? Here, too, there is the financial factor with regard to the digital mapping of the infrastructure and the maintenance of the data. The VDV is developing technical recommendations for harmonizing data exchange.
If the transport revolution is to succeed, public transport in the cities must become even stronger in terms of scheduled services - and even in rural areas - with smaller e-buses, bookable via app ("on demand"), to become a genuine alternative to the car. To achieve this, the entire existing range of services must be digitally linked, more flexible and more transparent - in order to become more attractive to additional customer groups. This requires nationwide standards - and the financing that goes with them. Companies are already demonstrating what innovations look like on the ground. In addition, financing is needed for an area rollout without special developments in the implementation of digital platforms.
© Verband Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen e.V.
has been Managing Director Technology of the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV) since September 2012. An electrical engineering graduate, he had previously held various management positions at Vossloh Kiepe GmbH since 1998, including from 2008 to 2011 as business unit manager for electric drives for road vehicles and marketing or as a member of the Executive Board.
Martin Schmitz, Managing Director Technology, Association of German Transport Companies (VDV)