The Public And Private Mobility Solutions Cities Need : An Interview with Mohamed Mezghani of UITP

Interview Conducted by Anne Gadel, Head of Public Affairs at Autonomy


UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics) is the International Association of Public Transport and a passionate champion of sustainable urban mobility. It is the only worldwide network to bring together all public transport stakeholders and all sustainable transport modes. It counts 96 member countries and 1,500 member countries with 16 offices across the globe.

Do you see a difference in major mobility trends between Europe, Asia and North America?

Generally speaking, all parts of the world aim for sustainable development and sustainable mobility in cities – but they don’t all have the same starting situation. Europe is a continent with a tradition of public transport. Most urban areas have public transport authorities and some of them have mobility agencies responsible for multiple modes and services like in London, Vienna or Stockholm.

The situation in Asian cities is unequal. China has been experiencing a rapid development of mass transit with 100 metro lines built during the last 10 years, India taking off now while several countries are still relying on informal modes of transport. There are also very established public transport systems such as in Singapore or Japan.

In North America, most cities were developed around large road Infrastructure encouraging the use of cars. Some cities have large metro systems that need refurbishments due to the lack of investment in maintenance and renewal. What is common to all these places is the disruption resulting from the digitalisation of the industry and the emergence of new players providing on-demand shared services. This is a shared challenge or opportunity that is putting urban transport on the political agenda everywhere in the world.

Rail is the major theme of this year’s Singapore International Congress and Exhibition organized by LTA and UITP: is rail the best way to curb climate change & urban congestion? What other initiatives on other types of public transport is UITP currently advocating?

In order to curb climate change and urban congestion, what is needed is to encourage modal shift from the individual use of cars to mass transit, walking and cycling. In doing so, we save energy and space. Rail is part of the solution as it can carry large number of people within a reduced time and space compared to the same number by car. Bus rapid transit may also reach similar records. What is important is to offer an alternative for those who decide to leave their cars. In this regard, integration between the different modes is a must in order to make public transport easy to use. In UITP, we consider that public transport goes beyond mass transit and should embrace the new mobility solutions. Therefore, we have a holistic approach where mass transit is the backbone complemented by on-demand shared services.  

How do you encourage multi-modality through public transport?

As said, multimodality is a scheme where all modes without exception are combined in a way for the traveler to use the right mode at the right moment for the right price. To this regard, it is important to have an integrated mobility policy led by an authority overlooking all modes of transport or at least all shared modes and organising them in an optimal way from the social, economic and environmental perspectives. The concept of Mobility as a Service might be an answer to the need for multimodality because it is built around the expectations of the user to make it easy for them to travel. Multimodality is also reflected in the way the road space is shared by discouraging modes that are occupying large space with low number of travelers. And speaking about infrastructure, it is important to make it seamless at interchange stations to transfer from one mode to the other. In a nutshell, multimodality has to be deployed at all levels: institutional, physical and tactical through the services offered.

How are UITP members tackling digitalisation and major disruptions like artificial intelligence?

Digitalisation is THE trend affecting our lives in general and urban transport in particular. We see it applied in several fields: automation, big data, predictive maintenance ETC. Our members are embracing digitalisation at all levels: to make operations more efficient and reliable but also to improve knowledge of and services to their customers. A crucial result of the widespread digital revolution is how much it has impacted the expectations and needs of customers. Various aspects of the customers’ journey on public transport have already been digitised. For instance, digital mobility services such as online ticketing and scheduling information have become a standard that most public transport users expect.

To meet these needs, our members are embracing digitalisation at all levels: to make operations more efficient and reliable but also to improve knowledge of and services to their customers. They are also fully aware that digitalisation is creating new opportunities. In this regard they increasingly partner with start-ups, exploit the big data potential and develop more flexible and customised services. But they are also aware of the challenges such as the new skills needed for jobs which are not traditionally available in public transport, or the cyber security issue that has to be addressed. I am confident that public transport stakeholders will succeed in making the most out of digitalisation for the benefit of their business and their customers.

What mobility solution would you like to be developed in the future?

Beyond new technologies for all types of modes including electric scooters, driverless vehicles or flying taxis, I think what is important is to have several alternatives and to make informed choices. According to the purpose of the trip, the time in which we travel, the price we are ready to pay we should be in a position to have the choice. And this choice should be made for a door-to-door journey with the help of tools which are easily accessible, easy to use and easy to pay with. Tools that will learn our travel habits and will be anticipating our needs. Therefore, I would say that way to access and to use the modes will be more important than the modes themselves. We are moving from a readymade transport based in modes to a tailor-made mobility based on services.