Local public transportation to double by 2025
Buses produce lowest amount of emissions
Technology for sustainability mobility ready to be launched
Attractive concepts, modern ambience, and comfort are crucial factors
Initial results from European research project
Stuttgart/Mannheim – One of the first demonstration vehicles from the European Bus System of the Future (EBSF) research project was recently displayed at the international Mercedes-Benz symposium on future local public transportation. The vehicle, which is based on the Mercedes-Benz Citaro, is used to examine ideas associated with new passenger assistance systems. When the bus nears the stop, for example, special lighting elements show passengers where it is best to get on so that “congestion” is avoided at the doors. And in the interior, appropriate ceiling lights show passengers where seats are currently unoccupied. This reduces the time spent looking for a seat and the distance that needs to be walked through the bus. WLAN, GPS, and 230 volt sockets enable passengers to operate laptops and similar devices in the bus. Regular-service testing of this bus is scheduled to begin in Bremerhaven, Germany, at the end of the year. EBSF is the biggest road-related transportation project to be funded by the European Commission to date. Its aim is to demonstrate the capabilities of a new generation of urban bus networks. EBSF encompasses a total of seven demonstration projects devoted to topics such as the driver area, energy management, communications, and intermodality. The investigations will be carried out in seven European cities. The International Association of Public Transport (French designation: Union Internationale des Transports Public, UITP) is responsible for the overall technical, financial, and administrative management of the EBSF project.
Innovative concepts are becoming increasingly important for local public transportation, which is striving to deal with the effects of global megatrends such as the growing world population, increasing urbanization, and climate change. According to an UITP forecast, these developments will cause local public transportation to double worldwide. What’s more, research has also discovered a growing potential for local public transportation among the various social groups. The market research institute SIGMA, for example, has conducted a study which showed that local public transportation in the largest European markets is no longer just used by down market social groups, such as children and the elderly. On the contrary, contemporary-minded up-market social groups are also using public transport at an above-average rate. In addition, most target groups do not think that passenger cars and local public transportation are mutually incompatible. Instead, the trend among “avant-garde” target groups in big cities is toward a smart mobility mix between individual mobility and local public transportation. The German Transportation Ministry’s report on mobility in Germany confirms this change in behavior. The figures for 2002 to 2008 show that the mobility systems with the biggest increases were bicycles and local public transportation.
A key feature of future local public transportation will be the networking of different means and facilities of transport, including e-bikes, car-sharing, rail systems, and road transport. Some areas in the world are already building such networks. Buses will play a key role in this development. And that is not only because they already account for over 46 percent of local public transportation and therefore serve as its backbone. In addition, buses are unbeatable when it comes to safety, environmental compatibility, sustainability, economic efficiency, and flexibility. Germany’s Federal Environment Agency, for example, has determined that travel coaches consume only 1.4 liters of diesel per person and 100 kilometers on average, which translates into 31 grams of CO2 per person and kilometer. As a result, travel coaches are the undisputed “champions” for low emissions — way ahead of trains, cars, and planes. The situation is similar with regular-service buses in local public transportation. Resource-conserving drive systems are one of the factors contributing to sustainable mobility, and such systems are already available as standard equipment in buses today or are undergoing testing. They include buses with BlueTec diesel technology, regular-service buses with natural gas engines, diesel hybrid buses, and zero-emission fuel cell hybrid buses. In addition to alternative drive systems, alternative fuels are also being tested for use in buses.
Buses also rate highly with regard to economic efficiency and flexibility. With their wide array of different drive systems, today’s buses already offer transportation advantages from the time the very first vehicle is bought. On the other hand, the same types of buses can be used to create highly efficient transportation systems such as those of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system at one-tenth the cost of rail vehicle networks. BRT systems consist of one or more separate lanes on which buses travel at frequent intervals. The lanes are fed by several feeder lines. Around 100 bus transportation systems now serve as shining examples of successful transport solutions. They include the networks in Bogotá, Colombia, Nantes, France, and Istanbul, Turkey. About 90 additional BRT projects are currently being planned worldwide. These infrastructure projects create sustainable mobility, generate economic growth, and provide huge benefits with regard to people’s quality of life. These projects also hold large, medium-term business potential for bus manufacturers and suppliers of infrastructure-related systems. By offering appealing services, comfort, and high quality, such bus transportation systems can attract passengers and help reduce the strain on cities. Three years after the new system was introduced in Istanbul, for example, around 750,000 passengers use the Metrobüs service every day, not least because it takes far less time than traveling through the city in passenger cars.
At the Mercedes-Benz symposium, examples from Germany and the Netherlands also showed how local public transportation companies can boost their business and operating result by offering high quality. In the Netherlands, Qbuzz was able to gain new bus lines and concession contracts, thanks to its effective quality assurance. Qbuzz focuses its quality assurance efforts on the drivers because they directly represent the company to its customers, the passengers. Another positive feature is the transparency of the Qbuzz organization, which enables clients to gain up-to-the minute information on transport operation and the bus lines — even online. The high quality of Qbuzz is demonstrated by the company’s promises to customers, which range from on-time bus operation to outstanding driver service and a money-back guarantee. The quality assurance efforts of the German transport company Spillmann focus mainly on the attractiveness and equipment of the vehicles. The overall concept constitutes a philosophy that incorporates the customer before he or she even gets on the bus. The combination of cutting-edge technology and high-quality equipment, as well as of service, customer preference, and complaints management has been so successful that Spillmann, which has one of Germany’s newest local public transportation fleets, is very popular among customers. Passenger numbers are steadily increasing and vandalism is almost unknown. What’s more, the unique lighting concept and high-quality equipment have led to a high level of customer satisfaction, which has been measurably shown to have generated positive effects. “Torches” in the vehicle interiors, LED lamps, lighting along the floors, entertainment systems, and customer preference management are all investments that have paid off for the transportation company. Bus names like “Metro Lounge” and “City Lounge” already show on the exterior what Spillmann wants public transportation to be for its customers: inviting, relaxing, and appealing.
Comfort and appeal are also key areas that the development of future bus generations is focusing on. This applies to the driver area and the associated visibility as well as to seating comfort, climate control, brightness, and the attractiveness of the passenger compartment. The era of vehicle interiors that are designed solely with functionality in mind will soon be at an end, and modern, attractive and dynamic-looking surfaces will also be introduced into regular-service buses. Just as appealing is the increasing provision of useful information for operators, drivers, and customers alike. Equipping the buses with WLAN and GPS, for example, allows tourists to use their smartphones to find their way around in a big city without requiring anyone’s help. In addition, fleet management systems ensure drivers and operators are always in direct contact and can smoothly share or call up information. The vehicle safety of regular-service buses will also be steadily enhanced, thanks to features like collision protection and safety cabs for drivers and the introduction of ESP in city buses as well. The development engineers are continuing to forge ahead in the area of sustainability by creating innovative drive systems, fuels, and materials and bringing them to the series-production stage. New development methods ensure from the very start that the quality and reliability of series-production vehicles remains high. The dynamic development of technology for local public transportation clearly shows that the bus still has its real heyday ahead of it even after a history of 115 years.
Making local public transportation sustainable, comfortable, modern, and attractive also depends on the business opportunities, which are determined, for example, by government agencies, transport operators, and, not least, the passengers. Buses are extremely profitable, thanks to a wide variety of factors ranging from their purchase costs and infrastructure demands to their availability, reliability and lifecycle costs. Vehicle manufacturers contribute their bus-specific expertise and continuously enhance the corresponding services, including servicing, full-service contracts, innovative fleet management systems like BusFleet, and driver training courses for improving driving safety and fuel economy.
An examination of the future of local public transportation also has to include considerations regarding the interaction with the customers — young passengers as well as elderly ones. Corresponding ideas were generated at the Mercedes-Benz symposium. According to experts, advanced cell phones will increasingly be used to find appropriate routes and they will also serve as travel tickets. Ticket machines will, in turn, offer more infotainment. After passengers have identified themselves with their cell phones, the system will greet them and display information on their mobility subscription as well as a personalized menu, showing their last destinations and key stops. This range of options will often suffice, since few people change their destinations frequently. After the passenger has selected an item, the system displays a plan of the transit network, recommending various routes to get to his or her destination. The passenger can view additional information about each route and find out about the stops at which he or she can switch from the bus to a car2go vehicle, for example, or to a rental bicycle. After selecting a particular route, the passenger also has the option of notifying his or her friends on Facebook, Twitter or similar services and networks of the trip. The system then transmits the travel information and a ticket to the passenger’s cell phone and the customer can commence his or her trip.