Keolis Build Tomorrow’s Mobility & Address Customers’ Needs

    The Arab Construction World (ACW) conducted an interview the CEO of Keolis at the International Division, Bernard Tabary. The Keolis Group is a well-known company in public transport operations. Present in 16 countries, the company operates urban, suburban, and regional networks on behalf of 300 local authorities. The Group carries over 3 billion passengers every year. The company is also the worldwide specialist in trams. Keolis manages tram networks across the globe, including the world’s largest in Melbourne (250km of track). The Group operates a total of ten different transport modes (metro, tram, train, bus, car, bicycle...) and uses its intermodal know-how around the world. Tabary spoke to us about the future of mobility and the driverless metro trend.

    Q: Outside of driverless metros, what have been the top 3 technological innovations in the past 5 years that have contributed to the concept of “Smart Mobility”?

    Bernard Tabary: At Keolis, innovation is at the heart of our business strategy. Our objective is to invent new solutions for the mobility of tomorrow, either working through our partners or independently. The first innovation I’ll mention, for example, is the autonomous electric vehicle created in collaboration with NAVYA. It enables us to adapt transit to the needs of citizens while also controlling the impact on infrastructure and reducing traffic and pollution. It also facilitates the transportation of staff, visitors or service agents on private sites, improves access and mobility, and optimizes employee work time. The vehicles can carry up to 15 passengers. It has been designed to help organizations and businesses improve performance by streamlining the flow of movement, which makes it ideal for urban areas, airports, industrial sites, amusement parks, or hotel complexes and hospitals. The first public NAVYA shuttle service in the world was launched in Lyon in September 2016. A year after, more than 20,000 passengers were carried onboard the vehicle. The NAVYA autonomous electric shuttles are now being trialed at la Defense, (the business area near Paris), and in London. The shuttles will soon be trialed in Australia, Canada and the US. Another important innovation is the electric bus. Keolis is testing an electric bus called Aptis (Alstom/NTL) in Velizy-Versailles near Paris for one year in the line 23 which links Versailles Europe to Velizy 2 (13km). Aptis can be charged at night in the depot, or rapidly at the end of each line during daily operations. Keolis and the city of Orléans are also testing two electric buses on the network for a period of 5 years. Batteries are being charged in the depot overnight for 6 hours. After being fully charged, the buses can travel 200 km per day. In addition, Keolis operates electric buses in Gothenburg, Sweden. The buses are silent and emission-free and run on electricity from wing power and hydropower. The buses are Volvo and run from Chalmers Johanneberg to Chalmers Lindholmen, through the centre of Gothenburg (100,000 passengers a month). The buses run on batteries that are quickly recharged with renewable electricity at the terminal stops. The buses are equipped with on-board wi-fi and phone charging facilities. Finally, I would add “Plan Book Ticket” to the list of our top three technological advances over the last 5 years. The program was successfully launched in Orleans before summer 2017. It’s an all-in-all digital solution which allows users to plan their journey and purchase and validate tickets via a single app. Functions of the “Plan Book Ticket” solution are already in use on French transport networks. The “Plan” function is available in Lille, Bordeaux, Montargis, Orléans, Brest, Amiens, Quimper and Chateauroux. The “Book” function, an online store connected to a network’s ticketing system, is already in use in Montargis, Orléans and Saint-Malo. Similar digital apps have been developed by Keolis locally in different parts of the world through its subsidiaries in Boston (US), Montreal (Canada), and the Netherlands (networks operated by Syntus / Keolis Netherlands). 

    Q: Why driverless metros? Are there really strong arguments in terms of time flexibility, HR costs, prices, operating cab room and so forth? 

    Tabary: Yes, without a doubt. Driverless technology is an intelligent and innovative mass-transit solution. On the operating side, driverless metros enable higher capacity, speed and regularity, reduced operating costs (30% lower in terms of energy management when compared with a system with drivers), adaptability, and flexibility. It also enables operators to offer added customer services.
    There are also many positives reasons for passengers to use driverless metros. Waiting times are reduced on platforms thanks to more frequent service, faster commercial speed is used compared to conventional metros while maintaining top-level punctuality, and there are higher safety and reliability rates. The introduction of platform doors also limits the risks of accidents and human presence on the track.

    Q: Does driverless mean fully automated? Where is the human element in the driverless metro and is that aspect ever considered to be made redundant? 

    Tabary: Even though the system is automatic, supervision work on a metro system is carried out by men and women from the Operation Control Centre (OCC). We consider the human element to still be an important part of driverless technology and of smart mobility in general. 

    Q: Once, the Dubai metro broke down and I was in it when it happened. We were stranded for 2 hours inside the metro. During this time the PA system got on everyone’s nerves, and then we were asked to leave without even an apology or refund. The chaos it created as thousands scrambled for taxis and the ensuing traffic nightmare was captured by media. It was a driverless metro that broke down. How can Smart Mobility deal with such instances? 

    Tabary: I truly sympathize with your unpleasant experience and realize how much of an inconvenience it must have been. I cannot really comment on that instance since that specific system is not operated by Keolis. What I can say, though, is that at Keolis, when an incident occurs, we tend to rapidly find an alternative mode of transport and quickly restore services to reduce the impact on passenger journeys. We do this thanks to resilient timetables, incident response procedures, integrated operations and maintenance, and alternative solutions that we adopt in the event of disruptions.

    Q: How do you look at the new Riyadh Metro project as a driverless metro while also taking into considerations transport experience, user satisfaction and Operator ROI? 

    Tabary: We cannot comment on ongoing tenders, but I will say that the city of Riyadh has launched a big project to launch 6 lines at once and the construction is progressing well. Riyadh, as well as other cities in the Middle East such as Dubai and Doha, is investing in sustainable public transport to help solve issues related to traffic congestion and pollution. These cities are also focused on improving the quality of life for their citizens through public transport. It’s also good for their economies and the attractiveness of their cities. There’s no doubt that the new transport systems will enhance citizens’ lives. Since we are a leader and expert in automated metro systems, Keolis is closely monitoring the progress of the tenders in the region and is very much looking forward to being a part of these important projects, if selected. 

    Q: How do the Dubai and Riyadh metro projects resemble and differ from the ones in Europe or USA? 

    Tabary: The biggest similarities between the Dubai and Riyadh metro projects and their western counterparts are safety, their capacity to move large numbers of passengers, and their sustainable solutions. One main difference is that the Middle Eastern projects are planning different levels of comfort for passengers, such as spaces specifically for families or “gold” classes. This is very important since the Public Transport Authorities want to attract passengers who are not used to using public transport. There are also more operations staff in the networks in the Middle East and their metro systems and signaling solutions are supplied by the leading manufacturers, meaning they are using the most advanced technology possible. Regarding your question on ROI…it cannot be compared to, say, the London underground built in 1863 or DLR built in 1987. You’ll have to wait and ask me again, maybe in 30 years or so!