Building back better with CO-APS: Interview with TMB

Practice makes perfect – something we also know at CO-APS. This week, a pilot was launched in four cities across Europe, where CO-APS will be used and tested by real passengers. One of the pilot cities is Barcelona, where operator TMB (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) joins forces with CO-APS. We spoke to CEO Gerardo Lertxundi about how his city has dealt with recent challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis, and how they expect CO-APS can help to keep the city moving.  

The last 6 months have been challenging due to the COVID-19 crisis. Can you tell us a bit more about how you have experienced recent times and some of the initiatives you have taken to meet the ongoing challenges in public transport and urban mobility?

The mobility restrictions ordered by the authorities, especially last spring, led to a significant decrease in the number of users of the TMB transport network (up to 91%). In recent months we have been recovering passagers, but with the fluctuations in line with the evolution of the health crisis. Now we are at another critical moment that will involve the management of significant difficulties.

Public transport has not been a space where important outbreaks have been found. The disinfection work carried out by the operators, the compliance with the established regulations (masks, washing with hand sanitizer, which we have been installing), intensification of the ventilation systems… They all outline the main challenge we face: the need to regain the trust of users in public transport.

In this new reality, mobility in Barcelona and its metropolitan area must once again revolve around sustainable means of transport, slowing down the rise in the use of private vehicles that we are seeing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic situation, TMB has been taking measures for the safety of its passengers and workers. Among others:

  • Despite the decrease in passengers, service levels have not only been kept but increased, especially during rush hours.
  • The cleaning of vehicles and facilities has been reinforced (daily disinfection with bleach, detergent and viricide products). At the same time, we are testing innovative sanitation techniques, such as disinfection with ultraviolet light (for the metro) and ozone disinfection (for buses). Cleaning is reinforced by effectively ventilating to renew the air.
  • Efforts have been made to minimize contact with surfaces: for example, single tickets can no longer be purchased on buses (these are now purchased using a mobile phone).
  • We use all available channels to remind of health and safety regulations and recommendations when travelling. We help users comply with the regulations by installing hand sanitizer dispensers in the main metro stations and we sell hand sanitizer and masks in vending machines.
  • We help planning trips by providing an application (website and mobile) that indicates the level of occupancy by transport line and time of the day.             

Thanks to these and other measures adopted, TMB’s networks, both on the metro and on buses, have been officially accredited as safe with the Applus certificate.

What do you expect from your participation in the CO-APS project?

Scientific evidence shows that there are very few infections on public transport, making it a safer space than many others. Of course, we want to keep increasing the level of security. We need users to perceive transport networks as safe and choose it for their trips.

In this sense, the measures that, such as the use of the CO-APS application, developed for passengers and by passengers, will contribute to creating a complete picture in real time of the situation of the transport networks. In this way, we will offer users more options and alternatives to choose the service that suits them best and the most opportune moment.

By offering the user the possibility to participate actively and offer information in real time, we obtain an additional advantage: the data gains credibility, since the passenger himself becomes a source of information.

Can you tell us a bit about your exact role in the CO-APS project?

The city of Barcelona, with the participation of TMB in this European project, will be one of the points where the CO-APS application will be tested. During the pilot test phase, users of TMB transport networks will be able to contribute to improve the application by providing occupancy data (in real time) based on their travel experience. TMB will establish a reward system for passengers who accept the challenge of trying out CO-APS. We will also collaborate with the other partners in the project to disseminate it.

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing, but fortunately we know a lot more than we did 6 months ago. How do you see the future of the city and its public transport network?

We are facing a triple crisis: health, environmental and social. To overcome them, public transport will continue to be fundamental and therefore Barcelona is promoting, more than ever, sustainable mobility. The scenario of the new normality requires a new mobility in which transport operators, governments, companies and productive sectors as well as citizens, are all involved.

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