Q: Which trends might define the bus as the preferred method of mass transportation in big cities?
A: The pursuit of continued investment in underground metro systems has always been very costly, but it makes sense as a means of transportation in the highly populated downtown areas of a city. As you start moving out into residential areas, underground metro systems are no longer economically viable. Hence, Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara and most other cities in Mexico, will be better served with bus transit systems. This includes buses that are free to move on traditional streets, as well as those that circulate on restricted lanes. People on the outskirts may be brought to central bus stations where they can board these more efficient buses.
Q: How is Corporación Zapata contributing toward these developments, and what level of collaboration do you have with owner-operators?
A: At Corporación Zapata, we have invested heavily in the distribution and service end of the mass transportation industry. We are the largest player in this sector in Mexico. Most of our value proposition today is focused on buses, as we believe this market segment will contribute the most to address the challenges we now face. Buses have become much more amicable from both an air and noise pollution perspective, and are much less costly than underground metro systems. One way to implement new bus systems is through dedicated lanes and formally scheduled longer routes, much like Mexico City’s Metrobús system. We are working closely together with Daimler, our business partner, to offer better solutions in this sphere.
We have been working with independent microbus owners in order to help them organize and incorporate themselves into fully fledged companies. The potential advantages for owner-operators are huge, as they can become credit worthy, which puts them in a position to acquire new vehicles that are safer, more fuel efficient, and less costly to maintain. More efficient buses mean more profitable routes, which leads to better salaries for the drivers. Furthermore, larger, more efficient buses help to reduce traffic congestion, and modern and safer buses also lead to a significant reduction in accidents. Alongside these benefits, owner-operators can also have access to tenders for specific geographical routes with the government. There are already many examples of these companies working successfully in various cities.
Q: What are the common challenges of convincing state governments to adopt these schemes?
A: Most local governments welcome and support these initiatives. However, they often fail to recognize that in order to make them viable, they must also address issues such as fares, which have been kept artificially low for political motives. Rates must now be brought back to levels that enable the replacement of inadequate and unsafe buses. Today, raising fares, remains the greatest blockade to revamping the bus transportation system in most major cities in Mexico. Governments do not want to take these measures because that would make them unpopular, so companies and society must work together to convince the government that this is only a short-term situation. Once passengers see the benefits of modern and improved public transportation services, they will rationalize and embrace one-time price hikes. When we are able to convince the government to start moving in this direction, mass transportation will significantly improve and expand. This is a goal that we devote significant resources to, and we intend to continue investing strongly towards achieving it in the near future. We already sponsor research to capitalize on the best practices developed in other cities and countries, and the implementation of the latest technology.
Q: In what ways could automation technologies be applied to the mass transportation sector?
A: Automation technology could start becoming viable if it is unequivocally capable of telling the difference between a human being and an animal. When these computerized buses come to a rapid halt, they could also automatically communicate with other units behind them to send a warning of the approaching danger, further increasing safety. Politically speaking, bus drivers may feel like this would be a threat to their livelihoods as it could negate the need for human interaction, but the reality is that drivers would continue to play a key role, maybe even with enhanced responsibilities.