Sustainability, Experience, Tech: The Future of Buses
Mobility demand and behavior changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a reduction of capacity and the integration of new technologies, flexible solutions and sustainable practices in collective mobility. To move forward, there are several solutions and areas of opportunity in the market.
Collective mobility solutions are recovering in the new normal. During Jan. and Feb. 2022, bus utilization recovered by 7.2 percent in comparison to the previous year, explained Miguel Elizalde, Executive President, Buses, Trucks and Engines Manufacturers National Association (ANPACT). “There are no public policies to promote mobility in Mexico. The General Law of Mobility and Road Safety is still being discussed in the Chamber of Deputies and there are no local incentives that spur mobility,” he said.
The General Law of Mobility and Road Safety aims to establish the bases and principles to guarantee the right of every person to mobility in conditions of road safety, accessibility, efficiency, sustainability, quality, inclusion and equality. However, both the law and the industry must be flexible to adapt to recent changes in mobility.
To adapt to new consumer demands and transportation needs, collective mobility companies could rely on digital telematics and e-commerce, said Elena Donahue, Head of Commercial Vehicle Aftermarket and Fleet Business, ZF Group. “The level of integration that vehicles have in this new economy of movement will lead new generations to recognize them as a service platform, much more than a means of transportation from point A to B,” said Donahue.
As this industry reaches pre-pandemic levels, customer needs begin to tie in with other requirements such as biofuel, new technologies for end users and EV use. Miguel Angel Velasco, General Director, Dina Camiones, breaks down the six fundamental pillars to improve for customer experience:
- Hyper connectivity through universal Wi-Fi
- Sharing economy automation
- AI and machine learning for better analysis
- Adaptability to sustainability demands
- Better services that derive from the growth of the middle class
- Promotion of innovation
Coupled with these needs, mobility companies face several challenges including employee turnover, safety problems and an urgent need to reincorporate the drivers that were laid off during the pandemic, said Jorge Navarro Inostroza, Director of People Transport Solutions, Scania México.
The creation of novel experiences is also pivotal for companies in this journey. “There are already new companies offering virtual mobility solutions to customers that allow them to skip visiting bus terminals; it is like uber for buses,” shared Juan de Dios Gómez, General Director, Irizar Mexico. “This shows that operators are highly adapted to digitization and know their users and trends, [catering to them through] smaller but more practical boarding points.”
For public transportation, trends are similar: “as the backbone of economic and personal development, [public transportation] must be sustainable, clean, safe, accessible and efficient; it should be central to social and economic development,” said Velasco. In the improvement of public transportation, financial incentives can lead to the adoption of clean technologies and service digitization, leading to the creation of robust infrastructure in the transformation of individuality into the collective.
One way to immediately improve end-user experience is with digitalization and recognition that 60 percent of Mexicans have smartphones. Through them a company can “provide all the possible information about their trip and the accessories of their trip, such as stores, purchases and other benefits and facilities,” said Donahue. Companies have to be multifaceted and identify demand and behavior changes constantly to obtain financial benefits, she added.
For longer term goals and requirements such as sustainability, companies can begin with small changes that escalate into entire operations. For example, Irizar achieved a 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency by analyzing aerodynamics, using lighter steel and integrating recyclable materials, Gómez said. However, fuel efficiency is still one of the largest challenges for buses and collective mobility.
Data is another long-term commitment that has the potential to spur “better management and indicate ways to create better services. By integrating tech and becoming an intelligent transportation industry, we will be more profitable, reduce operating costs, schedule timely maintenance and consume less energy,” said Velasco.
Infrastructure can also be a detonator for the changes that the industry wants to bring, or it can hinder them. “If cities do not have the road and digital infrastructure to support our innovation, its effects will be precarious,” said Alexandre Nogueira, President and Chief Executive Officer, Mercedes-Benz Autobuses. Infrastructure is also a barrier for electrification as it is necessary to improve systems so they use lanes, GPS controls and bus monitoring efficiently, said Gómez. To date, only Mexico City and Monterrey seem to have this kind of infrastructure, he added. In Irizar’s experience, when the “electrical infrastructure is unsustainable, we have power outages that last four hours,” said Gómez.
Mass electrification in Mexico is not just a matter of subsidies. There is no legal framework that guarantees a second life of batteries and “there is no one responsible for their final disposal,” said Inostroza.
To succeed in the new era of collective transportation, mobility has to be put at the center of economic and social public policies as it is a service that facilitates access and interconnectivity, according to Donahue.