Tanel Talve: Public transport restart

Tanel Talve
Tanel Talve Source: Private collection

The concept of public transport needs to be given new meaning. True public transport would work based on people's needs to a much greater degree, combining package delivery and passenger transport, Tanel Talve writes.

Crises are regrettable, while we must admit they keep us on our toes and force us to look for new solutions in absolutely all walks of life. In the end, they make us stronger, which is why it is imperative to maintain common sense and take advantage of the situation to make sure society exits the crisis more effective than it was going in.

It is understandable that attention is paid first and foremost to managing the current situation, but perhaps people can take comfort in knowing that planning for the future is taking place at the same time.

Even though it might not seem to be the case right now, an emergency situation makes it possible to considerably speed up developments in many fields.

One such field is public transport. Let us be honest, we have been hesitating and putting off implementing new technologies for too long. There are a number of objective and some not-very-objective reasons for that, but now we are forced to introduce fundamental change in our public transport to ensure its sustainability.

We need to think bigger than whether we can buy a ticket on the train using a bank card or smartphone – the very concept of public transport needs to be given new meaning. True public transport would work based on people's needs to a much greater degree, combining package delivery and, for example, passenger transport.

To think about just how much we could save if different companies engaged in passenger and package transport would join forces, give up maintaining separate fleets and only make needed trips.

Imagine a single vehicle delivering a village's mail, food, medicines and other essentials, in addition to transporting people when they need it. Demand-based public transport complementing regular lines.

Figuratively speaking, this would mean the person would no longer depend on the bus in a situation where the bus would depend on people's needs. To render public transport more convenient and effective, different modes of transport, whether coaches, trains, trams, ferries or on-demand options, could be merged both in terms of schedules and ticket system.

Allow me to give some examples from projects already underway the aim of which is to improve mobility for everyone.

Estonian developers have come up with on-demand transport software VEDAS that collects transport requests and forms routes for drivers. This ensures a better-quality service for customers, allowing people to go where and when they want, more effective organization of taking kids to and from hobby school, with public transport catering to areas regular lines did not reach. Transport organizers can replace empty buses with necessity-based options.

Testing of self-driving buses in city traffic will begin in Tallinn's Ülemiste City as part of the Fabulos project this summer. Modern Mobility, TalTech and AuVeTech are working together on developing the Iseauto self-driving bus and making it a part of our public transport system as quickly as possible.

These new and existing public transport services need to be put to work in a single system! So far, our transport system has been made up of isolated parts – train, tram, bus, car, ferry, taxi, scooter – all exist in their own universes. Passengers are having a hard time navigating different modes of transport, making integral route planning and managing tickets very complicated.

The Estonian state's innovation program Accelerate Estonia includes a project that aims to help solve this problem through a national standardized ride requests platform MaaS XT (MaaS – mobility as a service).

This kind of a solution would allow for new services where people could plan trips using several different modes of transport with a single touch and purchase all necessary tickets in one go. The positive effects of such an X-Road of transport so to speak would be diverse:

* More convenient and simpler public transport that would meet people's needs more accurately would reduce expenses on personal cars (the Tallinn and Harju County mobility study suggest private individuals currently spend €1.5 billion a year on personal vehicles).

  • A common and necessity-based public transport system is cheaper to maintain. There would be fewer empty buses, passenger and package transport could be married, there would be less pressure for new and wider roads, with more resources left over for maintenance of existing ones.
  • With an overview of people's mobility needs, public transport could be organized, funded and planned more successfully.
  • Estonia could move closer to its climate targets through reduced CO2 emissions. Better air quality benefits public health and reduces medical expenses.
  • More public transport users (clients) would have a positive effect on the private sector.
  • Having the trustworthy national platform MaaS XT would help create new services in both the private and public sectors. More commercial interest in creating corresponding apps.
  • Successful launch of MaaS XT in Estonia would make it possible to offer it to other countries (like the X-Road and ID-card) as attempts to render public transport more attractive and a better alternative for personal cars are made everywhere in the world.

The state's role could be to introduce a common standard for the system and obligate transport services providers to adopt it. Without MaaS XT, the (public transport) system would remain fragmented, with every participant acting alone, using applications that are not compatible.

Talks are underway between different sides as the creation of a common system is regarded as important. It is crucial to find the best solution through negotiations.

As time goes on, people will increasingly choose their mode of transport based on convenience and flexibility. Public transport that is dead easy to use and functions based on the user's needs would hopefully reduce the need for personal vehicles in recent volume.

I'm glad the state and the private sector are trying to reach solutions faster by working together. This cooperation makes it possible to take steps to render our society more effective, stop squandering and for Estonia to be more competitive as a country and happier as a people.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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