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What does the future of public transport look like?


In the latest conversation at Leon’s lunch table, he is joined by transport evangelist Paul Comfort and technology expert Simon Reed to discuss Paul’s latest book, The New Future of Public Transportation. The trio analyse the hot topics in the transit industry and explore insights from the book featuring expertise from 30 transport leaders worldwide.

 

Paul Comfort is an industry leader in the world’s transport scene, currently serving as SVP & Chief Customer Officer for Modaxo Americas, one of the world’s largest people mobility technology companies. The New Future of Public Transportation is the sequel to a book Paul penned in 2020, and reflects on the inflection point public transport has experienced over the last four years.

 

Dissecting the Labour shortage problem

In the episode, Leon and Paul dive into the pressing issue of labour shortages in the transport sector, particularly focusing on bus drivers. Paul highlights the challenges faced in the US following the pandemic, noting that "after the pandemic so many of our skilled labourers when it comes to maintenance shops retired, and so many of our drivers dropped out of the labour force. It was difficult to get back to where we needed to be."

This problem isn't unique to the US. In the UK, similar issues have been attributed to both COVID and Brexit. Leon argues that the root of the problem lies deeper, in the nature of the job itself and its compensation.

There have been efforts to address this issue through wage increases, but fair compensation, especially for paratransit drivers who work with people with disabilities, is a key contributor to a lack of available workers.

Leon even suggests "the single fare for the London bus ride should be the same as a medium latte in Starbucks," arguing that the current fares don't reflect the true value of the service provided.


Are we finally ready for mass hydrogen buses?

Another important component of the zero-emission transport debate is hydrogen. But bus adoption has lagged next to industry and customer expectation. Leon points out the long-standing promise of hydrogen technology, recalling that London introduced its first hydrogen buses in 2004. Despite assurances two decades ago that the technology was nearly ready for widespread adoption, a lack of infrastructure to support the transition has slowed progress.

Paul responds by outlining the situation in the US, mentioning that the recent bipartisan infrastructure act has allocated funding for seven hydrogen hubs across the country. However, the US faces a significant hurdle with the collapse of its bus manufacturing industry, with the number of manufacturers dropping from five to effectively two in just one year. This situation is exacerbated by the Buy America law, which restricts the import of foreign-made buses.

Paul describes the transition to alternative fuels as a "crisis in America," with 25 states requesting waivers to import electric buses. An anecdote from California illustrates the challenges of relying on battery electric buses, where a transit authority was asked not to run their electric fleet due to grid instability, prompting a shift towards hydrogen technology.


Data is the new oil

Leon’s second guest, Simon Reed – a transport technology expert with decades of experience – contributed a chapter in Paul’s new book about all things technology in public transport. According to Simon, data is becoming increasingly crucial for both internal systems and customer-facing applications.


“The data paradigm has significantly changed in the last 3-4 years, particularly in Europe and the UK,” Simon says. While technology is often touted as a solution, it can sometimes create barriers for customers, such as requirements to use specific apps for best service.


“I think sometimes customers want technology to disappear and let them get on with their own lives – technology should be there to make things easier, not more complicated.”


To listen to the full discussion between Leon, Paul and Simon, visit here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/paul-comfort-simon-reed/id1526820389?i=1000660128596.


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