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Episode 048: Transit Unplugged Podcast - UITP Live (Part 1 of 2)
UITP Live (Part 1 of 2)

“People want reliable services. And if you can’t deliver what you promise to the customer, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the technology is.” – Ian Dobbs, Deputy President of UITP

“I finally have figured out the solution … we should be running it all.” – Nat Ford, CEO of Jacksonville Transportation Authority

“I think assets are probably one of the most important things in our industry.” – Nicolas Gindt, CEO of Keolis Downer Victoria - Yarra Trams

“As we continue to try and put on more services to move more people, we have to find the technology that’s going to help us do that quickly and safely.” – Alan Fedda, Deputy CEO of Public Transport Victoria

Recorded live at UITP 2019, Transit Unplugged comes to you with another roundtable discussion from some of the world’s top transit leaders. In this episode, you’ll hear from our guests about the different challenges they are facing around the globe. Plus, you’ll learn what each one thinks is the top innovation for public transportation.

Remember to check out to learn from top transit professionals and stay up to date to catch all the latest episodes.

Show Transcript

Paul Comfort : Welcome to Transit Unplugged, I'm your host Paul Comfort.

One of the exciting ways we're extending the brand of Transit Unplugged is now I'm hosting live CEO roundtables around the world. One of the ones I was able to do recently was at the UITP Global Transport Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

On our first panel, we included Alan Fedda, Deputy CEO of Public Transport Victoria or PTV - the Public Transit Authority in that state in Australia. Also, Nicolas Gindt, CEO of Yarra Trams in Australia, in Melbourne, which is the largest light rail or tram system in the world. We also included Ian Dobbs, who is Deputy President of UITP, and a long-time transit leader. And Nat Ford, CEO of Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and the former chairman of APTA, the American Public Transportation Association.

I think you'll find this special, nearly hour-long show a real good insight into what's happening around the world when it comes to mobility innovations. On this special edition of Transit Unplugged.

Intro : What does it mean to be a successful public transit agency? What are you doing to lead the way? It's time to learn from the top transit professionals in North America. This is Transit Unplugged, with your host Paul Comfort.

Paul Comfort : Welcome to Trapeze’s first-ever Transit Unplugged Global CEO roundtable. I'm Paul Comfort and thank you for being with us. This is going to be filmed, and we have four of our guests today on our Transit Unplugged CEO roundtable.

Our first is Nicholas Gindt, who is CEO of Yarra Trams and Keolis Downer in Melbourne, down in Australia. I was able to visit him just a month ago. Thank you so much for being here again today, Nicolas.

Nicolas Gindt : No problem.

Paul Comfort : And next is my good buddy, Nat Ford. Nat is the CEO of Jacksonville Transit in Jacksonville, Florida. He's also the immediate past chair of the American Public Transportation Association, and really took the lead last year in helping lead our whole country's transit systems into focusing on the new mobility. We're going to ask him about that today some.

And next is Alan Fedda, who is Deputy CEO of PTV, Public Transport Victoria. I was able to visit them last month as well. Thank you so much for being with us today. Then our friend Ian Dobbs, who is head of UITP in Australia, and the Deputy Chair of UITP worldwide. Let's give them a round of applause.

For those of you who may not know, Transit Unplugged is a podcast. And right now it's the world's leading podcast, where we interview transit CEO's. Over the last 18 months, I've been able to travel the world and interview over 50 CEOs of transit systems, finding out about their lives, their careers, their agencies, what they're working on, their big projects. It's really a one of a kind show. If you haven't listened to it, it's free, and it's at

Make sure you go there and subscribe to our podcast. Every two weeks we have a new podcast come out, and right now we're on a special series of Australia. And then right after that, we'll go a couple of North America. And then the late summer we'll have five or six shows from the United Kingdom. A recent trip I made there as well.

Now we're going to go to our guests. What I'm going do is ask each of them to give you a little bit about their background, what they oversee, and a little bit about their current responsibilities.

Let's start with Nicolas. Nicolas is a humble guy, but I've got to tell you, he's got quite an operation. It's the world's largest light rail tram system in the whole world in Melbourne, Australia. Nicolas, tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Nicolas Gindt : I'm Nicolas Gindt. I'm actually 51. I've been working for public transport heavy rail for 28 years now. Mainly in the heavy rail for SNCF, which is a French railway company. And I moved to Australia three years ago to renegotiate a contract with those people who were kind enough to award us an extension of the contract for the next seven years and to operate this beautiful tram network. It's an iconic tram network in Melbourne. Everybody loves trams, which is really fantastic to operate and I'm really proud to be leading this 2300 staff organization in Melbourne.

Paul Comfort : Excellent. Thank you. Nat Ford tell us a bit about yourself and what you do. Nat just won a big award from the Eno Group and tell us about that a little bit as well.

Nat Ford : Yes, thank you for the opportunity. Last week I had the opportunity and the honor of receiving the Eno Thought Leader Award for the United States. And it's a great honor. And it was reflective of the work that I think you mentioned earlier Paul, which was to really look at our industry in terms of bus and rail and what we do in terms of public transport in the United States.

It's clearly a new environment with new technologies and new service delivery methods. And last year when I was the chair of APTA, I pushed an agenda to focus on a new mobility paradigm where we broke away from our conventional transportation modes and looked at embracing not only biking but biking and pedestrian access as well as the TNCs like Uber and Lyft. Because I think my vision, or my philosophy is that as public transport agencies, we are best prepared to be the holistic mobility integrators.

Quite often, as I look at the work that I do now in Jacksonville, we're actually a road-building and bridge-building organization that has public transport as part of our responsibility. In that responsibility, I find myself quite often building the sidewalks to provide good access to public transport or building road networks that allow for easy access of automobiles, safe access for bicyclists as well as expediting public transport in the same corridor. And it's a true belief that I have that we should not just stop at bus, we should not stop at rail. But, as an industry, we should look at the entire spectrum of transportation for our communities and knit those solutions together.

A lot of that experience came from my background as serving as the CEO of the San Francisco MTA where I had responsibility for all of those modes, including taxi regulations and things of that nature under one umbrella. And with that, then serving in Atlanta, with the Atlanta MARTA system there. And the origins of my career in transit started with New York City Transit. I've worked all around our country in the United States. And I think after nearly three decades, I finally have figured out the solution, which is we should be running it all.

Paul Comfort : Very good. Nat's also got an amazing wife. Tell us a little about your wife for a second.

Nat Ford : Yes. My better half, I'm very fortunate. My better half is Janet Walker-Ford, and she's around the corner. She actually is the head of a government relations program for a [transit software company] in the United States. We live it, breathe it, it's part of our DNA. And then also my father was in New York City Transit as the senior VP of subway operations.

Paul Comfort : And your sister is?

Nat Ford : And my sister is in Maryland, and she is the deputy chief operating officer for rail in Baltimore and Maryland.

Paul Comfort : Yeah, for my old subway system. She's doing a great job. I Keep tabs on her. After I left, she got the position. And they say she's doing a wonderful job.

[Nat’s] whole family, which is what I was trying to tell you, he's got an ecosystem of public transit around him. He comes from a great family.

Nat Ford : Thank you. Thank you, Paul.

Paul Comfort : Very good. Alan. Now, a little bit about the structure there. PTV, Public transport Victoria, oversees all the transit in the state of Victoria, which includes the city of Melbourne. And they actually are the funding agency that helps fund Nicolas' light rail system. Go ahead.

Alan Fedda : That's right. Thank you. If we keep the family link going, I might start by telling you a little bit about my father, who was an oil and fueler at Sydney bus depot for most of his career. And I remember as a young child probably about ten years of age going with him and just watching the buses coming in and out of the depot. And it never occurred to me that I would end up working in public transport.

My career background is in customer relations, working for telecommunications companies and energy retailers. And it wasn't until this fine gentlemen, Ian Dobbs, about seven years ago started talking to me about public transport and saying, "We really need to change the way we think about those people on our network. And actually realizing that they are passengers and they are customers and we need to start having a real customer focus."

And the engineering is really critical for reliability and safety. At the heart of what we do is actually those passengers that are buying those tickets, getting onboard on buses, using the technology. That's my background. I've been with PTV now for seven years. I'm the deputy chief executive and oversee all of the contracts with organizations like Keolis, MTM, Transdev, and a number of world-leading operators. It's key for us to get good commercial outcomes for the state, the priority is putting the customer at the heart of everything that we do and everything that our operators do.

Paul Comfort : And Jeroen Weimar, is your CEO, is that right?

Alan Fedda : That is right. A Dutchman, Jeroen Weimar, who couldn't be here today, but part of the podcast series already.

Paul Comfort : Yes. Nicolas is our guest this week on the podcast. If you go to, you'll hear all about his background and experience.

I rode the light rail system there quite a bit, while I was there in Melbourne and found it wonderful. The downtown central business district it's free. You can ride for free, and it's massively packed. They do not have the problem of a lack of ridership there. We'll talk more about that in a minute. All right. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Ian and about UITP in general and what you all do?

Ian Dobbs : I think I'll just start by kind of carrying on the theme of the people theme. One of the great things about this summit is that it brings a lot of really good people together from around the world. The networks that we build up through these kinds of events are amazing. Alan's right. I had the misfortune of recruiting him to the transit industry seven years ago, but I'm only joking, but he's become my style guru. And it's great to see him taking on the reigns of managing the franchisees.

I look over to Nicholas of course, and had a relationship while I was running PTV and Melbourne with your organization and yourself, which was great fun. Melbourne's trams are iconic.

And that's what this is all about, coming together with friends and colleagues sharing experiences, common challenges. And that's what UITP is about. It's about bringing together the best people in the world in this industry, learning from one another and sharing best practice. We always advocate for transports as well, and we do a lot of other things, but it's about people, and that's why I love it. I've been in this industry for 43 years. Ouch.

Paul Comfort : Started at age 10.

Ian Dobbs : Oh, thank you very much. I'm a railwayman by background. I was a railway operator in the UK for 16 years. I came over to Melbourne, to run the public transport system when it was publicly owned and publicly run. I ran the trams amongst other things like the buses and the rail system. We then franchised it, and I went away for a few years. I ran private rail franchises in the UK for a private operator there and then came back to set up Public Transport Victoria. I now do a little bit of board work here and there and try to keep occupied, grow grapes as well down on the Mornington peninsula.

Paul Comfort : Make wine with them.

Ian Dobbs : I have a friend who makes the wine. Mr. Fedda is one of my-

Alan Fedda : Drinks the wine.

Paul Comfort : That's an important role.

Ian Dobbs : I've been blessed in 43 years. I've had a great and varied career in Australia, the UK and now actually touching base with people around the world with UITP. It's such a great industry, and they're such great people. That's me in a nutshell.

Paul Comfort : That's wonderful. Thank you very much. Let's give our group a round of applause. Great guys here leading our industry. And now, I want to go to Nat and ask Nat a question.

Nat, tell us a little bit more about what technology you're using. One of the things that's interesting - the differences between what's happening around the world - when I was in the UK a couple of weeks ago, there's not a lot of focus on autonomous vehicles. In the United States, every major transit system is piloting or thinking about piloting autonomous vehicles. Over in the United Kingdom, they're not so focused on mobility as a service. In the United States, it's a lot of focus on that. Tell us about the new technologies that are affecting North American transit.

Nat Ford : I think last year when we started down this path of looking at this new mobility paradigm, it became very clear that one of the biggest challenges obviously, I think that affects all of our systems, is the last-mile, first-mile challenge. And I think partnering with TNCs and contracting some of those services to be on-demand is an opportunity for our community to expand on public transportation and make our existing systems that much more robust.

And in the United States there's a number of systems around the country that have partnerships ranging from private operators that are operating small shuttles, things of that nature and connecting that last- and first-mile, and going as far as partnering with Uber and Lyft and subsidizing trips to connect with their main transportation hubs.

In Jacksonville, we actually launched something called Ready Ride, which is a contracted service. It's an on-demand service, and it allowed us to eliminate some of our lower productive fixed-route services, reallocate those services to more of our heavily traveled routes and corridors. And then subsidize those trips at a much lower cost and price point. And it's more on-demand/responsive type of services.

As it relates to autonomous vehicles, we were fortunate in December of this past year, we received a grant from the USDOT to implement phase one of what we call the U2C project, the Ultimate Urban Circulator project. We have in our downtown a two-and-a-half-mile automated people mover that is well beyond its useful life. We're keeping it up and running, but it was built over 30 years ago.

And with our road building acumen, and then recognizing the new technologies that are being developed in terms of autonomous vehicles we came up with a concept or developed a concept to convert that monorail to an actual roadway. And then to build a series of end of line ramps, much the same as the highway ramps that we build. A system that will allow us to replace the existing monorail with autonomous vehicles and then expand the two-and-a-half-mile footprint to a 10-mile system using autonomous vehicles.

The grant we received this for phase one, which is connecting with the Jacksonville Jaguars football team Stadium, connects our downtown core to that facility. And then subsequent phases will convert the aerial structure, which we see as a major benefit having that two-and-a-half-mile aerial structure. But again, it was locked in that two and a half miles for almost 30 years and really did not have good origins and destinations. And now we're finally taking advantage of the vision of our fathers in Jacksonville from some time ago.

With that autonomous vehicle technology is underway in Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Canton, Ohio. I think they also received a grant from USDOT. And the strategy from a national perspective is to focus on autonomous technology because of its flexibility and its low cost versus some light rail infrastructure investments. The feeling is that the technology may be so robust in another 10 to 20 years that we will be looking at alternatives and flexibility. We're very excited about the program.

Paul Comfort : Very good. Thank you very much.

Nicholas in Melbourne where you run the Yarra Trams system, tell us about the system itself, kind of the ridership and what's some of the new challenges you're facing? What are you going to be doing in the next year or two?

Nicolas Gindt : Yeah, it's quite a big network. As we said, probably the longest in the world, 250 kilometers of tracks. And in terms of the ridership, we move 210 million people a year, which compares quite well with the trains network in Melbourne, who move 240 million people a year.

Paul Comfort : 210 million a year.

Nicolas Gindt : Exactly. 210-

Paul Comfort : And just one mode.

Nicolas Gindt : Yes. One mode. And it's in Melbourne you will find metropolitan trains, you will find trams. There is no subway. It's definitely a mission that we as tram operator have taken over, unlike big cities that have a subway. We have trams. Quite a big system. It's a legacy system - let's be clear - it was created in 1906, a long, long time ago. And that's fantastic because that enables you to become iconic. That's the positive side of it.

The less positive side of it is that the infrastructure is not brand new, some of our trams are 40 plus years old. And of course, that creates some very exciting challenges, and that creates a lot of the enthusiasm in terms of finding the way to maintain appropriately these trams, this infrastructure. Make sure that we deliver the best service for the community that relies a lot on our service.

Paul Comfort : And one of the things you were telling me while you were there was that you're working on making it more accessible for people with disabilities. Is that right?

Nicolas Gindt : Yes, of course. Legacy system, of course, means that we have work. And it's, of course, an everyday discussion with the government and with PTV to find a way to improve the accessibility in the system.

We have 1700 stops in all in those cities. 1700 that's one-stop every 200 meters, which is quite a lot of stops - 400 of them are already accessible raised platforms. We have a further 1300 stops to upgrade in the future. And we definitely discussed that with the PTV, to have a plan for the future to bring this accessibility not only with the stops but also with the new trams, low-floor trams that will help to have a fully accessible service that we all want to have.

Paul Comfort : Very good. Ian?

Ian Dobbs : Hey there. I just like to put a plug in here actually. 2021 is the next summit in Melbourne, Australia. I know we're a long way away. I know it's not easy to travel over those kinds of distances, but you have to come and see the world's largest tram system. It is iconic. It's so much part of Melbourne and its culture. That is not true, it's part of the street-scape. And Nicholas and his team run this amazing system, and in the center of Melbourne and in the inner suburbs, it is the subway as you rightly say. It carries a lot of people, and it would be worth, if for nothing else, just to come and see it in two years' time. I'm sorry about the plug, Paul.

Paul Comfort : I was going to ask you about it, I'm glad you prefaced it there. I love the city of Melbourne, by the way. Melbourne, to me has the feel of Chicago in America. It's a working city. It doesn't feel like a federal city to me. Some other cities feel like a New York City, whatever. It felt more that I could be more in touch with it. I loved it. Great art there. A wonderful city. I can't wait to see you there again soon.

Why don't you just continue a little bit more and talk to us about what UITP is doing in Australia right now?

Ian Dobbs : Quite simply what we're doing is bringing people together. We are, although we're a single nation in both Australia and obviously there's New Zealand as well. Nevertheless, we are really a collection of states, and public transport in Australia and particularly is a state-based. In the past, it's been... The degree of collaboration has been limited. What we're trying to do is to bring people together from different states, from different cities, suppliers, transport authorities, operators to really work and collaborate together. And it's that power of the people as it were, that network that we've worked very hard to improve. And I think looking at our members here we are succeeding. We get people together on a regular basis - whether it's congresses, whether it's training events, boardroom lunches, we share best practice. We never used to do that.

Paul Comfort : Do you work with that group Australasian Railway Association? Is that part of you? Because I spoke to some people from there while I was there.

Ian Dobbs : The Australasian Railway Association is a separate organization. And it's more technical based on just on railways. We are multimodal. We're more about the system than a single mode, and we're more about policy and the future if you like future mobility. Coming back to that.

Paul Comfort : I was about to ask you about that in my next question, what you said, think about that. What is happening in the future around the world? Let me ask you, Alan, what's coming in the near future for PTV? What are the new advances you all are doing there in the state?

Alan Fedda : Well, as Nicolas mentioned around the patronage on the tram network, our multimodal network has over 605 million trips every single year. And the population growth in Melbourne is increasing so rapidly that by 2026 we will exceed Sydney's populations and we will be the largest city in Australia. And to be able to cope with the increased patronage the next 12 months, the next five, six years is all about building capacity in the network and it's about managing disruption on the network as we transform the infrastructure on top of the live network.

We are building a nine-kilometer twin tunnel to completely replicate our city loop with the new metro tunnel. Five new stations and it's going to significantly increase the capacity on our network. We're removing 75 level crossings across the rail network as well and replacing train stations, brand new stations, but also making it safer for pedestrians, road users and making the train network more reliable.

As we roll out these projects, we are disrupting passengers, normal journeys every single day. And in fact, disruption is becoming a normal part of our transport network. We're all about moving people, but we're now, we're also about finding alternative ways of moving people. In July, we're going to have another massive disruption as we continue work on our high-capacity metro trains, our new high-capacity signaling, and continuing the tunneling works.

And when we do that, we have to put on 600 replacement buses to keep people moving. And that's a real challenge - people getting to their work, getting to school, getting to health, but at the same time understanding that we're making the journeys a little bit longer.

Paul Comfort : When I was there a month ago, your prime minister was coming into town to announce a new rail line out to the airport or something like that. And there was a lot of talk about $50 billion, Australian dollars of investment in new rail. It seems like your national government has made a decision that investment in infrastructure is key to the success of their cities.

Alan Fedda : Look, I think it's fantastic across all of Australia where I call it a renaissance. We've seen significant investments, whether it's light rail in Canberra, a light rail in Sydney, you go to Queensland. There are major projects all over the country. And I think it's important at a state level and a federal level that you have a commitment to these major infrastructure programs, because we're not just planning for the next 12 months. We were planning for the next 30 years, the next 50 years. And you've got to have that long-term vision and importantly the financial backing from a federal and state government level.

Paul Comfort : That's good. Nat, why don't you talk about that in the US. What's happening with funding? Where are we going? What's happening in America with transit?

Nat Ford : Exactly. As you're aware, our current bill for funding public transport is going to be expiring in about 18 months. And we're hard at work at APTA developing a platform that we will be taking to our federal legislators, to USDOT, and to Congress to renew that investment in public transportation. But also, to look at that investment in a way that allows for flexibility because it's going to be a bill that we have to live with for the next five to six years.

And with technology changing at the rapid pace that it's changing, where do autonomous vehicles fit in, where do TNCs and shared-ride services fit in, when historically, our funding model has been fixed guideway or bus and bus infrastructure? And we're looking at one, strengthening the funding and expanding the funding for what we currently historically have been funded for, but also looking at additional funding that allows for implementing these alternative services, and also goes as far as looking at how we capture data. Right now, in terms of ridership data that's on a bus or a ridership that's on a bus or a rail, we count that it counts towards your funding in terms of formula funding and things of that nature. Services that I sponsor and do not provide directly even through a contractor, do not provide indirectly they are not allowed to be counted in terms of my ridership numbers.

We're looking at a total transformation. Not so much we need the funding, but the buckets or the description or the categories of that funding is more critical now than ever over the next few years that, as technology develops, we're not locked out of funding to allow us to do projects like the U2C project and some of these other projects that some of my colleagues in the US are doing.

It's an exciting time, but we are competing against a host of needs at the federal level. I think more than ever just make the advocacy with the UITP, with APTA, and all of the different organizations, advocacy, nationally and I think globally is so critical around public transportation. And the growth that we're seeing in our communities that are exponential and people moving back into, particularly in the United States, moving back into downtown and developing downtown central cities, it's going to be critical in the future.

Paul Comfort : Thank you.

Nicholas, I want to ask you a little bit about the model that happens in Australia. I've been traveling the world over the last few months, and different countries run transit differently when it comes to private companies. You work for a company called Keolis. I think you partner with a local partner - the Downer part of the Keolis Downer.

Tell us about the model of how they're running transit in Australia with private companies running some of it and a little bit about your company.

Nicolas Gindt : The battle in Australia is slightly different from what we can see in other countries, especially in regard to the farebox, we have a model that in Australia promotes the idea of operators cooperating and not competing with each other. The idea is to have a common farebox that is actually allocated to a fixed rate to the different operators.

For example, at Yarra Trams we get 20% of the metropolitan farebox, which means that it is the farebox that comes from trams services, but also the farebox that comes from train services. That's interesting because that means it gives you an incentive to actually cooperate with the trains and not compete with trains because together we have a strong incentive - trains have 40% of the farebox, we have 20% of it.

Paul Comfort : You all get to keep that.

Nicolas Gindt : Of course.

Paul Comfort : Okay. All right.

Nicolas Gindt : That's very different from other models that we can see in Europe, where the mode gets its farebox. It's complemented by the subsidy that we get from the government. But this is your farebox. It's not the case in Australia. And I find it very, very smart.

Paul Comfort : That is interesting. Tell us a little about Keolis itself. We'll give you one minute to do a little commercial on Keolis if you like since you're a guest here. I'm very impressed with the company Keolis, personally. I was at one of your big summits when I was CEO of MTA. I was able to meet some people in France, and I was very impressed with what you all do.

Nicolas Gindt : Yes. It's a very interesting company. Of course, we operate in 16 countries across the world. We have two strong places, France and the United Kingdom, but of course, Australia, North America, new countries coming like India or China. And a lot of projects for the future, including in Africa in countries where public transport will become very important in the future.

We are global. We are really in an approach to promote the partnership with the governments. It's really interesting to work on this kind of a partnership approach. I think that makes a difference with other companies. We really strive to make a good partnership with our clients that are the public transport authorities.

Paul Comfort : Are you investors in NAVYA?

Nicolas Gindt : We are a shareholder of NAVYA.

Paul Comfort : Which [manufactures] autonomous vehicles.

Nicolas Gindt : Yes, of course. And actually, we did a few trials in Australia with La Trobe University in Melbourne. But also, in Newcastle soon to try your service of autonomous electric car. That was very interesting. I think that says a lot for the future.

Paul Comfort : I have a talk I do call it Five Hidden Flaws of Most Transit Systems. And one of them is a lack of individual accountability. And I feel most transit systems don't hold the individual employees accountable for their on-time performance. We normally hold them accountable for maybe safety, maybe attendance. But what about actually running the service?

And one of the things I'm impressed with that your company does is have visualization rooms, where all the key performance indicators are up on the wall, and every day you bring your managers in there and make them look at those numbers and defend those numbers. We know that governments often run by story, by anecdote. And public officials - I was a former elected official - we're normally swayed by the latest comment we hear from someone coming in and say, "You know what, my bus was late." Well, you know what, that was an anomaly. We're running 96% on time. I could show you right here on this app, and we could see that we're 96% on time, so I'll have my assistant get the details for you, we'll find out what happened and give you a free ride.

But making sure that individuals are held accountable is a key part of making transit systems more effective and making that more effective is a key part of getting people to ride. And that's a problem across America and England. It's a lower ridership. I was talking about this beforehand - transit systems are seeing a lack of ridership across the world. Some cities are seeing an increase. Ian, tell us why? Tell us what's happening with ridership in Australia at least.

Ian Dobbs : Australia is seeing a boom in the last, I guess, eight to ten years. When I started in this industry, it was on the way down. It really was. People used to say, "Why do you want to work in transit? It's a dying industry." And I guess to some degree, yes it was. It's changed completely now. And I think cities have got bigger, don't forget Melbourne is nearly 5 million people. It's a very large city, and the congestion we're getting is making public transport massively more attractive to users. Also, we've got better at running the systems, to be honest.

Paul Comfort : I was going to comment on that. Your systems are amazingly well run.

Ian Dobbs : And that's around the world. That's the case as well. It's not just us. And on top of that, we've got significant population growth. We're booming off the back of that. And a lot of the people who are arriving in our country are public transport advocates anyway. They've come from places that public transport is the norm. We've really enjoyed growth. And at times it's been a challenge because it's been so rapid. It's difficult to keep up.

Paul Comfort : Yes. One of the things I was really impressed with was in Sydney, Sydney Trains' Howard Collins, great guy, the CEO there, but he took us to the Rail Operations Center, the new ROC. Have you been there? Have you been able to see that? And if so, tell us a little about it.

Ian Dobbs : No, haven't actually. I've had a promise of a visit. I've known Howard for 20 years.

Paul Comfort : He's a former expatriate.

Ian Dobbs : Like a number of public transport] people in Australia, I sat on the Transport Police Authority committee within England. And I've known Howard, he's a very good operator, and I think Sydney is a good example of where they've taken a legacy railway and worked very hard particularly on the customer service side and significantly improved the public's perception of the product.

On top of that, of course, they've attracted people to it. The ROC, I think is one of those technical upgrades that Sydney's going through at the moment along with high-capacity signaling as well, which they're bringing in. Which is, it's very risky. It's a very high-profile technological upgrade for the hardware. But it will reap massive benefits, and we're seeing that with the performance in Sydney. It's increased massively.

On at that point, I should also plug a course, Sydney has got Australia's first fully autonomous heavy rail. That happened in the last few weeks. It's just been launched. It's a massive watershed for us. But I think when people in Australia actually see it and ride on it, there's going to be demanded other places for similar infrastructure.

Paul Comfort : John Holland helped build that, right?

Ian Dobbs : Yes, that's right. And in fact, MTR from Hong Kong, which is MTA in Australia are running it on behalf of the government. Exciting times in the city.

Paul Comfort : Yes, video work just looked amazing. When I saw the videos of it and Howard told us about it, and we were there. Thank you.

Well, let's talk about Public Transport Victoria. What are you looking to in the next five to 10 years in the sense of technology? And what's going to help take you to the next level to meet the needs of a growing city? Ian said, and it's funny, you mentioned that about demographics driving ridership. When I was talking to the CEO of King County Transit, is a friend of mine. He said Seattle was one of the few cities in America that see increases in ridership in 2017 and in 2018. And he told me a lot of it is just demographically driven. The city is growing with young people who see transit as something for everyone to ride, not just some people to ride. But that is happening in cities that are growing like Melbourne. What you see is the future of technology to help you meet those needs.

Alan Fedda : I think as we continue to try and put on more services to move more people, we have to find the technology that's going to help us do that quickly and safely. A number of jurisdictions around the world already introduced high-capacity signaling. And for us, that's a really important focus. And we're putting high-capacity signaling in a brownfield environment, and that is a massive challenge. And we've been working on that project over the last few years and hope to have it live by the end of the year.

It's not just about high-capacity signaling. We often forget about some of the simple technologies that our passengers feel and experience every single day in their hands. Only eight weeks ago, we launched our smart card ticketing system through Google Pay, which allows people now to replicate the smart card and all the fare rules now are available through an app. And we've already sold 100,000 tickets in the last eight weeks alone using that.

We're also working with Trapeze at the moment on upgrading our real-time information for bus networks. I think once we think about the massive multimillion-dollar projects around hard rail infrastructure, we shouldn't forget the technology that makes a real difference to passengers. And I think we also need to look at how we integrate into the technologies that already exist.

The Google Pay work that we did with NTT Data, who's our ticketing operator, is really interesting because Google Pay is already in the hands of so many passengers out there. Why build something new when you can already get into somebody's hand when they've got the technology already on them?

Paul Comfort : Yeah, that's something that TfL was talking to me about. Simon Reed, I think his name is from TfL. I was in his office three weeks ago and, instead of mobility as a service, which is a separate app where a transit agency is the mobility aggregator, he was suggesting that let's make our transit kind of accessible to everyone, on the apps they're already using. Such as, if you're going to go to a movie and you're on their app, and you're picking a movie ticket, then the next thing that pops up underneath that is the bus routes, and you can figure out how you're going to get there.

What are your thoughts on that with technology? Is there room for both approaches do you think?

Alan Fedda : I do think there's room for both because you can't meet all the requirements through one app. And sometimes the state government authorities need to ensure that everybody is able to get the information they need. But we've been working across the state by making our data available, and open access to data will allow for that market to come in and fill the gap.

We know our roads association, RACV, are working on their own mobility as a service app and they'll use the data that we provide. I think if you ensure that the data is seen as owned by the public rather than being owned by the transit authority or the roads authority, what you find is that the apps which are already out there can continue to develop and provide alternative solutions for passengers.

Paul Comfort : That's great. I've got one more question for you all, and that is if you could give us what you think would be one innovation that could help public transit and why would help it. That will kind of focus on the future. One cool innovation, that would really help public transit and why. Nicholas, could just start us off?

Nicolas Gindt : If I had one, I would take one, which is probably a little bit behind the stage. We talked a lot about innovation to improve the passenger experience. Let's be very aware that there will be fantastic things happening in running stock and asset maintenance. We can build and develop predictive maintenance based on data that we will collect remotely from either trams or trains or from the infrastructure just to anticipate the needs of the maintenance. That will be a game-changer.

It is critical because I think assets are probably one of the most important things in our industry and because assets are owned by the governments but maintained by operators. Sometimes it's a little bit of both decision-makers. We have to make sure that it's not forgotten, and this is key for us in the future to improve the way we will make those assets safe, reliable, and fit for purpose.

Paul Comfort : That's excellent. A little inside baseball, but ISO 55000 those standards which require us to maintain and the predictive analysis that products like Trapeze, to be honest with EAM software, just does an amazing job and some others do I know as well.

Here's a good example. I used to run MTA in Baltimore, and we would have a bus breakdown every day. We had 750 buses running, and the bus would break down somewhere on route. Think about the ripple effect of that bus breaking down. The passengers that are on board that vehicle have to then transfer to another vehicle once it gets there. Then we have to call to the garage and get it to come out. Then somebody has to come with a big tow truck and tow that vehicle back. And then this new vehicle, you had to get a new driver out to it. There are so many things that happened. If you could predict it like Nicholas says and say, "Hey, if the temperature on this vehicle gets to X, it's going to break down within five minutes." Then you know to get that vehicle over, it triggers another vehicle going out. The cost savings alone on that are phenomenal.

The man-hours saved or women-hours saved on all the work required to make that happen. He is right, it's a little inside baseball, but that's a great technology. Making sure that predictive analysis is in place at every transit system in the world would make a major difference. Thank you. How about you, Nat. Give us one big innovation.

Nat Ford : One big innovation. Very difficult question because I think we're still working on some of the innovations that are in front of us right now, but I think we are developing a culture or a community that is really looking at immediate fulfillment of whatever we want. And I think if we're able to come close to that immediate fulfillment of when someone wants to take a trip that a vehicle is available for them in a reasonable amount of time, predictable with the consistency and quality of service, vehicle type, and experience and to deliver them with the predictability that they're expecting in the future. I think that's going to be a major milestone.

And then to really kind of shoot this into the sky in terms of innovation, I just think our communities really are growing to see how we embrace transportation from a vertical standpoint. Some of the new technologies related to vertical lift and being able to transport small groups of individuals using the airspace is going to be something that we need to think about and see how that is going to impact our communities either in a negative way, which all allow more sprawl. Or in a positive way, which is those short trips that will free up some of our capacity in terms of roadway space.

Paul Comfort : That's excellent. I think he's right. Do you agree with that? The world has become Uber-ized now. That everybody wants to be in a look, see the vehicle coming. I want it to come as quickly as possible. Again, Simon Reed, I was asking him about innovations, and he's said stuff I'd never heard before from TfL as their technology director. He said the same thing. If we could have bus service come out to the stop when there are at least four people there, and they know that kind of a group pickup.

If we could have micro-transit kind of filling in the gaps and getting people immediately, where they don't have to stand at a bus stop for 30 minutes waiting for a bus. That's the second key by the way. There are three keys to increasing ridership, I think, and you know one of them is making sure your routes are taking people where they want to go today. Two is increasing frequency of your heaviest routes and the third is reduction of friction. That would mean bus-only lanes, transit signal priority, payment of your fare off the bus or quicker tap and go options when you get on. Those are the three keys that are happening in all eight cities in America that saw increased ridership last year. When I was in the United Kingdom, that's what they're doing there as well.

The cities that are seeing increases, Giles Fearnley from First Transit told me, "That cities like Bristol are seeing a 40% increase in ridership last year" and it's because they did exactly that - changing of the routes to take to where they want to go. They are adding frequency to their bus routes, and they're reducing the friction that's making the system run more efficiently. Where may be, in a central business district, you could actually get somewhere faster on a bus and you could walking, which isn't always the case in some cities now.

Let's talk about, at PTV, what do you see as one new big technology or innovation that can help improve transit why?

Alan Fedda : I think we've got to talk about power because as we build the infrastructure to put on new services, the demands that has on electricity is huge. Certainly, our rail network is the second-largest user of electricity in Victoria. Once we talk about carbon emissions and reducing the carbon emissions, we need to look at innovations to reduce the consumption of power. Walking around here today, you can see some of the work happening around hydrogen solutions, but I think we've got a lot more work to do in reducing the impact on the environment, but also reducing the overall cost to run the public transport network.

Paul Comfort : Excellent. Thank you. And Ian, give us your perspective.

Ian Dobbs : That's a great point actually. It's a great point, and it's one of our nation's biggest challenges. We've got a real problem with energy. I'm going to be really boring or kind of go back to what Nicolas said because he's an operator like me.

When I was in my younger days at the beginning of my career, I learned very quickly that, cutting to the chase, people want reliable services. And if you can't deliver what you promise to the customer, it doesn't matter how good the rest of the technology is you're on a loser. I don't think there is a single answer to this. And I'm sorry. That's kind of squirming away out of the question.

Paul Comfort : There are a lot of things which will help or should help develop more reliable services. We must be careful. We don't take our focus off, what is our meaning, which is delivering what we promise to the customer. That's number one. It drives perceptions of everything else.

Ian Dobbs : Our surveys in those early days show that there's a direct correlation between the punctuality of services and customer satisfaction in all kinds of areas. Once you get that right, then you can do the other bits and bobs. And I think for any technological innovations that can be targeted, the boring operating and engineering stuff actually has the biggest benefit.

Paul Comfort : Excellent. That's a great way to wrap it up. Focusing on really what our end purpose is and I think what we've heard from all of our CEOs today, is that everything they're doing is driven from a passion to help people. I know that's what's driving us and me personally and our company is an effort to really help the hundreds of millions of people who ride public transport every day and the mobility that they need in order to make their lives really meaningful.

We help provide that. I can't think of a better business to be in, and I can't think of four greater leaders to be on our panel today than these four gentlemen. Let's give them a round of applause.

Outro : You've been listening to Transit Unplugged powered by Trapeze Group. To stay up to date, subscribe on iTunes or Google Play, or join the conversation at Thanks for listening.

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