By Yohan Amsterdamer, Digital Mobility Director at SYSTRA

The Business of Mobility is an Urban Mobility Company series highlighting some of the most successful new businesses in the mobility sector. Featuring a closer look at the way in which companies stand out, CEOs, Directors and other c-level executives elaborate on what it takes to turn a great idea into a great company.

SYSTRA is a large French engineering firm specializing in public transport and mobility. SYSTRA operates in 80 countries and 70% of turnover is derived internationally. Here Yohan Amsterdamer discusses how his company is helping cities become smarter in their mobility solutions.

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Planning for a better mobility ecosystem

Managing a city means planning the urban space to optimize safety, efficiency, attractivity, environmental sustainability, accessibility, and inclusivity. And mobility is arguably the most important part of this planning process. It is certainly the most complex and dynamic: how to integrate and optimize the tens of millions of daily journeys taken by foot, bike, car, bus, and train? There is no cut-and-paste solution for this; it is a complex and ongoing engineering challenge that demands extraordinary expertise and commitment from city authorities. Indeed, we are fortunate to work with these actors in dozens of cities across the world.

Shifting from supply to demand

Covid has changed the world: once the pandemic subsides many of us will still spend at least half the week working from home. Mobility has also changed. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has created an expectation of transport as a service, managed via an app. Citizens, particularly those that live in large metropolises, are demanding flexibility, choice, and sustainability in how they get around.

Cities are expected to meet this new expectation … and try to do so on diminishing transport budgets.

Good engineering basics

Cites (through their public transport authorities) are at the centre of the mobility ecosystem. Even though some citizens use private vehicles or private mobility operators, the city is still responsible for traffic management, utilisation of space, reduction in pollution, regulation, overall safety, and mass public transport. As if that’s not difficult enough, city authorities must also try to meet the new expectation of flexibility and choice for commuters. How do they handle this complex environment?

One way through the maze of decision-making is for cities to focus on good engineering basics.

Optimizing performance from existing assets

A well-known business anecdote (see Douglas Edwards’ book I’m Feeling Lucky) goes that in the early days, Google’s bosses were 100% committed to the ethic of engineering; so committed that they spurned business ideas that compromised the elegance of their engineering design. It’s much the same for us.

Our job is to optimise legacy infrastructure, make the most out of existing assets, and provide the basic architecture on which cities can develop a robust mobility control system. Who knows what their use case will be in ten years’ time? But if we follow the principles of engineering excellence from the start, then there’s a good chance that it will meet new and unexpected use cases.

Data ready

The first part of our solution is to get all the aspects of a mobility system (rolling stock, telecommunication, depots, passenger information systems, control centres, micromobility, etc.) data-ready. For example, train doors automatically communicating data would allow maintainers to optimize their work. If we need to modernise and upgrade certain systems to IoT, then we’ll do so. So, we have to study what is data ready and what we need to modernise or convert to IoT to make it data ready.

The next step is to integrate existing system like CCTV security cameras, traffic control, passenger information systems, and so on. We show cities that they already have systems that provide functional data and that we don’t always need to build new ones. For example, CCTV cameras can feed into passenger flow information. And once all their systems become integrated you have the potential to create something that goes beyond mere supervision.

A decision-making platform for mobility

In September 2019 SYSTRA developed QETO, a software development studio that can aggregate millions of sets of data to help cities gets a handle on their transport assets. It provides a user centric approach as well as technical capabilities including geographic visualisation, data connectors, data management, 3D visualisation, reporting, and monitoring. Authorities can then use frontend and backend capabilities to power specific use cases on web-applications such as planning and managing assets. However, QETO is not a plug-and-play system. It’s part of the engineering suite of services we offer and is reliant on the fundamentals of the engineering design behind the overall mobility ecosystem.

What’s important is that we deliver something that goes beyond supervision. We call it ‘Hypervision’ – a consolidation of all the supervision systems into a ‘hyper’ system.

Shifting to long-term decision making

Covid has taught us the value of public-private partnerships. I think citizens are realizing that private enterprise cannot alone solve major problems like a health crisis or sustainable mobility. Everyone benefits from good city planning and from long term decisions that embed proper transport engineering principles. I think some of the unrealistic expectations about MaaS and quick-fix software solutions will subside. Citizens will realize that technology is not a silver bullet for mobility. Authorities will be empowered to plan their mobility ecosystem so that it encourages active, clean modes of travel. After all, the ethic of engineering has people and the environment at its core.

Curious to hear more from SYSTRA on their activities in France and abroad? Catch their Virtual Workshop La dynamique du MaaS en France held in October 2020!