Ridango CBDO Rado Skender: “Public transport must become an attractive and efficient choice for people”

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Original article published: https://pmm.finance.si/9013098/%28Intervju%29-%3E%3EJavni-prevoz-mora-postati-privlacna-in-ucinkovita-izbira-za-ljudi 

 “Public transport must become an attractive and efficient choice for people”

Klemen Koncilja

“In order to improve the quality of public services and reduce the use of cars, a comprehensive understanding of the needs of residents, the development of sustainable solutions and cooperation between the public sector, the private sector and residents are necessary,” says Rado Skender from the company LIT Tranzit, which is part of the Ridango group

The concept of mobility as a service, which involves the integration of different forms of transport and the use of technology to facilitate use and access, is certainly an important part of the future of mobility, says Rado Skender, Director of Business Development at LIT Tranzit, a Ridango Group Company

We talked about trends and technological achievements in the field of sustainable mobility with Rado Skender, a public transport expert and co-founder of the company LIT Tranzit, which was taken over at the end of 2021 by the Estonian technology company Ridango, one of the world’s major providers of intelligent transport solutions.

You have been living in Japan for some time now. How did your journey take you from Slovenia to Tokyo?

At first, I came for work, but I fell in love with the country and its culture and stayed. Fortunately, the work I do is not location dependent, so I can be here without it affecting my professional obligations. At the same time, I realized that Japan is a truly wonderful country with many unique opportunities and experiences.

You were once a co-owner of the company Ultra, and then you co-founded the company LIT Tranzit, which was acquired by the Estonian technology company Ridango in 2021. What does the new group do and in which markets do you operate?

The experience with Ultra was exceptional for me, as it was one of the largest and leading technology companies in the region. At that time, it exceeded all standards in the fields in which we worked, which enabled us to quickly penetrate foreign markets. Some solutions that we offered almost 20 years ago have only recently started to penetrate or become standard.

In the later period, I became interested in public transport solutions and the first opportunity we got was in Singapore. This was the beginning of our journey at LIT Tranzit. We have developed a bus arrival prediction system for this city, which is still in operation today and for which we have just obtained an extended contract until 2029. For us, this is a testament to the quality of the solution and the service we provide to them.

The peculiarity of Singapore is that about 30 percent of voters’ decisions are related to the operation of public transport.

The conditions under which the systems have to operate there are on a completely different level than what is common in Europe, and so every day we generate more than 240 million data points, on the basis of which the accuracy of the forecasting system is evaluated. From there, we expanded our operations through projects in Asia and Oceania, and then returned to Europe via the Middle East. Our path is therefore completely different from what you would expect from a Slovenian company.

The subsequent merger with Ridango enabled us to offer a wider range of technologies and, above all, gain in company size. This now allows us to directly participate in large tenders. We are currently present in 27 countries on five continents and cooperate with more than 110 agencies. As a combined company, we qualify for much bigger projects, and based on the forecast, I think we’ll have a chance to show off even closer to home.

Last year, for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, your fleet management system was used for ongoing operation and attendance of the championship. Are the countries of the Middle East ahead of the European ones in terms of the introduction of technological innovations? Is electrification being defended at the expense of vast oil reserves?

It was a great honour for us to be entrusted with the FIFA project; preparations for it were very thorough and long. Otherwise, electrification in the Middle East is more influenced by weather conditions than by the state’s attempt to inhibit technology. A big challenge is high temperatures and
their effect on batteries and the like. As one of the co-founders of Papercast, a company that produces environmentally friendly solar-powered digital displays energy and batteries, I am well aware of what it means for electronics to operate at device temperatures well above 60 degrees Celsius, when it is so hot outside that trash on the road automatically ignites.

In such extreme conditions, special solutions must be considered that allows electronic devices to be used efficiently and safely. At Papercast, we have focused on developing technologies that are adapted to work in harsh environmental conditions, such as high temperatures. In the Middle East, we have several thousand screens with solar systems that have proven to be reliable even in extreme temperatures. We understand that the weather conditions in this area are a big challenge for electronics, so we try to develop solutions that are adapted to this environment. It is important that the technology works reliably and safely regardless of the extreme weather conditions we face.

Overall, we are the leading supplier of public transport technologies in the Middle East region. In addition to the project to supply electric buses to Qatar, we have also established an integrated public transport system for the Muslim holy city of Mecca. We have also successfully completed projects in Kuwait, Oman, and recently we were selected for an important project in the Emirates, the details of which I cannot disclose yet.

The epidemic and the subsequent energy crisis seem to have significantly limited efforts towards sustainable mobility and the development of the necessary alternative energy sources. Oil companies made record profits during this time, especially in 2022. Do you expect sustainability efforts to pick up again now that the markets are slowly calming down?

As a company focused on public transport technologies, we are aware of the importance of sustainable mobility. Although an electric vehicle on the road is an important step, it is still only a vehicle on the road with the same two tons of iron, and the key is to convince users to use public transport or other alternatives for shorter distances that reduce the carbon footprint and improve the quality of life.

Our task covers several areas. We accept the challenges of setting up public transport systems and their optimization. This includes planning efficient routes, using the right type of vehicles, and also gaining people’s confidence to choose to use public transport instead of a private car. We focus on how we can make people spend more quality time and improve their public transport experience.

In addition, we also devote ourselves to the development of solutions for the integration of the “first and last mile” in public transport. These are solutions that enable an easy connection between your home or starting point and a public transport stop. It is important that these solutions are user-friendly, as this way we can encourage people to use public transport and improve the overall travel experience.

The field of sustainable mobility is very dynamic, although it may not seem so at first glance. We care about innovation and follow trends and user needs to develop better solutions. We aim to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make mobility more sustainable and comfortable for everyone. Cooperation between companies, public institutions and the community is key to achieving these goals. Together we can create an environment where public transport is an attractive and efficient choice for people.

You have established a hybrid transport system in Baku during the corona. What forms of mobility does it connect? How does your account-based mobility platform work?

The case of Baku is indeed specific, but it is also reflected in a larger trend that is happening around the world. We were selected to replace an outdated system in Baku that did not provide sufficient connectivity and control as desired by the regulator. Baku’s public transport system is complex, with 28 metro stations, 2,200 buses and more than 600 million trips made per year. The transition to a new system was a challenge not only because of the pandemic and resource issues, but also the whole environment and how this part of the world works. In the end, we successfully completed the entire project and today it is one of our more successful projects.

During the coronavirus period, one of the most interesting projects that we successfully implemented was in New Zealand for the Canterbury (Christchurch) region, where we took over the full management of the central hub and the entire public transport. New Zealand was known for its strict anti-coronavirus policy, so most of the project was carried out remotely from Slovenia, which was a special achievement.

Another example that demonstrates our ability to adapt and implement projects even in challenging circumstances, such as war, is Kyiv’s public transport. This works on our system, and during the war we upgraded it to support bank cards as well, because the distribution of other smart cards is difficult.

In short, the use of modern communication technologies and cooperation with remote clients allow us to effectively implement projects regardless of geographical distance.

So you have a lot of experience from countries around the world. Sustainable mobility through the electrification of vehicles and the introduction of digital multimodal platforms is being rapidly introduced in many countries. What is your opinion about such mobility to smart city platforms?

There are many verticals in the work of sustainable mobility when it comes to smart city solutions, and the way we see it, we are always one of the pillars of these solutions, which either have direct clients or communicate with other pillars of these solutions through various data nodes. In our case, we are very narrowly focused on four key segments of these solutions: line public transport management, modal integration, ticketing management and EMV payment acceptance.

How do you see the issue of mobility in Slovenia? Why do we seem to be in an intractable situation? Sometimes it seems that Slovenia has a car lobby just like America, but I think that there is simply no suitable focus to regulate the area.

No situation is unsolvable, but much has been missed over the decades without a strategic approach to this issue. If you look at the policy so far, it has only been on the supply side, something is given to people for free and there will be more use, rather than cutting corners and making services more competitive.

These solutions for public money bring more retired people to the seaside, but not fewer cars on the road.

The arrangement of highways and the construction of highways, which also take into account the needs of public transport, are important steps in improving the accessibility and attractiveness of public transport. Then there are mobility as a service and aggregation, transport alternatives and the first and last mile. If arteries work, veins make sense too.

If you look in Ljubljana at how much you need on the ring road between Šiška and Bežigrad and how much by bus via Bavarac, it is clear that there is a lot of room for improvement. It is also essential to develop efficient connections between different forms of transport such as buses, trains, bicycles, walking to allow easy transition between them.

The concept of mobility as a service, which involves the integration of different forms of transport and the use of technology to facilitate use and access, is certainly an important part of the future of mobility. This also includes thinking about the first and last mile, allowing people to easily switch between different forms of transport and encouraging the use of public transport. In order to improve the quality of public services and reduce the use of cars, we need a holistic understanding of the needs of residents, the development of sustainable solutions and cooperation between the public sector, the private sector and residents. Only with such an approach can a transition to more sustainable and efficient mobility in society be achieved.

So are the solutions to improving public transport and introducing multimodal platforms? Should Slovenia only use one common platform because of the small distances and the rather small number of users?

Slovenia is not that small, and if I were to look at Estonia, for example, I would see that a lot can still be done in this area, not to mention Singapore or similar countries, which are built on the model that people do not use private vehicles.

There are two options, either a common national platform or the definition and control of data exchange standards. Of course, if you look at the size of the Slovenian public transport segment, probably the only possibility to achieve a good price is some centralization and then purchasing according to the level model, as London, Sydney, Dubai and similar cities do, which want the best technology and at the same time maintain independence from providers.

You are advocate of open data systems. Should public transport also follow suit?

Europe has invested heavily in standardization and open standards for data exchange, which have eventually spread throughout the world. Because of this, there is virtually no reason to implement anything outside of the EU or global standards like EMV, which clients are slowly becoming aware of as well.

When not talking about subscribers, the openness or closure of the technology depends on the policy of the individual provider. As I mentioned earlier, we as a company have grown on a foundation of capacity and openness, as we have never had a home market to protect us. Openness has become our competitive advantage, which is also the motto of Singapore, where our company started.

Today, I can claim that we have the most open systems in the industry, which is recognized by both partners and customers. Our openness allows us to quickly adopt and adapt new technologies, follow trends and market needs, and provide high-quality solutions. Customers are aware of the advantages of openness, as it enables easier integration, data exchange and long-term adaptation, which is the key to successful and sustainable business in today’s fast-changing world. Openness should of course be horizontal as well as vertical and in my experience should be the first priority of every client.

Are you planning to return to Slovenia someday?
Certainly in a few years, because Slovenia has its advantages in terms of quality of life.