The International Rail Forum for North America facilitates the exchange of knowledge and best practices, bringing the region into a global discourse about the latest trends in the industry.
Following the success of the inaugural meeting in 2016, the 2017 edition will take place on December 7-8 in Washington, D.C. The theme of the Forum is “Public Transit as a Business”, focusing on funding streams, investment, and public-private partnerships. The sessions will feature global success stories, case studies, and discussions with industry leaders.
Ahead of the event, we sat down with Robert Puentes, President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, to discuss mobility challenges in North America and innovation in the sector.
Can you tell us how public transport is leading the mobility transition?
I think right now that public transport is leading the large transitions that are happening all across the world. We’re going through a period of dramatic transition – in terms of the global economy, demographics, and of course technological developments. These changes are affecting every aspect of the public transport environment.
It’s natural for public transport agencies to lead the transition, as they are usually rooted in centre cities and provide access to economic opportunities, connecting people with jobs. Also the industry has always been very technologically focused, meaning that the sector is perfectly positioned to lead the transition.
Can you discuss a specific contribution of public transport to solving current mobility problems?
One thing that public transport is doing to ease mobility problems is beginning to partner with other firms, particularly private firms, which brings a significant amount of innovation to the sector. Bringing in tech firms that are providing ride sharing services, bike-share, car-share, new routing software, means that public transport agencies can take advantage of this innovation.
What is your opinion on public-private partnerships in the sector?
For me, the most interesting thing is how the public and private sectors are working together with true partnerships, not just transactions, not selling off assets, but truly working together to solve problems that cities are dealing with. Public agencies and the private sector, cities, they are all working together and I think that is a positive thing.
Tell us about some of the key challenges facing North America concerning public transport, and how the area is responding.
In North America, the biggest problem is declining ridership. We’re seeing this in almost every single metropolitan area, particularly with regards to the bus system. A large number of people are leaving public transport and we’re not sure exactly why. But this is a significant problem that the sector must deal with. On top of that, we have declining levels of service, and infrastructure that is well beyond its life. We need to reinvest in the system to bring back riders in order to stabilise the sector.
These problems provide an exciting climate for experimentation and innovation. Cities are not sitting around waiting for public transport problems to be solved, but getting out there and engaging in pilot projects. These experiments will provide models for the whole world to follow.
How can innovation in public transport solve some of these problems?
The current model of most public transport agencies is rooted in the 1950s, so it desperately needs an upgrade so that it can face the challenges of today. Cities today look nothing like they did a generation ago, so we have to make sure that the transport agencies take advantage of new technological developments to serve 21st century passengers.
Register here to join the conversation at the International Rail Forum for North America in Washington D.C. this December!
Watch the full interview with Robert Puentes below!