International Bus Conference speakers share their thoughts: Antonio Manuel Domingues Pires of Carris

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This year, UITP will once again join forces with our collaborators at Busworld to host the International Bus Conference 2019 (Brussels, 21-23 October) – the world’s biggest event dedicated to the bus.

There are many interesting and important developments happening within the bus sector and to place a much-welcomed spotlight on the industry, UITP began our “Story of the Bus” journey this summer, marking 100 days until the sector embarks in Brussels.

Setting off from UITP in July, we have informed and updated the sector on the latest innovations and advancements with the release of five brand new bus publications.

Now, as we make the final part of our journey towards our Conference, we’re stopping off at the side of the road to meet and greet a selection of our international speakers and panellists…

We started getting to know our speakers with Renée Amilcar, Executive Director of Bus for Societe De Transport De Montreal and Chair of the UITP Bus Division, a Vice President of UITP and member of UITP’s Executive Board…and then we met Johan Holstein, Development Executive at Arriva.

Up next is Antonio Manuel Domingues Pires, COO/CTO of Carris, Lisbon, Portugal   

Antonio, you are COO/CTO of Carris De Ferro De Lisboa, the Libson Bus City operator. Your mission has been described as to ‘manage and transform’ the company. Can you tell our readers more about your plans for Carris?

Urban mobility is experiencing a great transformation, with lots of new entrants to the market, bringing new modes, technologies and business models. At CARRIS we are trying to transform the company to make it benefit from this ‘revolution’, i.e. position buses and trams as key players in urban mobility in the digital era. This transformation is so profound that it touches all the areas of the organisation, from recruitment to operations. In my role the focus has been on fleet renewal, growing our offer, launching new lines and services, and digitalising all aspects of both our operations and contact with clients. At CARRIS, we believe that our role as a bus and tram operator, is to seamless integrate our service with the mobility ecosystem in order to deliver a top client experience, and allow people to leave their private cars behind.

Today, top performers are not only concerned with the bottom line, but also with their broad impact on the environment and communities...

It seems that lately the bus sector has taken a much-deserved share of the public transport spotlight, with many new technological and energy advancements making headlines. What are your thoughts on the current status of the bus?

We know that buses are often considered to be the least attractive form of public transport. Customer studies usually associate them with old, polluting or uncomfortable vehicles, unreliable services and long waiting times. This technological transformation is now a great opportunity to change this perception, even if many of the aspects are not directly related with actually having a new vehicle. Let me explain this last point: when I started as COO I defined as a top priority to increase reliability; in less than three years we managed to increase our bus reliability KPIs from a poor 90% to better-than-industry-standard levels of 98-99%. This is a massive effort which is extremely difficult to communicate. But if we convince people that don’t use our services to try the new vehicles, they will also see that our service is actually much more reliable than it was in the past. This is just an example of our understanding the impact of new vehicles is determinant to re-position bus services in our customers’ mind. 

You have extensive experience teaching executive courses in various business schools (Antonio started his career as a consultant in a business school boutique and later worked at Boston Consulting Group). What was this part of your career like for you? Were you able to see a new generation of business thinkers and leaders develop during your teaching period?

Having been a strategic consultant and a teacher for executive courses was a tremendous experience, giving me a framework to approach problem solving and transformation projects that are key for my day to day work. If I have to highlight a single aspect that I see in the new generation of business thinkers and leaders is how sustainability is now taking a central role in the way we do and think our businesses. Today, top performers, are not only concerned with the bottom line but also with their broad impact on the environment and communities.

"I think we may be living through a turning point in the bus industry...I believe that more and more mayors see buses as a quick fix...a way to give people a sustainable alternative to move in cities in years, rather than decades."

The Parallel Session you will participate on during the International Bus Conference is “Happy bus drivers, happy customers” There’s been a shift towards focusing more on making passengers and staff happy in their daily journeys and daily work. What’s the key to providing the best customer satisfaction?

If you look at customer satisfaction studies your conclusion would be that you’d need to focus on the basics: service availability and time-related aspects, i.e. journey time and punctuality. But I believe we need to go beyond that, as to conquer clients from passenger cars we need to cover all the passenger experience cycle, starting with the information provided before the trip, i.e. the ticket acquisition process, and the experience in the bus stops; moving towards in-vehicle experience, including comfort but also access to services such as wi-fi; and only finishing on the post-trip experience, including feedback, customer care, loyalty, etc. This does not mean we shall ignore the basics, rather the opposite: we must address the basics but being aware that it is not going to be enough.  

And finally, what does the future of the bus look like to you?

I think we may be living through a turning point in the bus industry. If you think about ‘competitive advantages’ of buses in the urban mobility market, i.e. what does distinguish it from a metro, a car or a bike, you’d probably conclude that, on the one hand, it has a unique combination of capacity and flexibility, and, in the other hand, a relatively low cost and quick implementation process for a public transport mode. I think these two advantages will be reinforced by technology and societal trends, which will benefit buses. I will give you two examples...digitalisation open-up numerous opportunities in the area of transport on-demand, which will actually help buses better capitalize on their ‘flexibility’. We are working on this still in a framework of innovation, but I do believe that in a few years’ time we may see transport on-demand as a big part of our operations, both helping us improve our services and/or cutting our costs.Urbanisation and climate change is putting an enormous pressure on cities to quickly find sustainable ways of moving within them. Everyday, when you read the news you get reminded that the clock is ticking. At the same time budgets are constrained and its ever more difficult to engage in big projects, such as new rail or metro lines. Against this background I believe that more and more Mayors see buses as a quick fix, i.e. a way to give people a sustainable alternative to move in cities in years rather than decades, and without necessarily engaging in 10+ digits investments.          

Thank you to Antonio for his time and wise words!




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