Disrupting the traditional model: Interview with Robert Puentes

Robert Puentes

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Interview with UITP Summit keynote and Eno Center CEO Robert Puentes

Robert Puentes is well aware of the changes that are occurring in the public transport sector. As President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, Puentes is responsible for overseeing a range of projects that directly concern innovation and development of urban mobility.  

Highlighting this commitment to innovation in public transport is the Eno Project, Digital Cities, which explores the impact of technology on the sector, with the ultimate goal of developing specific recommendations for policymakers and transport operators.

As a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, as well as serving on a variety of boards and committees, Mr Puentes is an excellent fit as keynote speaker at the 2017 Global Public Transport Summit. We sat down with him to discuss Digital Cities, industry challenges, and the future of the sector.

What are the most serious challenges that the public transport industry faces today?

At least in the United States, public transit is suffering from many challenges. One of the most significant is declining ridership in almost every major American city in 2016. Cheap gasoline and declining service are two key factors. However, ridership increased in Houston and Seattle, two places applying innovative practices to redesign and optimise their bus networks. Other places should follow these examples.

How does the Eno Center’s project, Digital Cities, promote innovation in public transport?

New technology-enabled mobility options are changing the face of urban transportation, posing both threats and opportunities to existing public transportation services. Several transit agencies in the USA are working diligently to identify ways to partner with private-sector players to provide enhanced last-mile connections, paratransit services, and other services.

Most of these agencies are uncovering a myriad of legal, technical and regulatory barriers to creating effective and mutually beneficial partnerships. And many of these barriers are shared across agencies.  As part of our Digital Cities project, Eno is the hub of a network of transit professionals around the country helping them share experiences, information, and best practices. They discuss, for example, the variety of innovative partnerships and explore the legal and regulatory barriers that agencies are encountering.

What role should public officials play in the transition to autonomous vehicles?

Automated vehicle technology is actively disrupting the traditional roles and responsibilities of government institutions at all levels. In order to prepare for and adequately respond to this rapidly evolving technology, public officials need to establish dynamic regulatory structures that emphasise safety on public roadways without hindering innovation. But these need to be collaborative approaches that include a variety of sectors, such as planning, housing, economic development and especially public transit.

We need to figure out new solutions for the delivery, design and financing of transportation

What is your vision of the future of public transport?

Eno’s vision is for an American transportation system that fosters economic vitality and improves the quality of life for all. I do believe that the nation’s ability to fully realise its competitive potential depends on making smart choices when it comes to public transport.

Today, we are living through an era of historic change that is changing the need, purpose, and function of our transit systems. At the same time, we should recognize the financial and political challenges ahead and the complexities inherent today. We need to figure out new solutions for the delivery, design and financing of transportation, and make them the norm rather than the exception.


Click here for an extended biography of Robert Puentes.

Register now for the 2017 Global Public Transport Summit (15-17 May, Montréal) to enjoy Mr Puentes’ keynote speech, and a range of other innovative and engaging presentations, exhibitions and activities:

2017 UITP Summit: Register now!

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