As CEO of SBB (Swiss Federal Railways), a company with a public service mandate, Andreas Meyer is responsible for managing day-to-day operations with his 33,000-strong crew while preparing the organization for the future. These tasks require him to move between the now and the next, never losing sight of his public mandate. GCA spoke with Andreas and took a deep dive into the future, exploring how concepts such as smart cities, systems to support train operators, connected mobility and renewable energy sources will address the demands of the not-so-distant future traveler.
As Chief Public Mobility and Transportation Officer, you are responsible for the strategic development of the railway and its infrastructure. SBB claims to be “shaping the mobility of the future - simple, personal, connected.” What exactly does this mean?
We invest in identifying and anticipating customer preferences and articulating future mobility needs, with the objective to provide a safe and simple door-to-door journey. The scope of SBB and its role as a traditional railway system operator is undergoing a significant transformation as new mobility patterns are being discovered. We anticipate that technological advances are likely to accelerate these developments and continue to shape the future role of SBB. As we embark on the next phase of this exciting journey, we are laying the foundation to meet the growing need for personalized, intermodal mobility and innovative logistics solutions. Whereas in the past each mobility provider (train, bus, car, air-travel, tram, bicycle, etc.) was viewed as an individual transportation element, future mobility systems will be fully integrated into the homogenous and seamlessly connected mobility chain. From a physical perspective, we will continue to operate and rely on the strengths of the railway system. However, to cater to future needs, we are investing vast amounts in infrastructure, enabling technology and digital services to meet our customers’ evolving mobility needs and preferences. For example, we developed a mobile app and turned it into a trip app which our clients can use to plan their journey from A to B while considering all mobility service providers. With the SBB Green Class, we’re testing a sustainable offering across the entire mobility chain. With our SmartRail 4.0 initiative, we are increasing the capacity of the existing infrastructure without significantly adding to or changing our existing infrastructure. As a result, we’re able to save significant costs. In addition, we’re adding sensors to our cargo containers and automating transport and related processes. This will not only enable the envisaged transportation systems to work more efficiently; it will also enhance the quality of life of millions of people while supporting economic growth. Our mission is to become the preferred mobility service provider for our customers, irrespective of time and place, and to manage all of their travel needs as efficiently as possible. This means that SBB is evolving into more and more of a digital and personal mobility service provider without losing our traditional strengths of a railway operator with a long history. That is the essence of “simple, personal and connected”.
This means that SBB is evolving into more and more of a digital and personal mobility service provider.
It is encouraging to see that you are preparing your organization for the future while at the same time taking the opportunity to define the future of mobility. What does it look like?
SBB is the backbone of the Swiss Economy since we transport over 1.2 million travelers and 200,000 tons of cargo on an average day. We are proud to say that we are able to transport our customers with a 90% on-time arrival rate within a 3-minute tolerance, which is world-class from an international perspective. We focus and build on our strengths, which means providing attractive means of transportation at reasonable costs. In the process, we also increase our competitive edge. The second aspect of the future of mobility is connections between multiple mobility service providers. While the term “train stations” is still widely used, train stations will develop into “mobility platforms” or “regional and urban mobility hubs” that connect and combine with all other auxiliary transportation systems. In a third dimension, we have become a trusted mobility data services provider, in order to provide personalized mobility experience for our clients. In order to provide the most pleasant travel experience, the use of customer data will enable us to proactively identify and address customer needs. We adhere closely to the rules of data protection. Our goal is to increase the quality of life, and we view ourselves as a critical element in keeping a competitive edge as a country within a greater European context. We want to ensure growth is both smart and broad-based, by drawing on digitalization and new technologies and reflecting the various strengths of rail travel. We aim to be digital and personal at the same time.
The entire mobility chain is becoming more complex and interconnected. SBB as an organization must continually define its role as a key transportation/mobility provider. What are some of your initiatives to address these challenges?
SBB is committed to driving innovation by making substantial and strategic investments, with the aim of providing compelling mobility service offerings at a reasonable price. In addition to building new, or enhancing our already existing infrastructure, we invest in systems to support our train operators, green mobility, electric car sharing and other attractive personalized mobility solutions, thus combining and incorporating all relevant means of traveling into one flexible, easy-to-use transportation offering. For example, we now offer E-bikes in combination with electric cars with our annual Green Class mobility pass, allowing our customers to seamlessly access all available transportation systems, promoting a sustainable and genuine door-to-door travel experience. Additional inputs for innovation and inspiration are derived from our own innovation fund, designed to foster ideas and fund pilot projects, and from frequent exchanges with technology leaders and other leading mobility providers in Japan, Singapore, Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. All of this allows us to observe and experience best practices, learn, and identify areas we need to further invest in. This exchange on an international level proves extremely useful. These elements provide a real competitive edge and enable us to define a common vision and tangible possibilities regarding the future of mobility needs.
All of these changes will have a profound impact on our mobility system and our society, and must be addressed within a sustainable, smart city context.
Can you please share what SBB is doing in the area of sustainability?
Ecological sustainability is one of the central objectives of SBB Group. Today the SBB trains are powered with 90% environmentally-friendly hydroelectric power. By 2025, this level will increase to 100%, purely relying on renewable energy. Thus, our carbon footprint is approaching zero. This is quite unique for Switzerland, while other European railway service providers are also leveraging alternative and renewable energy sources which are seen as an attractive unique service proposition to customers compared to other means of transport. Previous long-term investments in sustainable infrastructure were critical, allowing us today and in future generations to benefit from these sustainable energy sources. This is why it’s critical that we continue to invest with a long-term view, ensuring the attractiveness of SBB in providing relevant, safe and efficient mobility solutions. Since SBB has long-standing and strong relationships with various energy partners in Switzerland, these partnerships have proven extremely valuable for our current operating model. In addition, we are also working on sustainable service concepts, testing innovative mobility solutions, and enhancing the environmental advantage that the railway holds over other forms of transportation.
What are smart cities and what do they mean for SBB? To what extent are you leveraging this opportunity?
A smart city offers its inhabitants the highest quality of life using as few resources as possible. This can be achieved by linking different infrastructures such as transport, energy and communications, for individual buildings, districts or whole cities. New technologies form the foundation of these connections. Today we are running large-scale pilot projects to transform our hub in Zurich into the smartest place in Switzerland, working with some of the world’s renowned technology leaders, innovative building developers, and other partners from the worlds of business and academia. Evidence suggests the Swiss population will continue to increase by approximately 25% to 10.2 million in 2045, with a majority living in larger cities. These demographic shifts and developments present great challenges and create valuable opportunities. The concept of the smart city will allow us to cope with the challenges of urbanization and its associated effects, such as increasing volume of traffic and number of travelers (expected to increase 25% - 30% by 2040), the concurrent increase in energy consumption, and the overall impact on supply and waste management. Already today, 2/3 of the energy is consumed by these larger city hubs. All of these changes will have a profound impact on our mobility system and our society, and must be addressed within a sustainable, smart city context.
What does SBB do in the area of digitalization and what are the advantages for the customers?
New technology will enable us to do more with less. We strive to do more with less, better and faster. Our goal with SmartRail 4.0 is to in - crease efficiency by 30%, add more transportation capacity, reduce costs, and enhance safety of the already safest transportation systems by 90%. Digitization will be the key in improving interaction with customers, increasing internal efficiency, and capacity management. In order to cater to the changing travel preferences and requirements of our customer community, digitalization is an important element in realizing the idea of smart cities and managed mobility. Advances in technology will empower the “Internet of Everything” by connecting all transportation means such as remote buses, autonomous vehicles, pooling and sharing driven by smart data, creating new opportunities and thus enhancing our entire mobility system. The transition to “smart city” and “managed mobility” has already begun and the advantages of these interconnected mobile and highly personalized services are enormous.
What is your wish or hope for SBB in the future?
It is my hope that the next generation of leaders continue to invest in strategic initiatives such as infrastructure and technology-related projects, applying a bold and visionary perspective. A long-term view coupled with an innovative approach will allow a public transportation organization like SBB to continue to play a critical role in serving our society, ensuring the competitiveness of Switzerland, while providing seamless connectivity to other European countries. Second, as a mobility leader, we need to keep our pioneering spirit and our willingness to be bold to invest in our future. We need to remain courageous, accept the challenges, and dare to fail within reason and a safe environment in order to succeed as we set ambitious goals for the future of mobility.
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