8 Dec 2021

Combined transport: a vision becomes reality

Interview with Dr Alexander Pischon, Managing Director of KVV

Combined transport: a vision becomes reality

Dr Alexander Pischon, Managing Director of the Karlsruhe Transport Authority (KVV)
Dr Alexander Pischon, Managing Director of KVV

Combined transport has finally arrived. Since Sunday 12 December, Karlsruhe’s trams and light railways are operating in the new tunnels and on the overground track on Kriegsstrasse. Construction work on the project began on 21 January 2010. Now, almost twelve years later, passenger journeys are set to start on the city centre’s all-new transport network.

We spoke to Dr Alexander Pischon, Managing Director of the Karlsruhe Transport Authority (KVV), to discuss the reasons behind this so-called “combined transport solution”, the benefits it offers to passengers, and more.

Can you tell us how the coronavirus pandemic affected KVV’s economic situation? What is the situation now and what developments do you expect in the coming months?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

The pandemic has had a severe effect on the entire public transport industry throughout Germany. Unfortunately, we in Karlsruhe have not been spared this. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, our revenue from ticket sales fell by around 70 million euros. We have also lost around 15 per cent of our annual pass customers. Fortunately, these falls in revenue have been fully compensated by the two aid packages provided by the federal and state governments. I can honestly say that without these two packages, our industry would have been devastated. The aid provided has helped support small and medium-sized bus companies throughout the crisis, to name just one example. We now hope that passenger numbers will stabilise over the long term and lead to a stabilisation in revenues. We are also hoping to attract significant numbers of new customers, partly through the opening of the new Karlsruhe tunnel.

How has passenger behaviour changed over the course of the pandemic and how are you planning to respond to the related challenges going forward?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

At the start of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, we saw a massive collapse in passenger numbers throughout the KVV network. Back then, passenger numbers were around only a quarter of their usual level. That was a very difficult period. Fortunately, passengers have been coming back in large numbers. We are currently operating at around 70 per cent capacity and are hopeful that this trend will continue.

Studies have proven that buses and trains have never contributed significantly to the spread of the virus. Our vehicles are ventilated at every stop whenever the doors open, mask wearing has proven effective, and passages now have to show proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test. These measures have all have made our buses and trains safe for our passengers.

Karlsruhe is an important model region for mobility and is home to many innovations. You are one of most important driving forces behind this. What is your vision or strategy for public transport in Karlsruhe?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

That’s right, Karlsruhe has been known for many decades for the innovative nature of its public transport system. For me it is very important to secure this special position and continuously expand upon it. The vision behind this is based on two central elements. We want to offer the customer an attractive service at all times in the here and now, while also developing the future in all areas of public transport.

Just look at the Baden-Württemberg Test Area for Autonomous Driving, which was set up in Karlsruhe because of the expertise and innovative prowess here. Another good example is KVV’s regiomove project. Here, we combine a wide range of mobility services at several locations in the region that passengers can book easily via a user-friendly app. I believe that flexible, digital services like this represent the future.

What is the combined transport solution and what changes and benefits will it bring for people in Karlsruhe?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

The combined transport solution is one of the largest construction projects in the city’s history. The new light rail tunnel and track section on Kriegsstrasse will greatly improve the performance of our transport network. Passengers will reach their destinations quicker, and with greater reliability and punctuality, as soon as operations begin from mid-December. New lines and greater capacity will also make public transport in Karlsruhe fit for the growing needs of the future.

The light rail tunnel will lead to shorter journey times on many routes, especially in the city centre, and will also feature seven new, accessible stations. In addition, the combined transport solution is a reflection of the general urban development in the city. Moving the transport network underground has enabled the creation of a true pedestrian zone where people will want to spend time.

The combined transport solution is due to begin operations on 12 December. How was this process for KVV? What are your expectations?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

We at the Karlsruhe Transport Authority hope above all that the faster tram and light rail connections will lead to a further rise in passenger numbers. The completion of the light rail tunnel is an important milestone in many regards. With our attractive public transport service, we are also making an important contribution to both revolutionising transport and protecting the climate. I believe that in the coming years, public transport will play a decisive role in these issues. After all, fighting climate change is only possible with an approach that involves all of society.

KVV has played a leading role in the regiomove project. What is the background here?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

The regiomove mobility app has been very popular among our customers since the end of 2020. regiomove gives customers easy access to all services together in a single app, including timetable information, booking and payment for various modes of transport, and a key mechanism for rental bikes. Together with the multi-modal mobility stations at several locations across the KVV network, known as ports, the app has become a visible symbol for environmentally friendly transport in Karlsruhe. I’m very proud of this. Using the app, our customers can create their individual journey and pay for it on their phone with just a few clicks.

Can you tell us a bit about the pioneering HomeZone project? How will this benefit passengers? What challenges have you faced and still need to overcome?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

KVV.homezone and KVV.luftlinie are two all-new digital pricing schemes that will be available from 12 December. We presented these at a major press conference at the end of November. KVV.luftlinie (English: “as the crow flies”) is aimed at occasional passengers, while KVV.homezone is a flexible pass system aimed at customers who use our network frequently. Both products can be purchased electronically via the KVV.regiomove app and expand our already comprehensive range of ticket options. KVV.homezone allows frequent users to set their own mobility radius independently of the KVV network structure for the first time. This means they only pay for what they actually use. After selecting their mobility radius, customers can use the flexible pass as often as they like and in any mode of transport for a period of 28 days. The pass ends automatically after this period.

What other plans do you have for making mobility in Karlsruhe even more attractive?

Dr Alexander Pischon:

Over the next few years, our focus will be on further expanding our attractive digital service. One of our aims is to make our new KVV.homezone even more flexible. We believe that demand for flexible ticketing will increase in future, as people increasingly spend more time working from home. We also want to integrate more modes of transport into our regiomove app, such as car sharing, bike sharing or shuttles. Another important topic will be continuing the development of our app together with Mobility Inside, creating a nationwide ticketing solution for all modes of transport, including long-distance trains. In the coming years, we will of course also have to double down on expanding track infrastructure, both in Karlsruhe and the region. We want our customers to enjoy travelling with our trains. This calls for an attractive and reliable transport service in the region. Solid infrastructure is essential for this. On-demand shuttle services will become increasingly important in rural areas, as there is great demand for this “last mile” transport.