21 Jun 2023

"Taking public transport to the next level"

Driving force in Barcelona: academia, companies and transport operators presented forward-thinking mobility solutions

For three days at the beginning of June, everything at the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in Barcelona revolved around trends and innovations that make public transport even more efficient, sustainable and customer-centric. The Karlsruhe Mobility Lab, an association of 15 partners from the TechnologyRegion Karlsruhe (TRK), key players in the industry as well as transport companies, associations and research institutions were all in attendance to showcase the power of the region. The focus of the joint stand, under the leadership of TRK and Messe Karlsruhe, was the ability to test public transport possibilities virtually before making decisions on possible real-life implementation. The concept attracted much interest in Barcelona, especially among municipal decision-makers and transport companies.

TRK Managing Director Jochen Ehlgötz observed: "For TRK, the joint stand under the name Karlsruhe Mobility Lab was an important positioning in the global competition of mobility regions. I am very happy that we had more than 15 partners on board who were able to present more than 20 projects, and had more than 35 delegates at the UITP World Summit. It was important for the Messe Karlsruhe team to take charge of the joint stand in Barcelona and the preparations for the Karlsruhe delegation alongside TRK.”

“In order to really advance mobility, we need networked cooperation between research, the public sector and relevant companies in order to maximise the innovative power of all stakeholders and raise public transport to the next level,” adds Britta Wirtz, Managing Director of Messe Karlsruhe. “We have plenty of that in Karlsruhe, which is also expressed in our excellent trade events such as IT-TRANS."

Karlsruhe scored not only in terms of mobility and technology, but also aesthetics in urban space, which takes high priority in the UNESCO City of Media Arts. In Barcelona, the Karlsruhe public transport company (VBK) won the UITP Design Award for the outstanding lighting concept of its tunnel stops, beating Hong Kong and Vienna in the final.

"We are incredibly proud of this award. It proves that we have done everything right with our very bright, puristic stops which are designed as quiet zones in the big city. They make an important contribution to the appeal of local transport in our region. The UITP highlights the stops as a worldwide model for contemporary public transport," says VBK Managing Director Prof. Dr. Alexander Pischon.

Scaling future mobility solutions

The MobileCityGame simulation game by Fraunhofer ISI/IOSB, KIT and Takomat GmbH simulates the effects of strengthening public transport on the quality of life. Using an app, trade visitors at the stand were able to test out in a simulation how much a new cycle path or the reconstruction of roads would cost, how long the construction and planning would take, and the potential CO2 savings. They could also assess how much car traffic, noise and environmental pollution would be reduced, and the free space that could potentially be created. Project manager Dr. Claus Doll explains: "The app can be a decision-making aid for public transport operators and municipal planners in particular. For example, while some measures may initially be rejected, for example significantly increased parking fees, such decisions may be reviewed if it can be proved that a project may result in a noticeable improvement in the quality of life in a city centre."

PTV Group's new SaaS software PTV Lines proved similarly important for urban planning. Until now, the expertise of experienced transport planners was needed to use software to draw a new bus or tram line, and calculate potential costs for passengers. "This was a challenge, especially for small transport companies that do not employ their own transport planners," explains Dr Klaus Noekel, Head of Competence Center Mobility at PTV Group. "Now, minimal knowledge is required, as the new software can be operated quickly and intuitively." Thus, in addition to key mobility providers, small and medium-sized companies also found their way to the joint stand to find out more about PTV Lines.

The FZI Research Centre for Information Technology was also present on site. "The highlight for us was the Innovation Guided Tour, where our test field and autonomous FZI shuttle experiences were particularly in demand," says division head Dr Alexander Viehl. "The fact that we achieve an acceptance of autonomous vehicles of more than 90 per cent in our user surveys surprised some people."

A delegation with representatives from the University of Tokyo was also at the stand to get an overview of the integration and communication capabilities of autonomous shuttles at a simulated control station.

One added attraction, especially for software providers, was the Dakimo project of KAMO Karlsruhe Mobility High Performance Center/Profile Region: Apps for calculating the best routes, means of transport and departure times for a journey can be more detailed thanks to expanded data from Dakimo and suitable interfaces. KAMO office manager Matthias Vollat, from KIT, explains: "If weather data is included, a short walk in snowy conditions might be replaced by a bus ride. Or the passenger is informed that a huge soccer match is taking place along the route and therefore an alternative route should be used."

Using empty tram seats for freight transport

The second KAMO research project LogIKTram pursues a different goal: public transport is in many cases a subsidy model. "The travel costs of a full tram are similar to those of an empty one. So what if we could use unoccupied space for freight transport, for example?" asked Dr.-Ing. Michael Frey, from KIT, of the Lab's guests. The trailer from the LogIKTram project, which was exhibited at the joint stand, is perfectly poised to fill this gap. Designed as a motor-driven bicycle trailer, it can be packed with goods in a loading centre outside the city, then travel independently to the designated place in a tram and finally be collected by a bicycle courier in the city centre. This solution is still in a legally undefined area, as the current Passenger Transport Act does not regulate freight transport in trams. "But autonomous driving was also not allowed 40 years ago when the first trials started. However, it is now regulated by law," Frey continues.

Pragmatic state-of-the-art solutions

A daily challenge, especially in urban transport, are bendy buses and those with passenger trailers, which are used at peak times but are unwieldy and consume significantly more energy. KIT presented its solution in Barcelona: So-called platooning is an automated connection of several vehicles to form a convoy, with no need for an articulated joint or drawbar. Instead, at peak times, a second, driver-free bus can simply be coupled purely by information technology and not physically. The system maintains a fixed distance fully automatically and ensures that the second car stays exactly in the lane of the first, driver-operated car. "We assume that our system will be able to be used regularly on routes from 2025," says M.Sc. Nicole Kechler from the Institute for Information Processing Technology at KIT.

At the end of the summit, trade fair director Wirtz took a look into the future: "We are very happy to give Karlsruhe's mobility expertise an international stage - here at the UITP Summit, then also in 2024 at our IT-TRANS trade fair and conference, and beyond."

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Portrait Katrin Wagner
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