The challenges of agile project management in the world of public transportation

Being part of a SaaS (Software as a Service) company means being part of a structure that evolves with the software’s technical developments. However, it is important not to lose sight of the market for which the software is developed.


An article by Camille Bouin Camille

I work in the public transportation sector, specifically in Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT), a flexible transportation service that is an alternative to cars and taxis, and adapts to different audiences and use cases, while reducing the environmental impact of transportation. I work for Padam Mobility, which offers a transportation optimisation algorithm and a suite of interfaces necessary for operating a DRT service: user interfaces to facilitate user travel, a driver interface suitable for any type of operation, and a management interface for operators and transport authorities.

In this sector, I have noticed that managing digitalisation projects in a constantly evolving software context leads to high complexity.

The objective of this article is to understand the interactions and analyse the challenges between the digitalisation of DRT and software developments, in order to provide solutions.

First, we will look at the management of transportation projects, and then we will focus on technical projects in a second step. Finally, we will understand their parallel modes of operation.

Transportation project management

My core business is the management of projects to set up Demand-Responsive Transport services in rural and suburban areas.

In this sector, projects can present complex challenges in many ways:

  • The evolution of digitalisation tools for managing DRT services and the change management challenges that this entails,
  • The political challenges of local governments and the resulting deadlines,
  • The challenges of carriers in a context of a shortage of labour,
  • The pressure of public opinion from end users of the service on politics and carriers,
  • The scalability of service offerings and demand depending on current events,
  • Financial constraints and variations in allocated budgets.

Project management, both in terms of content and change management, or monitoring and meeting deadlines, is therefore a daily challenge. Furthermore, public tenders can take time to validate, and obtaining final launch dates for projects can be complicated. Once the project has begun, project teams often have to be able to deliver the DRT offer within a 2-3 month timeframe depending on the complexity of the project.

The challenges mentioned above are often multiplied with the volatility of the market and the growing importance of taking environmental impact into account in the transportation sector. This last point has a strong impact on the software évolutions that need to be developed to meet customer needs.

Technical project management

To answer to the constant changes in the DRT market, the software must remain in constant evolution.

The software development strategy of a SaaS company, by nature, must be done with the goal of responding to a need common to all or the majority of users, and not a unique or specific need. Based on this principle, there is therefore no technical team dedicated to a specific client.

Most often, project management is done in parallel, within product teams (with a focus on identifying needs) and development teams (with a focus on providing the solution itself). These teams are organized using the agile method, with short development cycles of about two months, divided into two-week sprints. While project management using the agile method is more advanced and allows for some speed of evolution, the complexity of the software adds difficulties in development, making some changes uncertain both in terms of their deadlines and their technical feasibility.

But what interactions can we observe between a SaaS model based on agile management of technical changes, and the management of DRT deployment projects?

Two parallel operations

The two parallel management modes with different challenges and deadlines can quickly lead to inconsistencies and difficulties in completing projects.

A concrete example is the integration of DRT systems into a broader MaaS (Mobility as a Service). In this context, the digitalisation of DRT must find its place in standard transportation norms and be able to integrate into broader route planning software. It then becomes necessary to standardise and norm a mode of transportation that, by definition, was extremely flexible.

The implementation of a DRT service must therefore be done by adapting to norms, or by creating new ones. Technical developments must then be based on these norms under creation to be tested. Task interdependencies are often too strong to be able to follow a precise schedule. Still in this idea, it is possible that some software becomes obsolete, even unusable just after its release, as soon as a change occurs in the MaaS or DRT market. In this case, the technical project is jeopardised.

In Canada, DRT projects usually come to fruition when they are linked to online payment tools for ticketing. A technical project to set up integrated ticketing with DRT tools was already launched at Padam Mobility to meet needs in another market, the United Kingdom. However, the expectations and needs of the Canadian market did not necessarily coincide with all planned developments. This reality tended to endanger the DRT deployment project.

In these two examples, the challenges of DRT projects or technical developments do not necessarily converge or are very interdependent. This requires finding appropriate solutions to avoid jeopardising all projects.

Resolution Suggestions

To address the difficulties mentioned earlier, there are several levers of action. They must, however, be implemented while ensuring that the integration is complete between the agile technical project and the project to provide a digital solution for DRT.

For the DRT project to be successful, such as in the case of ticketing, it is crucial to carry out a precise assessment of the new need and to focus on the ongoing technical project. The sprint or mid-sprint meeting will be ideal to present the new needs and find an approach to integrate them into the ongoing development. The project’s agility is extremely interesting in the sense that it allows the development to evolve according to the evolution of the need.

The iterations and exchanges take place according to a precise schedule combining the time constraints of both projects. The interactivity of the solution allows for meeting tight deadlines. A first version of a development takes into account the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) of the newly arrived customer’s need without losing sight of the final version, which remains on the roadmap for future cycles.

Let’s keep in mind that DRT projects present unpredictable and evolving constraints that induce significant temporal risks in projects.

In conclusion, in the DRT sector, the agility of technical projects and listening to customer needs are the two key elements for achieving the simultaneous success of both types of projects carried out in parallel.


This article might interest you as well: On-Demand Mobility – the evolution of local public transport

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How does Demand Responsive Transport help to reduce one’s mental load?

Mental load

Connecting people and making it easier for everyone to commute are the objectives of Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) proposed by Padam Mobility. To this extent, this mobility solution can alleviate the daily tasks that make up the mental workload. According to Nicole Brais, a researcher at the University of Laval, Quebec, the mental load corresponds to “management, organisation and planning work that is at once intangible, unavoidable and constant in order to manage domestic tasks. Thus, a real impact on daily life lies in the constancy of this burden.

The mental load falls mainly on women 

Women spend an average of almost 4 hours a day managing domestic tasks, and handle 71% of parental tasks in the household. These tasks can be directly linked to transportation: doing groceries, dropping off and picking up children at/from school, and all the small tasks of daily life.

DRT represents a simple and effective solution to reduce the weight of these daily tasks. On the occasion of an experimentation of the La Saire TAD service in the Cotentin, a parent told us:

I think I can speak for all the mothers in the room who no longer need to drop off  their children at school, you have changed our lives in La Saire!”

People with Reduced Mobility also face an increased mental load in their daily lives

In a world that sometimes seems to be designed by and for able-bodied people, finding suitable modes of transport can be particularly difficult for people with reduced mobility.

It is therefore important to take into account the specific needs of PRMs with, for instance, a door-to-door transport service that takes into account the time it requires to settle into adapted vehicles and the presence of specific equipment, if necessary. In addition, the accessibility of the transport offer involves the right to movement, and therefore to spontaneous movement. Getting to the city without having to plan one’s journey weeks in advance is undeniably a factor in alleviating the mental load for the PRM public.

The Paratransit solutions developed by Padam Mobility can be booked in real time or in advance, in order to satisfy the desire and need for spontaneity in everyday life. They are configured to take care of each user according to the specificities of their mobility and allow for flexible travel from address to address.

Solutions that respond to the problems of the 11 million caregivers in France, and in the world. 

Caregivers provide day-to-day support to a dependent relative. These situations often require constant travelling between health centres, the homes of the carers and the homes of their dependent relatives, for instance (as presented in this article). This context can lead to reliance on private means of travel, particularly in peri-urban and rural areas where fixed lignes are more limited.

Padam Mobility’s solutions allow a caregiver to make a booking and the caregiver can even receive specific notifications regarding the pick-up of their relative.  These configurations facilitate the daily organisation of caregivers by involving them intuitively in the movement of their dependent relatives.

In rural and peri-urban areas, a mental charge is hidden in the day-to-day travel needs of all

Inequality of access to city centres, particularly in rural and peri-urban areas, creates mental burdens for all types of population: young people without a car, parents who have to drop off their relatives and children, and elderly people who fear driving alone private vehicles. All these constraints create anxiety and an insidious mental workload. A mental pressure that DRT sometimes helps to reduce, as a high school student using the Résa’Tao DRT service in Orléans explained to us:

At least (my parents) are not worried because they know that if I have a problem, I always have Résa’Tao”. 

What about the driver’s mental load?

Commuting, including home-to-work mobility, is a mobility in which the mental load is hardly ever mentioned. However, mental workload and driving are directly linked, as the latter impacts on drivers’ concentration and increases risky driving behaviour. Driving and its constraints add to the already existing mental load. Academic studies have been conducted to scientifically measure the mental load of driving and how to limit it.

Artificial intelligence, which enables the optimisation of rides, plays a crucial role in easing the mental burden on professional drivers of DRT vehicles. Indeed, through an ergonomic interface, drivers are guided step by step and no longer have to worry about the route to follow or the passengers to pick up or drop off. For passengers, formerly car drivers, DRT also makes their daily lives easier by freeing them from the hassles frequently encountered on the road: congestion, accidents, parking, refuelling, etc. 


About Padam Mobility 

Check out this article: Loi LOM : ce qui change pour les personnes à mobilité réduite 

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In pursuit of caring


As a wish for 2022, Grégoire Bonnat, co-founder and CEO of Padam Mobility, shares some thoughts on caring (“bienveillance”) in a business context. Just like environmental impact, it has become a central theme in the professional world… without us always knowing what it really means and how it can be applied at the workplace. What about your company, how does benevolence manifest itself?

All of us care

For some time now, 100% of the candidates we interview for jobs say they are looking for a caring company.

A quick search on social networks and media interested in the professional world confirms that the “benevolence” of companies has been the subject of discussion for about two years. This is certainly a good time to bring this notion back to the forefront: the upheaval of work organisation due to Covid and the massive shift to teleworking, tensions on the job market and competition to attract talent, not to mention the theme of “caring” which is gaining ground in a media agenda filled with anxieties. All this generates the desire for everyone to find a caring company, and for companies to speak publicly about this subject.

This is the point where we are a bit confused. We don’t expect there to be a standard definition of friendliness, but still. At Padam Mobility, there are employees who don’t feel comfortable addressing a colleague or doing a round of greetings every morning. Others stand out more for their caustic humour and wacky ideas than for their “calmness” and “politeness”. And we certainly don’t ask applicants to want to be canonised one day. That said, at the end of 2018, Padam Mobility enshrined benevolence as one of its four values that guide our work and that we take into account when selecting staff. Are we missing the point?

The holy grail of the “startup spirit”

Perhaps we should start with the “why”. Indeed, the likelihood of a company behaving benevolently is low if its leaders and top management are not convinced of its value and benefits. This is also true for other values that a company wants to promote.

Creating a caring environment seems inevitable for start-ups as if it is a systematic part of their raison d’être. Yet they do not seem to be in the best position to do so. Start-ups are often gambling for survival because their market is not yet mature or because many competitors are fighting for the first – and sometimes only – place.

There is also no reason why a “mission-driven” company should automatically be more benevolent. Develop a miracle solution to reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere: If you don’t have a viable business model yet, you will have to work hard until you do; if you do, there is a 100% chance that many other competing companies will launch as well. The pressure may be even greater because, in addition to the financial commitment, you also have to save the world.

The additional exogenous pressure that young companies can feel does not make them benevolent. It gives them additional reasons to want it, because it becomes a question of survival. We are ready to face a storm if we stick together, if we know where we are sailing … and if we know that the storm will pass. For the company, investing time, brainpower and even money to bring charity to life means finding the energy to move the mountains it promised to move, while valuing its teams rather than burning them out.

What is benevolence?


So what is benevolence? It is necessary to go beyond the vision of purely formal benevolence, which – depending on one’s preference – would directly equate to kindness, empathy or over-protection of staff. For us, it all starts with the ability to listen.

The first step is the willingness to listen, i.e. to value the teams’ well-being and their ideas. In the vast majority of cases, and apart from certain stories about toxic leaders or managers, this is not necessarily where things get stuck. All organisations know that teams that feel good are more effective, more loyal and often find the best solutions to their problems themselves.

Then you have to know how to listen. As an individual, this is something you have to learn. Not everyone has the same way of expressing themselves, and an unprepared manager can easily miss what a colleague is trying to say (or write). It is not a question of giving courses in psychology, but of training managers to be aware that some people will be more comfortable with a certain type of listening. Some quite powerful methods have been developed to train managers (at Padam Mobility we have used Processcom but it is not the only one).

Some employees may expect an empathetic ear, responding to a need for recognition of a difficulty for which there may be no immediate solution. Others will want to be sure that the manager or company has understood and recorded their problem, has the facts to describe it and will think about it when making future decisions.

As a company, listening therefore has a lot to do with training its managers, including leaders, as well as having the different channels to allow people to speak out about their difficulties in different contexts.

… and act

The journey does not end there. The manager is not a shrink who is paid to help his employees write down everything that is wrong or could be better and record it in notebooks! The company takes care of its employees by solving their problems if it can. Or by giving them the autonomy to take opportunities to make things happen themselves. Caring through listening is followed by action.

The first way is to dare to change, to be agile. It requires a lot of discipline to question things that have worked before. This is especially true for young companies that need to change, to change the scale, to solve problems that did not exist before, to realise that the working conditions for self-fulfilment are not the same with 10, 50 or 200 employees.

There is a second option for the company, which is not to change anything in the face of the expressed need. There can be fifty reasons for this, economic, logistical, contradictions with operational constraints or even with certain rules of coexistence (office life or teleworking). It can also happen that a problem should be dealt with but it is decided that other problems have priority. In this case, a company that wants to be benevolent is obliged to be transparent.

Saying to an employee “of course I understand your problem and I will solve it” is nice, but it is only nice if it is done afterwards. If not, it can lead to serious losses of trust later on. In this respect, the ability to define and communicate priorities is both one of the most important and most difficult characteristics of caring.

Concrete ways forward

There is no miracle solution, benevolence has to be worked out every day. And the answers often come from within the group.

Does someone feel unheard: is a process missing so that he or she can have more influence or, on the contrary, should a process that is too rigid be discarded? Is an organisational problem wasting some of the work further down the chain? Do employees get feedback on their work so that they can improve and feel recognised? Is there a lack of connections between certain teams or a lack of tools to facilitate communication or, on the contrary, a saturation – or slackturation 😊 – of information?

Beware of going too far and falling into the trap of a caring parent who protects his employees from all difficulties until they get bored. It is extremely rewarding to be confronted with a difficult situation and to handle it with flying colours, provided of course that the working conditions are good. Not to mention that a manager who tries to protect a colleague from difficulties can put himself in danger by overworking himself and weaken the whole organisation by obstructing the development of skills. Benevolence makes it possible to be demanding: When the machine is running well, it is so much easier to ask everyone to do their best, to solve new problems, to take on new challenges.

It is up to each company to create its own image of beneficence; its employees (and its customers!) will be the best judges of authenticity. This may result in completely different rituals.

A “caring” job interview can be a very good situation that allows both the applicant and the company to assess whether their skills match the requirements of the job. This way there are no nasty surprises later on. In another job, on the other hand, it could be an assessment that focuses on the learning and interpersonal skills of the applicant, who is a junior candidate but will subsequently be trained. In any case, it is important to be transparent about the conditions and tasks of the job in order to start with a high level of confidence.

A good meeting can be a meeting where you make sure that everyone has their say and which ends with a clear, documented decision that is shared with the rest of the team. Or a meeting that doesn’t take place because its subject can be dealt with in writing in ten times less time.

A caring annual review can be harshly objective about the facts, the results achieved, the problems encountered, and optimistic about what the future holds. And of course, the manager could spend more time listening than talking…

Our good wishes for 2022

In your company, this goodwill may take a different form, and that’s fine. Don’t try to force the use of first names on all your teams or make them read Simone Weil if that seems inappropriate. But keep your ears open. We hope that in 2022 you will read fewer blog articles about benevolence and start looking for that authentic benevolence, yours!


This article might also interest you: Retrospective: A Look back at the 21 Highlights of Padam Mobility in 2021

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[Forum] Why do so many people hate the bus?

responsible mobility

The bus does not have the place it deserves. Several actors share the responsibility for its execrable image. By administering the right remedies, it will become central to the future of responsible mobility.  Why do so many people hate the bus? Is it possible to prefer a bus journey to a Tesla journey?

Two modes of transport have a legitimate image of virtue: train and bicycle. They are non-polluting or low-polluting, take up little space, are suitable for a multitude of journeys and are sustainable. The question of their widespread use no longer arises. But between train and bicycle, too many journeys remain almost impossible without a private car.

Certain populations (children, the elderly, PRMs), certain conditions (weather, objects to be transported) make the situation worse. It is in these areas that the bus, whether fixed or on demand, is intended to take the place of the private car. Because the experience of transport is heterogeneous. Depending on whether you live at the centre of the metro network, close to scooters and passenger cars with driver services or in a sparsely populated area where the mobility offer is limited to a pair of trainers or a bus that passes every half hour.  Living without a car outside a city centre can nowadays only be suffered and never chosen.

Well optimised, the bus is ecologically and economically more efficient. The impact of smart bus lines is decisive for the community. In order to fully take its place, the bus must reinvent its image, like other modes of transport before it.

“Whoever is seen on a bus after the age of 30 has failed in life”

This quote, attributed to Margaret Thatcher, is apocryphal. It is the work of Brian Christian de Claiborne Howard, an English essayist of the first half of the twentieth century. It sums up in a few words the deplorable image of the bus in our societies.

The bus has the image of a transport mean for second-class citizens. Poor people. The bus is old, it is unreliable, and let’s face it, it often stinks. If we made a profile of the bus user, it would look like the profile of the abstainer. Far from responsible mobility.

After decades of explaining its misdeeds, the private car still has a more positive image than the bus. According to Eurostat, the modal share of buses in the EU fell by 9.6% between 2005 and 2017. While that of the car remained unchanged (+0.3%) and that of the train increased by 11.5%.

The image of transportation modes is changing

Other modes of transport have been able to reinvent their image. This is the case of the long-distance train: from an uncomfortable, slow and unattractive mode of transport, it has become modern, state-of-the-art, offering a premium experience to as many people as possible at an affordable price from city centres. The train has become more desirable than the airplane.

Even more recently, the taxi has reinvented itself forced march. By taking advantage of platforming, passenger cars with driver have metamorphosed the user experience. The lack of friendliness (often fantasised) of drivers, the difficulty of finding one, the uncertainties at the time of payment have disappeared and the taxi has become premium while becoming more democratic.

“The bus must become the iPhone of transportation modes”

The examples are countless. Even the scooter has become cool. On the other side of the spectrum, the airplane or motorised two-wheelers, ancient symbols of glamour, have seen their image degraded. Because of a pitiful user experience (1), or a shift in mentality.

What if everything had to be redone?

Repairing the bus system costs much less than repairing the train. The bus is a very small market in the eyes of an economist, but very important for society. It only can afford to propose the ordeal of the night bus service whereas it is in competition with Uber and with Tesla, who know how to give desire (2).  Taking the example of successful modes of transport, the bus must become the iPhone of transport, just as the French TGV (high-speed train) symbolised technological excellence.

Bus de ville

When it comes to image, it has to start with the visual. Stop turning every bus user into a sandwich man. No one wants to get into a vehicle between two cheese and telephone ads.

Vehicle markings should also do less to promote the transport authority, the town hall or the control centre, whose logos and colours invade the walls of the vehicles. Private shared mobility services, such as company or airport shuttles, display vehicles that look like high-end saloon cars. Renowned designers are responsible for the design of the train seats. Why not bus seats? Some conurbations are making efforts to improve the image projected by their means of transport, but there are too few of them.

Instead of advertising on buses, why not advertise for buses? Public services are not condemned to infantile and outdated communication: in France, the Army has been able to offer modern and striking communication.

“Saving time and improving commercial speeds”

Finally, the user experience is key to transforming the bus experience into responsible mobility. Not by adding two gadgets and USB sockets.  It has become impossible to offer public transport that does not warn of the specific time of arrival. Who can’t guarantee a seat, carry a piece of luggage, or accommodate no more than 3 pushchairs at the same time. A transport that provides so little and adapts so badly to conditions, passengers and surprises. Even the NYC subway, once perceived as an unhealthy cut-throat, has regained a positive image thanks to a team of motivated engineers (3).

Its reliance on traffic also gives the bus the image of a slow mode of transport. This idea must also be addressed. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a more radical and, above all, more efficient solution than reserved lanes. Eliminating on-board ticket sales also saves time and improves commercial speeds.

Shared transport is taking its place. Between 2002 and 2017, in France, public transport increased by 24%, compared to 4% for the private car. Among public transport, the railways have taken the lion’s share, with an increase of more than 28%, compared to 19% for buses and 12% for air transport. In order to go further, further improvements are still needed.

The burden of these improvements falls on a multitude of actors: manufacturers, transport authorities and local authorities. To replace the private car or taxi, the bus must be given priority, everywhere, in order to save time that it will devote to better take care of users.

This is the only way to make the bus attractive and to ensure that its promises of ecological, social and economic impact are kept for the greatest number of people.  Adapted to all types of territories, it deserves it.

Thibault Lécuyer-Weber – Chief Marketing Officer, Padam Mobility


  1. The airplane suffers from the distance of the airports and the heavy security protocols imposed. 


Find out more about Padam Mobility solutions

This article might interest you: The shadow of the private car is back



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[Forum] The shadow of the private car is back

Private car is back

After so much effort to de-clutter the roads, the health crisis has reshuffled the cards. The modal share of public transport is in freefall, and there is a real risk that the private car will return to the forefront.

Pollution indices were among the few good news during containment. The French High Council for the Climate reported a 30% drop in GHG emissions.

The prospect of a major traffic jam

As ecological awareness has come up against the difficulty of guaranteeing health security for all, deconfinement has redistributed the modal share cards in the daily lives of citizens. Public transport has been deserted. According to Ile-de-France Mobilités (the Paris region Public Transport Authority), last June the number of people using the Paris region network represented barely 40% of the number of people using the network at the same time last year. In September, the figure did not reach 60% of passengers. Reluctant to board buses or metros, many urban and suburban dwellers want to avoid the promiscuity of public transport. Deprived, elected officials have seen their citizens demand impossible guarantees while seeing their public transport revenues drop.

The car is therefore on the verge of making a resounding comeback. Published in March, an Ipsos poll carried out in China revealed that 66% of the Chinese people questioned intend to choose the car to get around, a figure that did not exceed 34% before the crisis. In France, 233,820 new cars were registered in June 2020, compared to 96,310 at the same time last year, a notable increase of 1.2%. 

Favouring alternative solutions by being responsible

On all our roads, in the city centre as well as in the peri-urban and rural areas, it is not possible to give up responsible mobility. There is only one way to do this: be more responsible. It is up to us to wear masks, to respect sanitary measures and to avoid unnecessary travels. This is also how we will enable transit operators to be resilient. It is also up to us to trust them to ensure our safety by choosing the most suitable alternative for our journeys.

Among the solutions, Demand-Responsive Transport (DRT) provides both flexibility and resilience that is rare in the world of public transport. This is Padam Mobility’s speciality. In the face of the pandemic, DRT makes it possible to book seats in everyday transport, thus controlling a passenger occupancy rate that guarantees social distancing. 

Adaptable in real time, it allows services to be transformed by adding stops where needs, even temporary, are felt. It is also much more predictable: DRT’s enhanced passenger information will warn users if a vehicle is already too full to accommodate passengers safely. And will direct them to the next available ride.  

This period is testing the resilience of public transport. Which has the means to meet the challenge. 

Thibault Lécuyer-Weber – Chief Marketing Officer, Padam Mobility


This article may interest you: Padam Mobility offers technological solutions to ensure social distancing in transports

Find out more about Padam Mobility solutions


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[Forum] Why should public transport become stronger (than ever) despite social distancing?

Transports publics should become stronger despite social distancing

Covid-19 has disrupted the mobility sector more than any startup ever has. I am offering a brief and personal analysis of what happened, choices that lay ahead of us and why public transport should become stronger despite social distancing. At a time where we are slowly digesting health guidelines, we have historical decisions to make to ensure that the future of mobility, our future, is sustainable.

The initial blow

The entire mobility sector has taken a serious blow in the past two months. Under lockdown, people’s movements have decreased by 50% to 80% (depending on countries’ guidelines), our usually congested cities were emptied of cars and pedestrians alike. Both well established companies and unicorns yesterday considered as the future of mobility – especially Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) – were brought to their knees. Uber’s e-scooter sharing business Jump was quickly merged with the Lime, for a fraction of their pre-coronavirus valuation, incidentally sending tens of thousands of e-bikes to ‘recycling’. 100-year old car rental company Hertz filed for bankruptcy (Chapter 11) in the US, and the European leader of car-sharing Drivy, just months after being acquired by US-based Getaround, turned to the Paris Commercial Court to obtain its support, as a “preventive measure”. Car-sharing, scooter-sharing were supposed to lead the way to a world free of private cars to reduce our carbon footprint.

Some services were actually helpful to cope with the virus situation”.

Public transit too was strongly affected but so far managed to resist the first wave. Thanks to balanced public-private business models, relying on long-term contracts, public transit stakeholders are more resilient than other businesses. Even under the sternest lockdown measures, PT services were still considered as essential. There is to my knowledge no major public transit operator which declared bankrupt, nor have public authorities stated that public transit would be significantly downsized in the future. Some services, such as Demand-Responsive Transit, were actually helpful to cope with the virus situation: the “Night Bus” service in Padua, Italy (powered by Padam Mobility) was turned into a day service and increased ridership. Berlkönig in Berlin, also focused on night mobility, was extended for the benefit of health workers.

Post-lockdown prolonged effects on modal shares

Having labelled all these events as “Impacts of the Covid-19 crisis”, it is tempting to think that things will just go back to normal. In many ways, the crisis may have just accelerated trends which were already there. However, I think we should not underestimate how the coronavirus has single-handedly disrupted our vision of mobility, and maybe not for the better.

While European cities are witnessing the same behaviour, authorities also get that coronavirus may wipe out a decade of efforts to detox their citizens from private cars”.

During the first weeks of lifting social distancing measures, we have contemplated that a major shift was happening in modal share of mobility. Public transit is the place where you meet a lot of strangers. A full quarter of media and public obsession about health precautions (which, to a certain extent, was unavoidable) has convinced us that ‘stranger’ rhymes with ‘danger’. Bloomberg quotes Jason Rogers (Nashville, US): “I have no interest in getting on the bus or a ridesharing system unless I’m in a hazmat suit”. The result speaks for itself: in China – first to lift lockdown measures, the ridership of public transit is 35% below normal and congestion is already above 2019 average. The US are reporting a similar trend already.

While European cities are witnessing the same behaviour, authorities also get that coronavirus may wipe out a decade of efforts to detox their citizens from private cars. They had just a bit more time than China to anticipate and devised a few strategies. Betting on bikes is one of them: French Government claims 1,000 km of temporary bicycle lanes have been created and is working to permanently maintain them. The UK are investing up to £2B on “once-in-a-generation” plan to boost walking and cycling. Another interesting move is Athens banning cars from a large part of its city center for 3 months (and maybe more).

Will this be sufficient? These investments are much welcome, but the modal share of cycling has remained flat under 2% in the UK in the past decade and is estimated at about 3% in France. A 10% long-term reduction of ridership in public transit would be sufficient to level the impact of more people cycling. We can still fear a major shift from public transit to cars. In France, which hosts 3 of the handful of worldwide public transport operators (Transdev, Keolis, RATP), representatives of the sector have fought hard – but not very successfully – to avoid strict social distancing measures onboard metros and buses and to rely on masks as the main sanitary measure.

In the end, Transport for London (TfL) did not solve the dilemma of prioritizing congestion or health issues, they raised both the congestion tax on cars and the fares of public transit. At least TfL will not go bankrupt.







Source: Rystadenery

Psychological impact

Even now that the French Ministry is considering softening these measures, it is impossible to predict the magnitude of the psychological impact on how people choose their mode of transport. There are precedents: terrorist attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005), which targeted public transit, or Paris (2015) which targeted the “night life”. In each case, public transportation actually recovered in a matter of months. The issue is not the same, though: with the virus, it is more public transit itself and its riders which are the objects of people’s fear. We have also been exposed to the social distancing message for much longer and it may last until we have a vaccine.

Sure, people have talked a lot about the crisis as an opportunity to shift to a new trajectory for our civilization, towards decarbonation and resilience. But I hear the same people say: “No way I’m using the train at the moment, I’ll just drive.” As I don’t know much about sociology, I’ll quote an expert in very long adventures, Sylvain Tesson, telling about his travel by foot from Siberia to India: “If I say that I plan to walk all  the way to Mongolia, nobody minds a such abstract goal, but if I claim that I will reach the other side of the mountain, everyone on this side will rebel. […] Because it is what we know best, we fear more what is close to us than what is still far away.” We fear the virus more than climate change.

Sorting our priorities

Climate change and resource depletion are still the two biggest problems that we face worldwide. When the virus hit, we were able to go under lockdown as a last resort to mitigate the effects of the virus. There will be no immediate actions similar to a lockdown that we will be able to take when we face record droughts killing entire crops, when coastal areas inhabited by tens of millions of people are flooded by a combination of sea level rise and extreme weather events.

We will not see flying cars, we will see more low-energy mobility and we should prepare for it”.

 A key fact that I’ve realized few people know is the inertia and latency of GHE-induced climate change. When we added more than 100ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, we committed to hundreds of years of rising temperatures, that is, even if our emissions drop to zero tomorrow. The trajectory of our CO2 emissions will change the magnitude of the climate change, but with a 20-year latency. Managing our emissions now starts to make a difference in 2040. In other words, we will not be able to prevent these issues in 2040, by then we will be late by 20 years (this is 4 French presidential terms, 5 US ones).

Global temperature change predictions based on GHG-scenarios of the IPCC.
Source: Climate model IPSL-CM61-LR

Another key fact going under the radar of public media is the depletion of oil, which powers ~98% of transportation. Oil production has grown strongly after the 2008 economic crisis (completely mindless of the above), but the growth came almost exclusively from the US ‘shale’ plays, while Russia and Saudi Arabia were able to offset the decline of older oil fields (starting with the North Sea in Europe). Before the coronavirus, some experts were already shifting their predictions for US production, stable in 2020 and growing again for at least a few years after. Russia had declared they would peak before 2025 and maybe sooner. Now, with the considerable blow to this industry, investments in new production have been widely cancelled and US oil fields declined rapidly. Some experts point that both US shale and Russia may have reached their peak, and at least will never see significant growth again (compared to 2019 levels). To better understand what this means for our economy, I recommend listening to independent experts of energy transition, The Shift Project. To cut it short: we will not see flying cars, nor mass production of 2.3 ton electric private cars, we will see more low-energy mobility and we should prepare for it.

According to Rystad, oil production and demand will still be under 2019 levels at the end of 2021.
Source: Rystadenergy

What to do?

The mission behind Padam Mobility, the company I co-founded, is “Taking care of shared mobility.” It means we expect less resources in the future, less public acceptance to emit greenhouse gases, but also that we do not give up on mobility. This will not be achieved through more efficient cars. The only way to solve this equation – apart from cycling probably – is to share vehicles more. There are many versions of that, good old public transport, Demand-Responsive Transit (as proposed by Padam Mobility), carpooling, vehicle-sharing economy (provided that it does not cannibalize public transport)… We can still do much more: make energy-efficient modes more convenient and cheaper than the car in cities and suburbs, force all taxis and ride-hailing vehicles in cities to be shared, re-think our streets primarily for public transport, transform our economy to rely less on the jobs of the car-making industry.

Let us follow the health guidelines, wear masks, skip unnecessary travel and take other necessary measures to avoid a new significant wave of coronavirus infections. But let us also trust people around us, learn to share more what can be shared, solve issues in a collaborative way. Our freedom and ability to move in the future depend on that. Just like wearing masks saves lives today, using and promoting public transport today preserves our society in 2040 and beyond.

It is a time to be ambitious about public transportation.


Grégoire Bonnat – Co-founder & CEO, Padam Mobility

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