As the return to commuting intensifies and summer travel planning begins, millions of Canadians will be reconsidering public transit. The opportunity is now for public transit to emerge on the other side of the pandemic stronger, cleaner and future-proof
This article is Sponsor Content presented by Keolis.
By Bernard Tabary, CEO International at Keolis
Weather events in 2021 made the impacts of climate change apparent and had devastating effects across continents and in areas where Keolis operates public transit. Some of the world’s most destructive droughts, fires and floods occurred in North America where we operate fixed route bus networks, light rail, paratransit services and intercity buses.
In Canada, private vehicles – such as passenger cars and light-duty trucks –account for approximately 50 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions when combined with the oil and gas industry. The facts mean that use of clean and sustainable public transportation is one of the most powerful tools available to prevent global warming from accelerating and to prevent the associated climate catastrophes from impacting more lives.
The pandemic, however, has caused massive disruption to Canadians’ travel habits and has accelerated the closure of intercity service providers like Greyhound Canada. Smaller communities now have limited options for connections to other cities that do not involve a private car. This provides at least a partial explanation as to why many regions and countries are seeing all-day traffic return and vehicle kilometres travelled (VKTs) exceeding their pre-pandemic high.
At Keolis, we are focused on seeing around the corners of COVID and measuring how passengers react to easing of lockdown restrictions, new transit fare products, or even new schedules and service patterns for buses, light rail, and subways. For example, in some operations in France and China, service has reached or exceeded pre-pandemic ridership. In some U.S. rail operations, weekend service grew quickly following the introduction of more frequent schedules.
Not only is decarbonization essential for the climate and local health, but it’s critical for delivering the level of service residents will demand to convert as passengers. Systems that are electric are cleaner, quieter and can even be faster than their fossil fuel counterparts. For example, electric multiple units (commuter rail) can accelerate and decelerate faster than diesel locomotives, and they do so more comfortably thanks to traction motors in each self-powered coach car. Similarly, automated metros can operate more efficiently and safely, which also means shorter time between trains and thus more capacity – enticing more passengers and making automation a more commercially viable venture for public agencies.
Maintenance and operations companies like Keolis can help transit agencies realize the benefits of electrification and autonomous operations for their passengers. Keolis even has a centre of excellence dedicated to energy transition and to metros and light rails, which are by nature electric. Launching the first driverless metro in Lille, France in 1983, Keolis today operates and maintains Dubai’s driverless metro system in the UAE – the longest fully-automated metro in the world.
Keolis is among the first to operate an autonomous shuttle service in Canada. In August 2018, Keolis and its partners piloted a 100 per cent electric and autonomous shuttle in Candiac, Quebec. And in the fall of 2021, Keolis began testing two fully electric and autonomous shuttles in Montreal. These innovations serve as excellent compliments to existing forms of public transportation – providing clean first and last-mile solutions that will reduce local congestion, particulates in the atmosphere and even mitigate the increasing problem of “heat islands” in population centers.
Innovations like tried-and-true autonomous metros, or cutting-edge electric-autonomous shuttles, have immense power to help attract more riders to transit and diversify the mobility offerings available beyond private cars. I’m excited for the opportunities ahead for residents in Canada. The future of mobility is sustainable, shared, electric, and autonomous.
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