The people behind the wheel: Margarida López Romero’s story, TMB

For the latest instalment of Intelligent Transport’s exclusive ‘The people behind the wheel’ series, Margarida López Romero, Director of Innovation & Digital Transformation at Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona, shares the challenges that she has experienced while navigating cultural resistance to change within the transport industry, and explains how joining the sector has provided her with a unique perspective on the idiosyncrasies and decision-making factors that influence the efficient operation of public transport services.

The people behind the wheel: Margarida López Romero’s story, TMB

Can you tell us about your role at Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona?

I’m the Director of Innovation and Digital Transformation at Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), the main public transport operator in Barcelona. As a corporative area, we define the innovation strategy and the digitalisation roadmap in the company.

We use co-creation and different innovation methodologies to create new products and services with a customer centric focus. We also have an entrepreneurship activity, where all of our employees can participate, as well as other initiatives such as the annual TMBinnova hackathon.

In addition, we are also defining a new digital transformation roadmap, focusing on three objectives – efficiency, customer value and agile processes. Other projects that we are involved in include the Public Procurement initiative and a Social Lab, where we will launch new solutions co-designed with our customers.

What inspired you to seek a career in the transport industry?

It was not a direct choice – I’m a telecommunication engineer and my first jobs were in positions such as public electrical and communication operators. After that, I worked as an external consultant for TMB, and there I began to learn more about the transport industry and all of its singularities. I’ve got a real public service vocation, and the public transport industry offers many interesting projects to work on – operations, technology and infrastructure, amongst others.

Margarida Lopez - TMB

Have you experienced any challenges in your role and, if yes, how have you overcome them?

Innovation does not offer results in the short-term and that’s something that we have to fight about”

As an innovation leader, I find some reluctance to change here inside the company. I also have to work in cultural habits, so any project that we launch must be accompanied with several meetings, workshops and presentations where the main objective is to explain the initiative to justify its workload or investment budget. Innovation does not offer results in the short-term, and that’s something that we have to fight about. Over the years, the innovation area has achieved solidity and offered impactful projects that have allowed it to gain the trust of the board, so I must say that, now, we are collecting the results of all this effort.  

A public company like TMB is also very affected by the political cycle, so every two or four years we must re-affirm the entire innovation project. This is something inherent to this type of company, so we must adapt and somehow surf the wave and take advantage of new opportunities that arise.

Has a career in transport changed your perception of the industry as a whole?

Until you are inside this type of industry and company, you do not understand the idiosyncrasy and the elements that influence certain decisions”

Absolutely! Until you are inside this type of industry and company, you do not understand the idiosyncrasy and the elements that influence certain decisions – the importance of operations and maintenance as a basis for the service to work, but also the role of unions and the economic efficiency, since everything scales and we can be talking about many millions to invest.

It’s after joining the industry that people can gain a better understanding of the role of technology in offering efficient and first-rate solutions, as well as the actual people who are the axis on which everything works. In the end, the world of transportation includes offering products and services based on a great gear, where all of the parts must be perfectly synchronised.

What would be the top three highlights of your career in the industry to date?

My top three highlights include:

  • The definition and implementation from the very beginning of the open innovation model in a first-rate public transport company
  • The implementation of key technology-based projects that extend the classic concept of mobility by incorporating other means of transport – Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS)
  • Lastly, having positioned TMB in top-level innovation ecosystems at a national and international level.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I love my current position, so leading the innovation area in a top mobility company like TMB is a dream come true. However, I would like to get involved in an innovative corporate venturing initiative here and have a good budget to run it.

Corporate venturing and the start-up acceleration is a process that we wanted to launch here at TMB, but due to the recent crises – COVID-19 and the wars – we were forced to delay it.

barcelona buses could soon be electric

Credit: Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona

What key pieces of advice would you give to someone who is interested in a career in transport?

Once you’ve made the decision to join the industry, go in with total confidence, but also with enough humility to keep learning continuously”

I don’t like to give advice, but if I had to say something, it would be that, as in any new challenge that one wants to undertake, analyse and investigate everything related to that subject, look for allies and mentors who can give you first-hand information. Once you’ve made the decision to join the industry, go in with total confidence, but also with enough humility to keep learning continuously.

In the future, what do you hope to see become more commonplace in the transport industry workforce?

I would like a much greater presence of women at all levels: operational positions, drivers, mechanics and, obviously, in decision-making positions of high responsibility. The transport industry continues to have little female representation. Here at TMB, we are working so hard to change this trend. We have several programmes to increase our female workforce.

In an ideal world, what do you hope the future of public transport will look like?

Public transport should be the first mobility option chosen by advanced societies. For this to happen, it must be a fully competitive option in terms of user experience and cost. Obviously, it must be fully financially sustainable and achieve climate neutrality for all intents and purposes. All of this may seem impossible, but I firmly believe that we are on the right path and that, together, we will achieve this ideal… Future generations depend on it.

Margarida López RomeroMargarida López Romero is the Director of Innovation and Digital Transformation at TMB. She is a Telecommunications Engineer with an Executive Master in Public Administration (EMPA) from Esade and Executive in Innovation at IESE. López has more than 15 years of leading public transport projects involving intelligent transport systems and exponential technologies. Now, she leads corporate innovation processes and the digital transformation roadmap. 

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