81% of passengers satisfied with public transport in Riga
Posted: 22 December 2014 | Leona Bemhens, Chairman, Rigas satiksme
In an interview for Intelligent Transport, Leons Bemhens – the company’s Chairman of the Board, discusses passenger and staff satisfaction levels, the ordering and delivery of new vehicles, plus the city’s increasingly popular electronic payment system…
The results of the European Commission surveys about the quality of life in European cities (published in 2013) gives evidence that only residents of Helsinki, Vienna and London are more satisfied with public transport services than the residents of Riga – the capital and largest city of Latvia. Another opinion poll, which was carried out in Riga in 2013, shows that 81% of passengers are satisfied with the public transport services available in the city. Such opinion polls are carried out biennially by the Latvian market and public opinion research centre, SKDS. The public transport services (bus, trolleybus and tram) in Riga are delivered by Rīgas satiksme. In an interview for Intelligent Transport, Leons Bemhens – the company’s Chairman of the Board, discusses passenger and staff satisfaction levels, the ordering and delivery of new vehicles, plus the city’s increasingly popular electronic payment system.
The results of the opinion polls show that passengers are very satisfied with public transport in Riga. How do you plan to strengthen your position?
Just like in any other city, the delivery of public transport services in Riga is a social function – our main goal is not to gain profit, but to provide passengers with a comfortable, safe, rapid, and financially affordable service. As regards comfort and safety, Rīgas satiksme operates according to the strategic plan approved by the Riga City Council. It sets not only quality requirements for the delivery of public transport services, but also certain safety standards. We are monitoring passenger flows and, based on these data, launch extra public transport or vehicles of bigger/smaller capacity, when necessary. We have developed a system allowing passengers to express their opinions, submit proposals, and complaints, which we analyse very carefully. We have also established a company called Rīgas acs (Riga eye) that will integrate all safety and information systems into one single system, which will enable us to not only strictly follow a public transport vehicle’s movement in the city and control safety, but it will also ensure the function of informing passengers about public transport departure and arrival times, as well as about transfer possibilities, not only inside vehicles, but also at public trans – port stops and on our website.
The public transport fleet in Riga includes buses, trolleybuses and trams. Have you any plans for their renovation?
In autumn 2014 Rīgas satiksme will receive the first 25 new trolleybuses and 35 buses under a contract signed in 2013. The trolleybuses will be delivered by Škoda Electric, and all 125 vehicles will be 18m-long articulated trolleybuses. The trolleybuses will be bought on credit; the price will be paid to the manufacturer within eight years upon the delivery. The bus delivery tender was won by Solaris Bus&Coach S.A., and the contract provides for the supply of 115 18m-long buses and 60 12m-long buses to Riga. The delivery period for buses is 10 years from putting into service plus six months of favourable treatment period. All new vehicles will be equipped with safety and information systems by the manufacturer and will ensure full implementation of the necessary functions.
Eurotransport previously reported about Riga’s low-floor trams1. Can you tell us about the current balance and your future plans?
Today Riga runs 26 low-floor trams manufactured by Škoda. It was a big challenge for them, because Riga trams run on wide-gauge tracks, and these were the first trams Škoda manufactured in line with our requirements. From 26 trams, 20 are 3-unit 15T-Riga trams, which are 31.64m-long, 2.5m-wide and can carry 300 passengers, and six are 4-unit Riga 15T-1 trams, which are 41m-long, have eight doors, 79 seats and 353 places for standing. Thus, the total capacity of a 4-section low-floor tram is 432 passengers, which facilitates the task of transporting passengers after numerous large scale events and concerts, which Riga hosts in 2014 due to its status of the European cultural capital.
During the first stage of introducing low-floor trams, it was just the 26 low-floor trams that were purchased, but also two tram lines were upgraded and a low-floor tram repair and maintenance shop was built. It is 102m-long and has three lines of rail tracks. The shop is designed for the maintenance and repair of up to six low-floor trams at the same time. One of the lines is equipped with a special lathe for low-floor wheel pairs, which has been custom-made by German equipment manufacturer, Hegenscheidt-MFD. The lathe is built into the shop’s floor and is designed for turning tram wheels without dismantling bogies, with trams driving onto a special platform. Another line is equipped with a special lifting platform to make easier the staff’s access to the units located on a tram’s roof. The shop will fulfil tram maintenance and necessary repair works in conformity with the manufacturer’s requirements. We have also built a spacious store room for spare parts. The employees and workers of the repair and maintenance shop have comfortable offices and amenity rooms at their disposal. The new shop meets all up-to-date requirements to building technology and equipment. Rīgas satiksme soon plans to start the second stage of developing low-floor trams, which provides for upgrading the tram lines in Pārdaugava, on the left bank of the Daugava river.
Since 1 January 2013, Rīgas satiksme has been responsible for the entire public transport network in the city. How successfully have you fulfilled this EU-requirement?
You are right; it is a requirement of the EU. Riga City Council passed a resolution which put one institution, Rīgas satiksme, in charge of the whole public transport network in the city. It means that we had to find ways of integrating a large number of minibus companies, which carried passengers in Riga, into a united route network. Thus, in late-2012 a tender for the delivery of higher comfort passenger transportation services was announced in the Latvian capital city. The requirements were formulated strictly enough – minibuses had to be a maximum of five years old, with a uniform livery, equipped with an electronic payment system etc. In the tender, the right to provide services in the united route network was granted to Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme. Rīgas satiksme has to control how the subcontractor, Rīgas mikroautobusu satiksme, fulfils the requirements regarding routes and schedules, and this task has been successfully implemented.
In 2009, Riga launched an electronic payment system in its public transport, which requires passengers to register each trip using an e-ticket. How does the system pay off and develop?
Initially, the electronic payment system was exclusively used to serve public transport passengers. As we saw its successful functioning and openness to innovations, in the last five years the system has been supplemented with a variety of functions. First of all, the e-ticket has become a means of payment for residents with low incomes who receive free meals from the municipality. Just like in public transport, they received personalised e-tickets to pay for dinner. Furthermore, several schools started using the e-ticket as an electronic key, while preserving, of course, the possibility of using it in public transport. In 2012, the e-ticket was used as the basis for ‘Pupil’s e-card’, which has been approved as an official pupil’s card in Riga. As of 2013, those residents entitled to discounts granted by Riga City Council can use their e-tickets in electric trains, but in minibuses e-tickets can be used by all passengers. Yet the e-ticket gained its maximum development potential when it was supplemented by the electronic wallet function. Although at present it can only be used to pay for municipal parking services and also for dinners in some schools, there are plans to expand its functions considerably in the future. At the same time, the ‘Riga resident’s card’ has also been developed on the basis of the e-ticket. The card is issued to those who have declared their residence or own real estate in Riga and is designed not only as a means of payment in public transport, but also gives a line of advantages to its holders. For example, as of 1 July 2014, the holders of the ‘Riga resident’s card’ are entitled to certain discounts in Riga hospitals and policlinics, the Riga Zoo and elsewhere, and it is planned that in the future the card could be used to grant subsidies and other privileges to Riga residents. A tourist card has also been developed on the basis of the e-ticket; it not only grants discounts for visiting several sights, but can be also used for loading public transport tickets onto it. From September 2014 pupils can receive an ISIC e-card, which is simultaneously an ISIC card, a scholar’s card and an e-ticket for public transport.
The electronic payment system also ensures precise accounting of carried passengers, correct?
Yes, the electronic payment system is designed so that every passenger, no matter, whether he/she uses discounts, a free ticket, a one-month ticket or other products, always has to register their e-ticket in a validator inside the vehicle after entering the public transport vehicle. In 2013, the public transport of Rīgas satiksme carried 150,104,863 passengers – that’s a big number for Latvia if you take into account that the country’s population is approximately two million. That means we carried each resident 75 times in one year.
One of the challenges for the electronic payment system in 2014 was the introduction of the Euro – how did you get along with it?
We started to prepare for the transfer in the summer of 2013, when Latvia received an official approval for the introduction of the EU’s common currency. All information systems were adjusted to the Euro in time, and the transfer was implemented without any delays. Since 1 July 2014, prices in Latvia are only given in Euros, and people have quickly got used to it.
Rīgas satiksme ensures not only public transport services, but also operates municipal paid parking-lots within the borders of streets’ red lines. Does this unusual operation help your business or, on the contrary, hinder it?
For the time being, Rīgas satiksme operates 4,963 paid parking-lots. This number is variable, because in recent years the city has been actively developing the infrastructure of bicycle transport. To organise special lanes for bicycles, several streets have had their parking schemes changed and the number of parking-lots decreased. So, also in this field, the priority is not profit, but an orderly urban environment, because, on the one hand, the number of parking-lots decreases, but on the other, there are more cyclists on the streets. As the number of cars goes down, the public transport moves faster, raising the level of residents’ satisfaction. Yet I would like to add that the city is organising new parking-lots as well, to decrease the number of long parked cars in the city centre.
To ensure a high level of service quality, you need a consolidated, well-organised and highly motivated team. How do you monitor the satisfaction level of your staff?
Similarly to the surveys on the levels of passengers’ satisfaction with our service, which are conducted twice-yearly, we also carry out opinion polls to measure the satisfaction levels of our staff every-other-year. The opinion poll carried out in the spring of 2014 shows that the average satisfaction level of employees in Rīgas satiksme equals 2.96 on the scale from ‘1’ (the lowest level) to ‘4’ (the highest level). It should be added that the average satisfaction level means an average value composed by nine factors: the company’s image; relations with colleagues; immediate superior; top management; working conditions; work content and working process; system of salaries; possibilities of growth; and information flow. If we compare the results of studies in 2012 and 2014, it should be concluded that the average satisfaction level in Rīgas satiksme is growing, and the maximum growth is in the level of satisfaction with the salary system, top management and information flow.
About Rīgas satiksme
RP SIA Rīgas satiksme is a limited liability company fully-owned by Riga municipality (founded on 20 February 2003). The company provides public transport services in Riga and partly in its closest surroundings, as well as manages municipal parking-lots in Riga. In January 2005, when four companies of Riga municipality – SIA Rīgas satiksme, SIA Tramvaju un trolejbusu pārvalde, SIA Rīgas autostāvvietas and SIA Rīgas domes autobāze merged together, RP SIA Rīgas satiksme became one of the largest municipal enterprises in Riga city. At present, the company employs a nearly 4,300 staff including more than 960 bus, 560 trolleybus and 250 tram drivers. The company runs a fleet of 218 trams (nine routes), 264 trolleybuses (19 routes) and 432 buses (53 routes). It also manages 4,963 municipal parking-lots in Riga.
- Eurotransport Issue 6 2012, Volume 10 – ‘Riga keeps on modernising public transport and electronic services’ – for a back-issue copy, please contact Karen Hutchinson via email at [email protected].
Leons Bemhens has been Chairman of the Board at Rīgas satiksme since 2003. Leons graduated from the Latvian Agricultural Academy, Faculty of Agricultural Mechanisation, profession – Management and Operation of Motor Transport. In 1977, he started to work as an engineer at the Technical Unit of Riga Bus Transport, where he was later appointed the Chief Mechanician. In 1993, Leons was appointed Director of the newly established Riga municipal transport company, Talava.