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Riga upgrades public transport services and rolling stock

Posted: 15 December 2010 | Leons Bemhens, Chairman of the Board, Rīgas satiksme | No comments yet

Riga’s public transport has undergone significant changes in recent years. The electronic payment system has been introduced successfully, and after the renovation of the bus fleet, tram and trolleybus renovations have now started, accompanied by modernisation of the infrastructure.

Transfer to e-ticket The 1 March 2009 was a remarkable day for Riga. On this day, Latvia’s capital city started using the unified electronic payments system in public transport, or the transfer to the e-ticket, known in Riga as ‘e-talons’. A rather short period of time, just two months (March and April), was given to replace the old system with the new one, and the new payments system was fully operable as of 1 May 2009.

Riga’s public transport has undergone significant changes in recent years. The electronic payment system has been introduced successfully, and after the renovation of the bus fleet, tram and trolleybus renovations have now started, accompanied by modernisation of the infrastructure.Transfer to e-ticket The 1 March 2009 was a remarkable day for Riga. On this day, Latvia’s capital city started using the unified electronic payments system in public transport, or the transfer to the e-ticket, known in Riga as ‘e-talons’. A rather short period of time, just two months (March and April), was given to replace the old system with the new one, and the new payments system was fully operable as of 1 May 2009.

Riga’s public transport has undergone significant changes in recent years. The electronic payment system has been introduced successfully, and after the renovation of the bus fleet, tram and trolleybus renovations have now started, accompanied by modernisation of the infrastructure.

Transfer to e-ticket The 1 March 2009 was a remarkable day for Riga. On this day, Latvia’s capital city started using the unified electronic payments system in public transport, or the transfer to the e-ticket, known in Riga as ‘e-talons’. A rather short period of time, just two months (March and April), was given to replace the old system with the new one, and the new payments system was fully operable as of 1 May 2009.

Now we can look back at the system implementation process and conclude with joy that, despite the tough deadlines, the introduction of the new system proceeded successfully and has fully proven its value. Passengers having bought and used e-tickets are also positive about the upgrade. The new system not only allowed us to quickly diversify the range of tickets, but also enabled paying fare on the Internet.

Nevertheless, for the time being, a majority of passengers still buy tickets mainly in various trade outlets and from the vehicle driver. The positive trend, however, is that the number of those buying tickets from the driver is gradually decreasing. Ticket vending machines located in various places in the city have become increasingly popular. There are already 24 ticket vending machines operated in Riga, and another 10 are scheduled to be put in public transport stops by the end of 2010. Placing ticket machines in public transport stops has already started, but is slightly delayed.

New types of tickets are most popular

At present, the e-ticket is available in three various forms: the widest range of functions is provided for blue plastic cards, which are subdivided into personalised e-tickets (containing information about the specific user and bearing his/her photo) and nonpersonalised e-tickets. Both types of the e-ticket are the most demanded by passengers who use public transport on a regular basis. There are also yellow cardboard smart tickets, whose main difference from the plastic smart cards is that they cannot be reloaded. The e-ticket’s plastic card is valid for five years and can be reloaded an unlimited number of times. Every passenger can choose either a non-personalised or a personalised ticket, yet personalised tickets are compulsory for passengers who want to use discounts. The third type of e-ticket is the paper ticket available from by the vehicle driver.

Thanks to the advantages of electronic payments, there is a very wide range of tickets for different categories of passengers in Riga now. For example, you can buy a one-month ticket, a ticket for a certain number of trips (e.g. 10 or 20 trips), limited time tickets (24 hours, 3 or 5 days), as well as one-time tickets, whose basic tariff is LVL 0.50 or about €0.70. It is more advantageous to buy a ticket for several trips, because discounts are available. According to the information of Rīgas satiksme, passengers are very positive about the new electronic tickets. The most popular ticket is for 20 trips, which is used by 25% of passengers.

The second most popular ticket is the onemonth ticket; almost 20% of passengers use it. The third is the ticket for 10 trips, used by almost 12% of passengers.

E-ticket keeps on developing

Other transport companies in Latvia are also very interested in introducing the e-ticket. For example, the e-ticket opens way to the integration of railway in Riga’s public transport system. Talks with passenger carrier company Pasažieru vilciens have already finished and a positive decision to use e-tickets in trains within Riga city borders has been taken.

There are also plans to expand the range of payment options in municipal parking-lots of Riga. It will be possible to pay for parking services with various modern means of payment, including bank cards, SMS or e-tickets.

Development of web communication

Electronic communications in Riga’s public transport showed a significant development in recent years along with electronic payments. Therefore, Rīgas satiksme is paying much attention to this field, so that current information about transport schedules and planned changes would be always available to passengers at the company’s website. This is probably the reason why the Internet has become one of the most popular sources of information about public transport schedules in Riga. It is evidenced by statistics from Rīgas satiksme’s website (www.rigassatiksme.lv) – more than 600,000 requests for public transport schedules per month on average, and by the customers’ poll on Rīgas satiksme website. Seventy-six percent of respondents look at the public transport schedules on the Internet, and only 10% at public transport stops. Four percent look at the schedules in their mobile phones, 2% have written them down in their notebooks or call the toll-free information phone of Rīgas satiksme. Only 6% do not usually look at public transport schedules.

Modernisation of public transport is underway

You cannot imagine a good public transport company without, first and foremost, polite staff and an appropriate service culture! Yet the pride and necessity of every transport company is also its rolling stock, which is carrying passengers daily. As for passengers, they want to use modern, clean and comfortable transport. It is also evident through looking at the results of customer surveys that the level of comfort in public transport is closely linked with how up-to-date public transport is. Therefore, one of Rīgas satiksme’s priorities in recent years was the modernisation of the rolling stock. It was determined, first of all, by the wishes of Riga residents and physical depreciation of public transport, yet the environmental factor and economy were also important. The new motor vehicles are much more environment friendly, and their operation is also more advantageous for the company, which can save on repair works.

The bus fleet of Riga was the first to undergo modernisation. Starting from the end of 1990s, the outdated Ikarus buses were gradually replaced by Mercedes-Benz buses. Now, the blue-and-white buses have become one of Riga’s trademarks. To improve keeping to the schedule and to adjust the traffic intensity to passengers’ needs, the buses are equipped with GPS, which are connected into one network, run by the monitoring service. Thus the monitoring service can track down the location of each public transport vehicle and to monitor the public transport in the city in general, as well as to check whether the vehicle concerned keeps to the schedule.

Two thirds of trolleybus fleet renovated

After the modernisation of the bus fleet, gradual renovation of the trolleybus park could be started. Traditionally, Czech and Belorussian trolleybuses dominated Riga’s trolleybus fleet.

This time again, after winning a tender, Czech trolleybus manufacturer Škoda Elektrik s.r.o has become Riga’s partner in modernisation. The first low-floor Škoda 24Tr Irisbus trolleybuses were received in October 2007. By the end of 2009, 150 new trolleybuses were delivered. One of their advantages is the possibility of installing a diesel generator, which enables the trolleybus to be operated outside the overhead contact system, for example, to bypass obstacles in case of repair or emergency, as well as to move inside depots. At present, more than 90 Škoda 24Tr Irisbus trolleybuses are supplied with diesel generators; and it is planned that this year another 20 new trolleybuses with diesel engines will be supplied.

The delivery of 150 Škoda 24Tr Irisbus trolleybuses in 2009 closed the first stage of updating the trolleybus fleet, which provides for modernisation of 2/3 of the rolling stock. Seventy-five trolleybuses are still to be replaced. If all necessary procedures are fulfilled and the necessary funding is provided, new trolleybuses could be bought in 2011. Therefore, it is not surprising that trolleybus manufacturers come to Riga to present their latest products. For example, in early September, Rigans were introduced to Bogdan T70115, a joint product of Cegelec (Czech Republic) and Bogdan (Ukraine). Other trolleybus manufacturers are also expected to raise Riga’s interest in their products.

First low-floor trams start running in Riga

There was also an important turn in the modernisation of the tram fleet. In March 2010, Riga received the first low-floor tram 15T-Riga, made by Škoda (Czech Republic). After two months of testing, it was put into operation on 1 June 2010. A total of 20 new low-floor trams will be delivered to Riga by the end of January 2011. The first low-floor trams are carrying passengers on route No. 6, which is the busiest tram route. The capacity of the new tram is for 300 passengers, it is 31.64m-long and 2.5m-wide. The tram consists of three interconnected sections, so that passengers can move freely throughout the vehicle. It is supplied with a lifting platform for disabled persons and special built-in aeration and air conditioning systems. It is manufactured by Škoda Transportation s.r.o.

At present, the tram fleet of RP SIA Rīgas satiksme consists of 252 tram cars made in the former Czechoslovakia, which Riga received in 1970s-1980s. The pre-overhaul lifetime set by the manufacturer for these trams is 15 years. When calculating the remaining lifetime, it was established that 2010 will be the last year of tram traffic in Riga. Therefore, a large-scale renovation of the rolling stock was started in 1999, and the lifetime of trams was extended by another 15 years. For example, the remaining lifetime of 180 trams renovated in 1999-2001 is now seven years.

Large-scale infrastructure adjustment

Large-scale infrastructure upgrading was necessary to start the operation of low-floor trams. The depot has to be adjusted for maintenance works; street crossings, overhead contact systems and tram rail tracks had to be modernised. Most of the rail track repair works were made at night in order not to hinder the general transport traffic in the city. It is also scheduled to build a new maintenance workshop for the new tram. For the time being, the premises of electric transport workshops and the area of the fifth tram depot have been adjusted for the maintenance of the new trams. In the coming years, tram route No. 6 will be extended and seven new tram stops will be added to the line. It is planned that the route will be extended in both directions, including in the historic centre of the city, where special requirements to designing and building tram stops will be in place.

Solutions for future problems must be found today

The economic situation in Latvia has left a significant effect on people’s moving habits. With the growth of unemployment, the necessity to use public transport has decreased dramatically. The number of those using private cars and private transport has dropped. Before the crisis, traffic jams in Latvia’s capital city was a usual situation, but today they have almost disappeared. Interestingly, the number of cyclists on Riga’s streets has increased significantly during the last year. The number of passengers of Rīgas satiksme has dropped by nearly 10%, and now the company serves from 9-12 million passengers per month. Traditionally, there are fewer passengers in summer months (9-10 million per month), when pupils and children are on holidays and therefore use public transport far less frequently.

Nevertheless, everybody is aware that the period of downslide will be followed by recovery, and habits and needs of the population will change again. There will be a growing need to use both private and public transport. Therefore, Riga thinks about establishing special traffic lanes for public transport and developing tram traffic. Trams are the backbone of the public transport system and are the least affected by traffic jams. Both Rīgas satiksme and the municipality are aware that by making necessary investments today, Riga will be much better prepared for traffic jams in the future.

About the Author

Leons Bemhens

Leons Bemhens has been Chairman of the Board at Rigas satiksme since 2003. Mr. Bemhens 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 Production Association, where he was later appointed Chief Mechanic. In 1993, he was appointed Director of the newly established Riga municipal transport company, Tālava.

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