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2011 – A year rich in changes at TPG

Posted: 31 October 2011 | Roland Bonzon, CEO, TPG | No comments yet

As previously announced in Intelligent Transport Issue 5 2010, after several years of feasibility studies, preparation and finally construction, travellers in Geneva will be able to benefit from tram line 14 and its new 6.5km extension to Bernex. At the same time, a major re-organisation of the tram and bus network and a new information system for travellers is being introduced. In an interview for Intelligent Transport, Roland Bonzon, CEO of TPG, explains what changes will come into force for passengers, the impact on the bus and trolleybus network and investments in new vehicles.
Why are you changing the way the tram network is operated?

The current system has reached its limits. In order to respond to the growing needs of our customers, we have to change the way we operate. The new tram network will be much simpler – instead of the seven interconnected tram lines currently operating, the new system will have just three independent lines. With additional trams due for delivery in 2012, we will be able to adapt the service frequency in response to passenger demand. Along with the extension of the network, we expect a significant increase in the number of passengers.

In addition, the new system will lead to a more reliable service. An accident or breakdown on one part of the network will no longer have a knock-on effect on other parts – which is the case today.

As previously announced in Intelligent Transport Issue 5 2010, after several years of feasibility studies, preparation and finally construction, travellers in Geneva will be able to benefit from tram line 14 and its new 6.5km extension to Bernex. At the same time, a major re-organisation of the tram and bus network and a new information system for travellers is being introduced. In an interview for Intelligent Transport, Roland Bonzon, CEO of TPG, explains what changes will come into force for passengers, the impact on the bus and trolleybus network and investments in new vehicles. Why are you changing the way the tram network is operated?The current system has reached its limits. In order to respond to the growing needs of our customers, we have to change the way we operate. The new tram network will be much simpler – instead of the seven interconnected tram lines currently operating, the new system will have just three independent lines. With additional trams due for delivery in 2012, we will be able to adapt the service frequency in response to passenger demand. Along with the extension of the network, we expect a significant increase in the number of passengers.In addition, the new system will lead to a more reliable service. An accident or breakdown on one part of the network will no longer have a knock-on effect on other parts – which is the case today.

As previously announced in Intelligent Transport Issue 5 2010, after several years of feasibility studies, preparation and finally construction, travellers in Geneva will be able to benefit from tram line 14 and its new 6.5km extension to Bernex. At the same time, a major re-organisation of the tram and bus network and a new information system for travellers is being introduced. In an interview for Intelligent Transport, Roland Bonzon, CEO of TPG, explains what changes will come into force for passengers, the impact on the bus and trolleybus network and investments in new vehicles.

Why are you changing the way the tram network is operated?

The current system has reached its limits. In order to respond to the growing needs of our customers, we have to change the way we operate. The new tram network will be much simpler – instead of the seven interconnected tram lines currently operating, the new system will have just three independent lines. With additional trams due for delivery in 2012, we will be able to adapt the service frequency in response to passenger demand. Along with the extension of the network, we expect a significant increase in the number of passengers.

In addition, the new system will lead to a more reliable service. An accident or breakdown on one part of the network will no longer have a knock-on effect on other parts – which is the case today.

What are the disadvantages of the new system?

With a tram every 3 and a half minutes in peak hours, passengers will no longer need to check the timetable and will simply turn up and travel. The downside is the increased number of changes that travellers will need to make. We are aware of this issue and have already put in place a number of measures to assist passengers. Our website will supply real-time information on the state of the network and we have introduced LED displays at tram stops as well as large TV displays at the key interchanges to keep passengers informed. Mobile phone users are not forgotten either: iPhone owners can download our application and we have adapted our website for other Smartphone users. A large number of staff will also be on hand at tram and bus stops and on board vehicles to inform and advise passengers before, during and several weeks after the changes.

How many more passengers will now have to change trams?

According to our estimates, at peak hours (5pm to 6pm) the proportion of customers who can make direct journeys without changes will fall from 71% to 66%. The difference of 5% represents some 2,300 additional transfers, but the impact will vary widely across the network. At Cornavin for example, the impact will be minimal with an estimated increase in the number of changes of just 4% which represents only an extra three passengers a minute. However, at Rond-Point de Plainpalais there will be a significant increase of an estimated 170% – an additional eight passengers a minute needing to change trams – and at Bel-Air an additional 22 passengers a minute will need to change representing an increase of approximately 80%. Clearly we need to develop measures to manage and ensure the safety of this additional flow of pedestrians as well as making these changes as straightforward as possible for users.

What concrete measures are you putting in place at these two key interchanges?

Currently there are four tram stops at Plainpalais. Line 12 which stops at the centre of the Rond-Point, lines 13 and 14 with stops on Boulevard Georges-Favon and on one side of the Rond-Point itself and finally line 15 which stops on Avenue Henri-Dunant. Once the number of tram lines reduces from four to two, we will remove two of these stops which will make tram changes much easier and simpler for users. One of the tram stops remaining will be increased in size and protected from traffic and we will also create an additional pedestrian crossing. This new crossing will be secure and most importantly will be the shortest route between the two remaining tram stops. Currently, pedestrians need to cross two roads and sometimes wait for two sets of traffic lights to change in order to reach their destination. It is understandable that pedestrians in a hurry often decide to take risks and opt for a short cut. Finally, from the 11th of December, trams will no longer cut across Boulevard Georges- Favon/Avenue Henri-Dunant which will improve traffic flow not only for trams but also for cars and pedestrians. This will have a positive knockon effect on the time available for pedestrians to cross from one tram stop to another.

And what are the plans for Bel-Air?

We are going to improve the area around Place Bel-Air so it is clearer for all users. There will be a tree lined square on the right bank of the Rhone. The bus, trolleybus and tram stops will be on the bridge and on the left bank of the Rhone. There will also be cycle and motorbike parking as well as a dedicated space for taxis. The main challenge will be to manage the flow of pedestrians between the tram stop for line 12 situated on a major shopping street and the tram 14 stop situated on the bridge. All passengers will need to cross using the same pedestrian crossing on the Rue du Rhone. Only cyclists, taxis and delivery vehicles are allowed on this road; in theory access is prohibited to cars although in reality many continue to use the road. For example, in September 2010, 164 cars were recorded using the road between 5pm and 6pm! Although stricter controls have since reduced this figure, this remains a critical issue and if cars continue to use this route, Bel-Air is in danger of becoming gridlocked. The Geneva traffic police will therefore need to ensure that these restrictions are enforced.

What will be the key changes for your staff?

The change in how the system operates will significantly impact the bus and trolleybus network. The new routes will require an additional effort by drivers and the success of the new network will therefore depend on their commitment. Over 100 information sessions have already been organised and these will be followed by training sessions on the changes. For tram drivers, a key change will be that the length of tram lines will increase. Although some drivers fear that driving will become monotonous, others feel the changes will allow them to concentrate on one line thereby reducing stress. I am not a tram driver but I believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Lines are longer but not necessarily monotonous – indeed the environment will become more varied as the three lines will have a part of their journey in the city centre but long sections will now be out of the centre where the lines are normally completely separate from other road users.

Will you have enough drivers to meet the needs of the extended network?

In order to meet the increased demand, as well as replacing drivers who leave or retire, we will need to recruit approximately 100 new drivers a year for the next three to four years. We are currently preparing a recruiting and media campaign which will highlight and promote the job and this campaign will be run in collaboration with other public transport operators in the French speaking part of Switzerland. We will also continue to work with the Canton to attract currently unemployed workers into the profession and to eventually retrain them as drivers. It is important to point out that the job is demanding and our expectations are high, so we will only be recruiting those who have the right competencies as well as good customer relation skills.

Will you also be investing in new vehicles?

Absolutely! On the 16th of December, we took delivery of our first of a series of 32 new ‘Tango’ trams. These magnificent vehicles, made in Switzerland by Stadler Rail, will allow us to increase capacity and respond to the increased demand resulting from the 6 ½ kilometre extension of tram line 14. The delivery of the tram – some 44m-long and weighing over 57 tonnes – was a real event in Geneva. A specially adapted lorry transported the new tram from the main train station in Geneva to our depot where it was welcomed by a large crowd made up of journalists, colleagues and a mix of curious bystanders and tram enthusiasts. We are currently also taking delivery of 87 new articulated Citaro buses made by Mercedes-Benz which meet the most recent and increasingly demanding European environmental standards. Seventy of these vehicles will replace existing buses which no longer meet customer needs and the remainder will be used to increase the service capacity on the network. Finally, existing ticket machines are gradually being replaced by 720 new models – 200 of which are run on solar power – which incorporate a touch screen and give change to customers buying tickets. They will also be compatible with a future ticketing system based on contact free smart card payment. The machines also take notes as well as coins and accept credit and debit cards. In the future they will also allow customers to renew season tickets thereby easing pressure on our other sales points and having a positive knock-on effect on waiting times at ticket offices.

The changes will happen soon. How do you rate the chances of success?

How well the changes work depends on the quality of information provided to passengers but also on the ability of colleagues to rise to the challenge and commit themselves to the project. I am very confident the changes will be a success!

 

About the Author

Roland Bonzon has spent most of his career with the Swiss Federal Railways (CFF) and has more than 30 years experience in public transport. He worked as Head of Sales and was then in charge of human resources at CFF before he became Head of HR at the Infrastructure Department of Canton de Vaud in 2002. He joined TPG as Head of HR in 2006, and was appointed General Manager ad interim as from July 2007. Roland Bonzon was nominated CEO of TPG in May 2008. He holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) awarded by the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP).

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