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A New Form of Mobility. An interview with Bruno Schwager, General Manager of VBSH and Peter Schneck, CEO of Trapeze Switzerland.

Article: A New Form of Mobility

This article was published in Schaffhauser Nachrichten, edition February 4 2017 in German.

Trapeze, a system provider based in Neuhausen near Schaffhausen in Switzerland, is engaged in a continuous exchange with the public transport authority of Schaffhausen, “Schaffhauser Verkehrsbetriebe” (VBSH). The two companies have close ties not only because of their local proximity. They also share the same visions of the future. BY JEANNETTE VOGEL

NEUHAUSEN/SCHAFFHAUSEN VBSH serve the Schaffhausen and Neuhausen area. During the daytime, they do so in 10-minute cycles, and in 20-minute cycles in the evening until midnight and on weekends. In order to ensure that everything works smoothly, much technology has been installed behind and inside VBSH’s roughly 40 buses. Part of it is supplied by Trapeze.

For example, Trapeze has supplied the operations control centre to VBSH. The special thing about this system, which has been up and running since 2014, is that it consists of no more than a computer workstation equipped with two display screens – with the operations control system proper remotely located in a data cloud. This has eliminated the need for the transport authority to procure the necessary hardware and software, which they lease as a service from Trapeze.


Access to the operating system

Choosing Trapeze Switzerland GmbH means that a lot is supplied from a single source – which also creates a certain dependency: “Yes, this is to some degree true, but it is quite acceptable to us,” says Bruno Schwager, Director of VBSH. He says that the two companies are linked not only by the short distances that exist between them, but that they have also entertained an almost matrimonial closeness to each other for years now.


The employees of Trapeze are also able to access the operating system of VBSH, explains Peter Schneck, CEO Trapeze Switzerland: “The feedback we receive from our partner encourages us to make improvements so that we can continue to develop in step.” This ongoing exchange of ideas, he says, can be compared to married life: “Yes, this is absolutely so, and along with all the ups and downs and shared ideas that go with it,” says Schneck, who as the CEO of Trapeze Switzerland has been in charge since February 2015 of developing operations control and ticketing systems in Europe and in selected growth markets.


Strategic steps

A “quantum leap in passenger information” is what VBSH called the real-time schedule with their own Smartphone app for passengers when they rolled it out in 2014. Since then, neither Schwager nor Schneck have leaned back.

“In 2016, we did a lot of basic work to make strategic steps this year,” says Schwager. He continues by saying that 2017 will bring many other important decisions up to the point of those made in political votes by the local population – merging of the regional and urban public transport authorities RVSH/ VBSH; future and further development of diesel vehicles; wider range of services offered in the industrial district of Herblingen as well as integration of the tariff association of Schaffhausen in “Ostwind”, the tariff association of Eastern Switzerland. He goes on to say that he depends to a great extent on the goodwill of politics and the population. But: “I feel our strong political backing. They want this – and that helps.”


Autonomous driving

He says that a lot of things have also been happening on the SIG premises at Trapeze, some of which will not be ready before the springtime: “All I can tell you now is that this year, we will develop Neuhausen into an autonomous public transport solutions site,” says Schneck. And he adds that he has launched an in-house initiative and ensured that the necessary financial funds are available.

As technology progresses, so does the dependency of the two companies on electric power. Peter Schneck is confident: “Nothing will happen to us, for we have saved the data in the cloud and thus benefit from multiple layers of security.” He does not see any reason for being worried, either: “If, in the worst case, power supplies should fail throughout Switzerland, our buses will still continue to move – for every driver still has a schedule in his or her breast pocket.”

An increasing number of Smartphones travel along in the bus today. What is more, there are still up to seven SIM cards inside the bus itself, either inside the gearbox, inside the on-board computer, inside the ticket machine or inside the infotainment display. “Apart from safety issues, we as the various manufacturers failed to exchange enough information on other things at that time,” concedes Schneck. Technological possibilities for reducing the number of SIM cards and thus the costs surely exist.


15 display panels in the Canton of Schaffhausen

In many cities inside and outside Switzerland, the electronic displays supplied by market leader Trapeze are now part of the urban scene. They show passengers the departure times in real time and provide up-to-the-minute information on disruptions in the public transport network. However, of the roughly 400 stops installed in the Canton of Schaffhausen, a mere 15 are equipped with displays. More installations may be added at strategic spots, says the VBSH Director. But he puts the actual number of displays into perspective: “There are 15 large and countless small ones,” says Schwager laughing, and points to his Smartphone.

The price of a bus ticket is basically made up of three components: bus, driver and Trapeze’s services, with employees accounting for the largest share. “But they are worth their cost,” says Schwager. Some 180 persons work for the authority, and staff expenses amount to just under 13 million francs a year.

Trapeze’s services account for only a fraction of the annual operating cost of 22 million francs, says the Director of VBSH. “Less than one percent,” adds Schneck. And both agree that even when state-of-the-art technology and the latest ideas are applied, this will never eliminate the need for people – people who work and think.


A new form of mobility

What milestones do VBSH plan to reach in the coming years together with Trapeze? “We want to be a modern company. And we want lots of people to come to Schaffhausen to see the ancient city, the castle and the Rhine Falls, and also to use our public transport services,” says Schwager.

And they stress the fact that in the long term, the term “public transport” does not refer solely to buses and trains: “What we are setting our sights on is a new form of mobility – we want to create something that suits everyone, from children to the elderly.”


Concierge solution

“Things are becoming increasingly networked,” says the CEO of Trapeze. He could imagine something like a “concierge solution”. This would be an app that would accompany passengers along their entire journey and would also communicate with them. For example, a taxi might pick up passengers at their homes and transport them to a remote bus or train stop – with up-to-the-minute precision and exactly when and as needed. Waiting alone “out in the cold” for a bus or missing a connection would then be a thing of the past, and the app would even tell passengers when to put on their jackets just before the taxi arrives.

Schneck cites an example from Dubai. There, Trapeze equipped 12,000 taxis, which now operate like buses and have displaced Uber from the city. Uber is an American company that offers online intermediary services for passenger transport in many cities around the world.


Shared visions

The Director of VBSH comes back to Peter Schneck’s announcement of autonomous transport: “I could very well imagine a kind of mobile Trapeze laboratory for our clients.”

“The nice thing about our collaboration is that we share the same visions,” says Schneck, who however adds that he does not want to reveal more of their visions at the moment.