The future tech set to supercharge travel

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Predictive journey planning, ticketless journeys and trains that run to our schedules are just the beginning

A Netflix-type subscription for buses, ticketless journeys and trains that run to our schedules... and that’s just the beginning. Transport expert Geert Vanbeveren explains why it will be software – not hardware – that will radically change our daily commute

Global smartphone use is set to pass the five billion mark by 2019. For the first time in history, we’ll be entering an era where the majority of people will have a GPS on them at all times. We’ll no longer have to worry about following maps — interconnected navigation systems will make it possible for our cars or our feet to know where we’re going based on very little information.

And that’s just the beginning of it, says transport expert Geert Vanbeveren. He heads up the sales and business development team for the Intermodal Solutions at Siemens Mobility Management and believes it will be software rather than hardware that will revolutionize the staid transport industry, a notoriously hard sector to innovate.

He thinks we’re already on the cusp of a revolution — all thanks to millennials. “Younger generations are not addicted to the idea of possessing a car and they all use smartphones,” he says. “They also have a more open attitude to sharing, we’ve really seen that through their use of Airbnb and car sharing companies.”

The market’s appetite for disruptive innovations means that in order to stay one step ahead of the game, Geert’s team spend their days looking for solutions to problems that don’t even exist yet. “We have extensive experience in rail and road,” says Geert, “so we know the operators and we know how they think and what they want — we just need to come up with the ideas.”

He believes the formula for innovation is threefold: “First, the freedom to be creative — and not just on Powerpoint. Secondly, it’s really important to take time out and speak to stakeholders and customers. And finally, it’s all about bringing the right people together. The best ideas happen when you’re triggered by a comment or anecdote and it all just snowballs from there.”

Having grown-up in Belgium and worked all over Europe, a change scene plays a vital role in how he comes up with new ideas. “New environments trigger new ideas,” he says. “They give me the kick to say ‘yes’ and try new things.”

Here are six innovations Geert and his team are hoping to implement in the very near future:

1. Transport on demand

Thanks to contactless tech like smart travel cards and apps, transport companies can now see who travels when and where — and the next innovation will be how we use that data. “In the next couple of years, we’ll be able to predict demand and help operators translate that into supply,” says Geert.

Otherwise known as on-demand responsive transport, this means that overcrowded journeys and hour-long connections will be a thing of the past, as timetables begin to work around our needs — not the other way round.

It’ll be one step ahead of us, constantly changing and adapting based on the data it receives. It will anticipate our needs before we even know what they are
Geert Vanbeveren

2. A true end-to-end journey

Most of us use one app to plan our journey, another app to book tickets and a third to check live departure times. This is all about to change — in 2017, Geert and his team launched an app in Dubai called S’Hail that aggregates all the transport modes in the city and they’re looking at ways to apply similar concepts in other cities.

“If you’re new to an area, can’t figure out the ticketing system or don’t want to have several tickets all over the place, this app allows you to purchase your tickets through one login and store them all in the same place,” says Geert.

3. Personalised service

Shivering in the cold while your train is delayed again and again will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to personalised, predictive journey planning. Imagine being notified of delays before you’ve even arrived at the station, or receiving a notification from the nearest café offering a discount on hot drinks.

Geert says the main difference between the Citymapper-style apps that most of us use today and what will come in the future is the proactive nature of the technology. “It’ll be one step ahead of us, constantly changing and adapting based on the data it receives,” he says. “It will anticipate our needs before we even know what they are.”

4. Netflix for buses

You use a subscription service for your favorite movies, TV and even gym classes — so why can’t we buy a package for the metro or trains? “We don’t always want to take the bus every day and why should we?” says Geert. He’s working towards a future where service providers will introduce flat rates for all types of transport, with different tiers depending on the need. In 2018, deciding between hiring a car, take a shuttle bus or hop on a train will only take the tap of a screen.

5. Hands-free ticketing

This year, Siemens helped Swiss Southeastern railway introduce BiBo (Be-in, Be-out), a hands-free ticketing system that’s automatically notified when you enter and exit a vehicle. Not only does it mark the end of trying to find tickets in a panic and helps to reduce paper waste, but the software can also calculate the best ticket price for you — from a single to a season pass.

6. Anything that can be connected, will be

In Greece, the only way to get to certain islands is by hydrofoil (otherwise known as a flying dolphin). In Cambodia you can hitch a ride on a bamboo board with wheels, and in the Philippines the Habal-Habal (a two wheeled bike that can carry up to ten people at a time) is just as commonplace as taxis.

The Internet of Things means more unusual types of transport will be able to link up to a central system, enabling real-time updates and booking systems. And it doesn’t just apply to remote parts of the world. “Even if you go to London or Paris, apps like Citymapper or Google Maps only offer public transport — or if you’re lucky something else,” says Geert. “Our technology means we can integrate all transportation modes.”

At Siemens, Geert Vanbeveren is the Head of Sales and Business Development for Intermodal Solutions in the Mobility Management team, where he drives the global sales activities. He lives in Munich with his family. Find out more about working with Siemens.

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