I often have to travel from Rome to the province of Padua on public transport.
The alarm goes at 5:45 am. The day before, I’m reminded of my imminent High-Speed Train journey by a message. 30 minutes to get ready. In the meantime, I take a quick look at my mobile to see if there’s a possibility of car-sharing near home and book. I kiss my wife, go down to the street, look for the car, open it and get in. It stinks of smoke. I report this via the app although I’m aware that nothing will happen. I arrive at the station and get on the High-Speed Train, which leaves exactly on time. The arrival at Florence station slows things down and the screen shows a delay of more than 15 minutes. The squawking voice of the conductor on the loudspeaker apologises for the delay, blaming it on “network congestion” (meaning it’s the fault of Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI – manager of the national railway infrastructure)). We get to Bologna and I’ve got just 7 minutes to catch the Regionale Veloce (Fast Regional train, that’s what they’re called now). I run and there are stairs and more stairs. I read the indications about the platforms – you always have to in this station because otherwise you’ll get lost. A corridor so full that I have to push my way through. More stairs and I’ve made it! The Regional (Fast) train is on time…
Let’s say ‘travel experience’, through the ‘quality system’ of the car-sharing company, RFI – station, RFI – network, and the HST services company.
And let’s also say ‘perception of the quality of my multi-modal journey’. My journey started when I bought the ticket, and thought about how to get to the station for that time, and ended when I reached my destination. Technically, it should have finished when the company I sent a complaint to advised me what action it was going to take.
In the age of Mobility as a Service, when people no longer talk about transport systems but mobility services, and it’s not merely a lexical difference, we have to talk about the quality of the journey overall. The traditional categories of public transport system, rail service and transport systems to access the carrier network are becoming more and more indistinct. They are there; they need to continue to be there but they’re increasingly ‘seen’ by the traveller (technically the ‘user’) as the individual components of a single journey. And the assessment, I dare to say feedback on the journey, has difficulty in recognising individual defaillances and certainly doesn’t accept justifications blaming the delay on “network congestion”.
We should start by saying that, in any truly competitive market able to guarantee the consumer multiple options, the quality of the goods offered becomes the strategic element for conquering, maintaining and amplifying market share.
Transport services are, in effect, much more varied. On one hand, the so-called ‘to market’ services, i.e. not paid for by public financing, compete for the shares of movements. However, their performance, why the user chooses one of the services, is strongly influenced by the performance of the infrastructure – how car-sharing, buses and taxis move in urban traffic which has a decisive effect on travel times. The responsibility for the infrastructure that trains move on lies with a single manager, RFI. The responsibility for the stations that trains leave from and arrive at lies with a single manager, once again RFI. On the other hand, there are services paid for by public financing, typically short-medium range, with companies that compete to acquire that market. Once acquired, it is held for a sufficient number of years to repay the investment. In this time, the companies have to offer a service that conforms to the Monopoly Service Contract.
In effect, the range of alternatives that the user has available for their journey is often not particularly wide.
Clearly, in these two cases, attention to the quality of the service may be different. Looking at the railway transport service managed with Service Contracts, the Transport Regulation Authority recently published Resolution 16/2018 establishing criteria, indicators and threshold levels for quality, which the relevant bodies have to take into account in the renewal or new signature of Service Contracts – punctuality, regularity, cleanliness and comfort, safety and information are described with appropriate, measurable indicators so that the manager of the service can be monitored and assessed. However, the most relevant data is that, perhaps for the first time, an attempt is made to interpret the travel experience in its entirety, from the purchase of the ticket to when a possible bonus is received because of problems in the service. Technically ‘pre-trip’, ‘on-trip’ and ‘post-trip’.
In this context, the challenging attempt to indicate the centres of responsibility and the tools for discussion, institutional and operative, between the various operators (manager of railway services and station services, planning body, etc.) is in the middle. The station is no longer perceived as a mere railway terminal but, rather, as an ‘access point’ which has to provide support services for the disabled and an information service in a clear infrastructure context, made of short, recognisable paths, commercial areas and available, accessible user services which can ensure the security of the user and their baggage. From the system point of view, the subject of crowds is linked to the adequacy of the service, outlining a path starting with the planning of a service that responds to the needs in terms of frequency, time and type of rolling stock. A central role is given to the availability of information on the service, confirming the public value of the data and, consequently, the need for it to be open, available to anyone who wants to develop applications for the user and in support of the relevant body for better planning.
Levels of performance and penalty criteria in the event of failure to respect them are established that are homogeneous nationally and consistent with the features of the demand for travel, the type of railway service, the level of service of the infrastructure and the age of the rolling stock. On the other hand, the transport system is and remains a ‘complex’ system – events involving a part of it are propagated in the other parts following technical, technological, industrial, economic, etc. relationship logics.
While the quality of the railway service, and the homogeneity of its standards in the country is on the right track, there are still wide margins for development of the other methods of transport. In a recent investigation into local public transport services, the Antitrust Authority highlighted the extreme disaggregation of the market and, similarly, the companies providing road transport services. This is defined as ‘industrial dwarfism’ and brings different levels of technical and technological development, structure in business and industrial processes, and expertise. The panorama makes it much more difficult to think of, let alone build, a path for the definition of homogeneous quality criteria and standards throughout the country while taking account of the time and space features of the demand and supply. However, local public bus transport is the feeder network for metropolitan railway services, i.e. it has a decisive role in the chain of systematic movement of the so-called ‘relevant demand’ i.e. commuters.
A demanding, in terms of size and investment, path of infrastructure development of transport hubs is in progress. These are generally interpreted as railway stations which, in the manager’s industrial plan, become accessible places available to travellers and non-travellers alike, places of urban regeneration, places where the urban fabric is rewoven. Designers and planners must work synergically to create, develop, propose and apply design paths that keep the quality of interchange services on a straight course, becoming an active part in that process, limiting the frequent deviation of projects centred on the user-consumer (of commercial galleries) rather than the user-traveller, bringing (back) the system approach to the design of a hub that is primarily a services-network hub and secondly a commercial hub. More generally, the system approach becomes intrinsically oriented to the quality of the service.
Planning defines the demand needs which the service is called on to answer adequately, in terms of frequency, obviously, but also in the choice of rolling stock and its interior design. The ultimate aim is to define a service that ensures the traveller doesn’t stand for longer than a certain length of time. Planning ensures a punctual service, consistent with network performance, indicating priority sections and stations, based on the features of the demand in the reference basin, as a result establishing the hub planning criteria for an effective interchange.
Regulation establishes which services are paid for with public financing, the relative quality levels and the legal criteria for the user’s rights in the sphere of market dynamics in a context of infrastructure effectiveness and efficiency of transport services.