THE WHEELS ON THE BUS

Colombia 2015 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sergio París Mendoza, General Manager of Transmilenio S.A., on changes to the public transport system, new technologies coming online, and international partnerships for technological advancement.

Sergio París Mendoza
BIOGRAPHY
Sergio París Mendoza holds an MBA from the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá and a specialization in the evaluation and formulation of projects with emphasis on the aviation sector from the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce in Toulouse. He was previously the Director General of the Colombian Civil Aviation Authority.

You are currently in the midst of integrating the public transport system. Could you explain the major challenges of this initiative since you began?

Transmilenio was in transition when I assumed office in June of 2014. There was a loss of public confidence in the public transport system, which we had to reverse by providing better service, reorganizing its delivery, and improving the service we provide in the Carrera Septima, a key transit artery. We needed to move some of the demand from the Caracas to Septima Avenue, establish new services, use the local service, and integrate them into the trans system. There were diagnostic problems at that time. We had a problem with the implementation of the SITP “zonal" services needing to consolidate that system, and place our assets where most productive. Transmilenio S.A. slowed the implementation process somewhat and tried to consolidate what it had. We uncovered financial irregularities at two of the companies that provide zonal services. The national government helped us take control of these two companies, and for six months we developed a plan to rescue them. We also needed to improve infrastructure. We started a maintenance plan and directed our resources towards tackling the main problems, including security. Conditions were complex, but we started registering systematic improvement.

What have been the main achievements in making the system better and more sustainable over the past year?

Our tactical plan is built on four pillars; the first is transformation. We put all our effort and resources into the metro system. Another project was the Upgrade Plan, which seeks to renew the fleet with advanced technologies including hybrid and electric buses, and introducing a fleet of Volvo buses. We already had hybrid buses in the Carrera Septima, but we needed to expand their use to other operators and neighborhoods. Then there is the Contract Pillar, which seeks to increase and enhance the ability of our organization to provide contracts. We faced a serious problem regarding the integration of cars into the system. We issued some directives to provide a plan for the transition and substitution of the technology such that we could accept the 17 cars in the system. The third is the Service Pillar. We want to implement the services that best serve our users. This means access to information—looking for ways to provide information to the user, using new technologies like Google Maps, and other applications. Our strategy relies heavily on the media. We are currently working with the Universidad de los Andes, and in that regard we are improving our planning capabilities. The fourth pillar of our tactical plan is innovation. We are innovating in two ways—in research and development, and in solving small problems that cause serious outcomes. On that track we are trying to find a way to connect to the industry, using new technologies, and a modern integrated public transport system. We worked with the UK Embassy, and UK-based Right Bus, to introduce aluminum bodied vehicles, reducing weight, and the cost of moving passengers per unit.

How has Transmilenio S.A. and its partners improved its grasp of urban and transport planning?

Our organization embraces progressive environmental public policy. We are working with companies—mainly Korean—to improve user access to information. We provide IT services at some of our stations, and have installed a new electronic door system. The third and most important example concerns our new buses themselves. Transmilenio S.A. already has a 12m electric bus in Bogotá, as well as a hybrid, and we are testing other buses and waiting on an electric vehicle from China. We have an innovation process called the City Laboratory, which allows manufacturers to test their technology on our system, with all parties benefiting from the results. Transmilenio certifies that the bus complies with all the requirements to operate in the system, which is yet another example from our innovation pillar.