Sophie Henkel from ERTICO talked to Gert Blom, Coordinator smart & green mobility, City of Helmond and one of the two Chairs of ITS European Congress 2019 National Host Committee, to get an insight into one of the smartest regions in the world.

The Brainport region of Eindhoven-Helmond in the Netherlands has prevailed over its competitors. In 2019 the ITS European Congress is going to take place in this high-tech region well-known for innovations and projects linked to smart mobility, such as self-driving cars, congestion prevention and logistics. We had a chat with Gert Blom about smart mobility in the Brainport region, hosting the 13th European ITS Congress, and recommendations for future applicant cities.

Q: The bid was managed as a great corporation. How important was the collaboration between the public sector and the industry?

A: We already knew from the very beginning that it wouldn’t have been possible to host the ITS Congress alone. I think cooperation creates added value for both cities, Eindhoven and Helmond. Even more importantly, we worked closely with all other cities and regions in the Netherlands, for example the cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam who also had plans to host the Congress. I think this is a great example of good cooperation, especially between public authorities that collaborate to achieve the best interest of the country as a whole. On the other hand, of course, we need the industry and the private partners for funding, demos and showcases. It has to be a shared responsibility. We had funding from public authorities but also a good committed sponsor package from a lot of private companies. I think it is really a win-win for everybody.

“This Congress is a real collaborative effort between cities and regions of the Netherlands, as well as between public and private institutions. It once again shows that when you work together, then you will be successful.”

Q: The theme of the Congress is “Fulfilling ITS promises”. Which promises have already been fulfilled and what is left to do?

A: We already have some examples of very practical and usable smart services in place. In Eindhoven and Helmond we are using C-ITS to give priorities to certain vehicles, such as buses and trucks. What we are still missing is the large scale deployment of these services. We have some isolated use cases which have proven to be very successful. The main challenge is the transition towards not so much automated driving and vehicles as such, but especially towards the services with automated driving. Automated parking, trucks, platooning but also car sharing will be made easier in the future; for the services that we already tested in our region, we will see a large increase in deployment in the coming years. In the Netherlands, we are working on the roadside with a large investment scheme to make all the traffic lights intelligent and in a couple of years traffic lights will be capable of communicating with vehicles. The transition towards automated driving, especially in urban areas, will take a bit longer.

Q: Can you give examples of smart mobility that citizens can use when visiting the Brainport region?

A: At the moment not enough services are available. This is also another reason why this ITS Congress is important for us. What has been done so far is especially deployment of intelligent transport services for professional users, like transport companies, bus drivers, etc. Also interesting to mention is that in our region we have the largest fleet of electric buses in Europe. For the end user it will take some time before all the applications are available, at least if you are speaking about cooperative ITS.

What we already do have is smart mobility when it comes to cycling. About one third of all trips is made on bicycle. At every railway station there are a lot of bicycles that you can rent for the last mile connection. To give you an example: in the city of Helmond at the central railway station, we now have a newly opened parking facility for about 2.000 bikes. Our infrastructure is very advanced: separated lanes, but also good parking facilities for bikes. In the Netherlands this something that we forget to mention, because it has become so normal to us. Cycling is also smart mobility!

In addition, we are now working on a more flexible public transport system. We started implementing flexible buses where you can order your bus with an app on your smartphone. So no more fixed lines that go from A to B and no more fixed departure schedule. The system is called Bravoflex, it started operating this year. Even our public transport operators say that the times of large buses and fixed departure times are over and it’s now shifting more and more to a flexible on-demand system.

Q: What does it mean for the Brainport region to win this bid? Which opportunities does hosting the Congress offer to the region?

A: We are testing ITS in the Brainport region a lot, but showing these services advancements to our citizens is very difficult, especially when we talk about vehicle to vehicle communication. This is why the Congress is a good opportunity for us to involve local residents. This is a good way to communicate to our citizens and our companies about what is happening in the field of smart mobility. On the other hand, another very important aspect is to also involve more students. The industry will need more young ITS professionals in the future. For me personally I think the Congress will help us to encourage deployment of ITS systems. We have seen this in Bordeaux after the ITS World Congress in 2015. An ITS Congress has a span of much more than just the week it is taking place in. For us the main incentive for organising a Congress is the long-term effect that follows after hosting it. Lastly, I think the hotels and restaurants in the region will be happy about the inflow of customers. Of course, this is not the main reason of hosting the Congress, but it gives a boost to the local and regional economy as well.

Q: What can I as a visitor expect to see at the Congress next year?

A: Besides the regular conference and exhibition, there will also be many demos of current European projects we are running with other industry partners, including ERTICO. We will have many technical visits, showcases and demos of the ITS services already in place. What we want to achieve is to offer an experience of C-ITS services in real life conditions to the participants.

Q: What would you advise any other city/region that wants to do a bid for the ITS Congress?

A: Public-private cooperation is crucial. For every country, I think it is important to talk to other cities instead of competing against them. Political support is essential, on all levels, the city level but also on regional and on federal level. And make use of your personal network to support you. For the bid, for example, we made a video with our Federal Minister; we had directors and CEOs of transport companies. What helped us as well is the close contact with Connekt – the ITS Netherlands organisation. I think this should be the first step for cities. Make sure you are in contact with your national ITS organisation. Secondly, you need to make sure that you have the financial security and support before sending in the bid. Lastly, it’s very important that you know why you want to host an ITS Congress, what are your incentives?

Q: What will smart mobility look like in 2030?

A: Much less complicated, much less fragmented. We will have a more integrated system with more kinds of different transport. Mobility will increase and it will be very comfortable and easy for the user. You take whatever mode of transport is the most convenient for you, for a specific purpose at a specific time. The technology that we are developing now will work as an enabler for this kind of mobility system. Mobility in 2030 will be a mixture of using bicycles and other kinds of electric bikes and individual car use. There will be more car sharing, ride sharing and for longer distances train will be used, but the mode of transport doesn’t matter anymore to the users. You just buy mobility.

Chairs of ITS European Congress 2019 National Host Committee:

Gert Blom, City of Helmond,

Nick Juffermans, Connekt,

Interview and article by Sophie Henkel, ERTICO – ITS Europe