IN the space of less than a decade the smartphone has completely changed how humans interact with the urban environment, providing access to a huge range of new services and transforming how we move around cities. For transport operators the rapid change in passenger expectation being driven by digitalisation is both a challenge and an opportunity.


As a major international player in the public transport sector, Keolis is working to harness the latest technologies with the aim of adding value for passengers and the public transport authorities that procure its services.

In April 2017 Keolis and the French NetExplo observatory published the results of an international digital mobility study, which examined the impacts of digital technology on public transport usage in 13 cities across five continents.

This revealed three key expectations which are universal, regardless of a passenger’s location or cultural background:

  • real-time information
  • personalised mobility solutions, and
  • step-by-step directions covering every stage of a door-to-door journey.

On the basis of these expectations, Keolis identified 10 essential ingredients for a high-quality passenger experience, and these are grouped into three pillars:

  • planning the journey: (guidance, information, multi-modal transport, and ticketing)
  • stress-free travel (assistance, productive travel time, and safety), and
  • a ‘human’ travel experience (communication channels, personalisation, and collaboration).

“People want real-time information and we live in an age of 24-hour rolling news and social media, so the expectation is that information will be up-to-the minute,” explains Mr Bernard Tabary, Keolis’ international CEO. “The second expectation is the personalisation of mobility solutions. I am not a number, I am an individual, and I don’t move around the city the same way every day - I might want to meet friends after work, I might want to minimise the time or cost of my journey. So I want to see solutions that are designed to suit my mobility needs. Passengers expect step-by-step guidance through a journey, and we need to remember that some might not use digital, or might not be able to read a map or plan. Passengers, with all the different needs they have, need to be catered for in a way that reassures them right through the journey.

“First and foremost, the defining trend is connected mobility. We like to say we are passenger-centric and mode-agnostic. What matters in the end is mobility, and making it as good as it can be. Passengers using mobility apps on their portable devices can choose public transport, rather than bear public transport, and this is an important distinction. They want to be able to chose how they move around the city.”

TabaryKeolis is using strategic partnerships with tech companies in a bid to capitalise on the opportunities offered by digital and autonomous technologies. The company has invested in Parisian ride-sharing operator LeCab, and is also trialling autonomous shuttles in Lyon, Paris, London and Las Vegas through its partnership with Navya, France.

In October 2017 Keolis signed a five-year strategic partnership agreement with the Institute for Data Valorisation (Ivado), created by HEC Montreal, Montreal Polytechnic, and the University of Montreal, which will harness Big Data to develop innovative urban mobility solutions. Initial joint research and development projects will focus on Quebec, before moving to other cities where Keolis operates.

“Partnerships are essential, because clearly knowledge of game-changing technologies at the cutting-edge doesn’t come from within,” Tabary says. “Working intelligently with tech start-ups definitely helps us here.

“With a new technology you always have to ask the basic questions. Is it safe? What is the user experience like? Does it make life better for the passenger? Does it make the system more efficient? There are a lot of solutions out there looking for problems, so we have to remain focussed on the end user.”

Tabary contests the view that disruptors such as Uber are a threat to public transport, and he argues that many of the technologies now emerging will strengthen transit’s competitive position by making it an integral part of multi-modal travel chains. “Sometimes the relationship between tech firms and public transport operators is a partnership, sometimes it’s a contest, but it’s not about winners and losers,” he says. “Collectively we want to achieve liveability in cities through solutions that provide greater value.”


To stay ahead of the game in a rapidly-changing mobility environment, Keolis is channelling the brainpower within its own organisation and has built mechanisms to ensure that expertise flows freely between its subsidiaries around the globe.

Tabary believes that sharing knowledge, experience and ideas between different parts of the business is crucial for a company with operations in multiple countries. “In all of the countries where we operate our people are adding value by applying lessons learned in other countries and sharing ideas,” he says. “There are a lot of things that are common between the different markets we operate in. There’s a universal expectation that all government agencies want to enhance mobility by keeping the costs as low as possible. The language of rail is always one of safety first, and beyond that delivering mobility-enhancing solutions for the agency that commissions us to provide the service.

“We have a knowledge management system in the company, which functions like a social network. Ideas from around the world really develop within these communities, so there isn’t just a top-down approach to innovation.”

Tabary says continuing to build on the collaborative partnerships it has established in recent years will be a priority for Keolis in 2018. “We are part of a web that includes transport authorities, vehicle and systems suppliers, network designers, construction companies, civil servants, and passenger associations, so we need to ensure all the interfaces that connect those elements work in the interests of the end user,” he says. “It’s easy as an operator to think that everything revolves around us, but we are only as good as the other element in the overall chain. We want to stay ahead of digital changes and be at the forefront of delivering Mobility as a Service.”


Liberalisation brings opportunities in regional rail

THE start of the 2018 timetable on December 10 marked the beginning of two notable new regional rail concessions for Keolis. In Germany, the company’s Eurobahn subsidiary began operating the new Teutoburger Wald Network (TWN) concession, which runs until 2033. The contract covers the operation of 5.3 million train-km a year on a network covering around 500km with 52 stations. Services will be extended to Hengelo in the Netherlands this year, using new multi-system Flirt EMUs supplied by Stadler.

Not far away to the north, Keolis Nederland began operating its second Dutch regional rail concession when it took over Zwolle - Enschede and Zwolle - Kampen services in the province of Overijssel. Keolis will operate 2.6 million train-km per year over the 15-year duration of the concession, which is expected to generate revenues of €300m. Services are operated by a fleet of new Stadler Flirt EMUs.

Keolis continues to see potential for growth in this sector as liberalisation of regional rail markets spreads across Europe. “We see further opportunities in Germany, and we’re already well positioned in North Rhine-Westphalia,” Tabary says. “Elsewhere we are considering our options in Denmark and Sweden, as well as Finland and Norway, where the market is starting to open. Our preference is to bid for mass transit contracts in dense regions where there are synergies with metro and bus operations.”

As a company that is 70% owned by French National Railways (SNCF), a big question is whether Keolis will bid for contracts in France as liberalisation gradually loosens the incumbent’s grip on regional train services. Tabary suggests Keolis’ experience in other countries could give it an advantage here, although it is unlikely to go head-to-head with its parent company. “We already operate franchises in a number of states so we are used to tendering processes and we can bring in know-how from other countries,” he says. “We definitely plan to bid in France, but we will do it intelligently as far as SNCF is concerned and the relationship will be managed on a case-by-case basis.”


Expanding global footprint

AT the beginning of 2017 Keolis started a new six-year contract for the operation of all public transport services in the French city of Dijon. As well as the city’s tram and bus networks, the contract encompasses car parking and bike-share services.

In July, a 60:40 joint venture of Keolis and Amey, Britain, took over the operation and maintenance of Manchester’s 96km Metrolink light rail network. The Australian state of Victoria renewed its contract with Keolis Downer in September for the operation of the Melbourne tram network, which at 250km is the world’s largest. On November 29 the first section of the metro network opened in the Indian city of Hyderabad, where Keolis has an eight-year contract to operate and maintain the automated system.

In December, Qatar Rail awarded the RKH Qitarat joint venture a 20-year contract to operate and maintain both the Doha metro and the Lusail light rail network. RKH Qitarat comprises a consortium of RATP Dev and Keolis, which has a 49% stake, and the Qatari Hamad Group, with the remaining 51%.