SIR Peter Hendy, London's transport commissioner, handed over to the newly-elected president of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), Mr Masaki Ogata, at the closing ceremony of the UITP's 61st world congress in Milan. Ogata, who is vice-chairman of JR East, is the UITP's first Asian president and only the second non-European to hold the two-year office in the association's 130-year history.
So why did Ogata want to take on the role? "The UITP is the most important public transport association in the world and has created a significant and core role in public transport which it will continue to play," Ogata explained. "I have spent 41 years in rail, so it is high time to make my contribution to worldwide public transport. With the rapid growth taking place in Asia it is also high time for someone from an Asian country to take up the presidency."
Ogata has a wide range of experience. He joined Japanese National Railways (JNR) in 1974 and was assigned to the newly-formed JR East in 1987 following the break-up of JNR. He was appointed director of transport and rolling stock in 2002, and became executive vice-president and head of railway operations in 2008 where he was responsible for operating the entire network. Ogata was subsequently appointed vice-chairman in 2011 with responsibility for technical innovation and open globalisation.
Ogata was involved with the introduction of the Suica smartcard initially by JR East in 2001 and eventually extended to other operators starting with the Tokyo metro. "Suica is a good example of an open strategy which led to technical innovation, but it was not easy and took a long time to persuade other operators to join," he says.
This was a particular challenge in Tokyo because of the enormous number of origin and destination combinations which run into quadrillions. "We finally did
it in Tokyo in 2008 and for the whole country in 2013," Ogata explains. Suica combines tickets and micro-payments and acts as an identity pass for entry into buildings on one card which can also be incorporated into a bank or credit card. Around 90 million people have Suica cards which enable them to travel on public transport throughout Japan including the Shinkansen.
"It's no exaggeration that public transport holds the key to many of the world's major problems," Ogata says. These include the rapid development of technology and globalisation, widespread concerns regarding CO2 emissions, pollution, and energy consumption, and the growing gap between rich and poor. There is also a whole range of social and economic issues. For example population growth in developing countries contrasting with a declining and ageing population in some developed countries such as Japan, where people will become increasingly dependent on public transport for their mobility. "Congestion is a problem in all countries, but there is a lack of infrastructure in developing countries while in developed countries it is very old," Ogata says.
Ogata believes public transport can help to solve some of these problems through innovation. "Sustainable innovation can help to improve the quality of people's lives and mobility," he says. "But we need to know the genuine needs of our customers and communities, which will create the seeds for innovation."
Ogata notes there is considerable concern in Europe about the introduction of autonomous-driving cars and the effect their introduction will have on public transport. "Such developments could be a competitor for investment so we have to make public transport more attractive," he argues. "We have to advocate the value of public transport and the benefits it provides."
The need for public transport to become much more efficient and cost effective is another key concern for Ogata. "We need low operating and maintenance costs as well as low capital costs. Switching to condition-based maintenance will save a lot compared with time-based maintenance. Construction costs are very high and governments don't like that."
Ogata says it is possible to reduce infrastructure costs by adopting more efficient operating techniques, and cites experience in Japan as a good example. "In Tokyo our high-speed trains can turn round in 12 minutes. By doing this we have been able to minimise the number of tracks at Tokyo station."
Ogata wants operators to make better use of the tools available to them. "Smart phones will allow us to provide better services to customers. Public transport operators have access to a huge amount of data on the movements of people, but we need to make use of it."
Finally Ogata wants public transport to become intermodal, which will make it indispensable by being able to provide door-to-door transport. Ogata has clearly
set himself and the UITP some ambitious goals for his two-year term.