THE first day of IT-Trans 2024 in Karlsruhe started in dramatic fashion as a handful of environmental protestors stormed the stage during the opening ceremony. The combined trade fair for IT applications in public transport and International Association of Public Transport (UITP) conference was certainly put in the spotlight after a surprise appearance by German federal minister for digital affairs and transport, Dr Volker Wissing.

While the nature of the protest was unclear, Wissing resolutely continued addressing delegates as the protestors were removed from the building. “Digitalisation will help local transport authorities to develop in an environmentally-friendly manner,” he said. “AI will help with this. I have high hopes for AI on the way to climate neutrality.”

The reference to artificial intelligence (AI) was no coincidence, as it was the topic for the event’s opening address by Ms Inma Martinez, digital pioneer and AI scientist. Her gripping analysis of AI’s potential to revolutionise public transport met with an enthusiastic response from IT-Trans delegates. “It’s about optimising operational efficiency,” said Martinez, “and predicting demand in real time. Public transport will be the key attribute and differentiator for urban areas,” she predicted.

The forward-looking tone of Martinez’s opening speech contrasted with a significant conference session on cybersecurity, led by UITP, which highlighted the very real immediate risks of cybercrime. Mr Cristiano Stifini, head of corporate security at Rome’s public transport authority Atac and a member of UITP’s cybersecurity panel, provided the latest risk-assessment recommendations for public transport operators.

Separately, a panel of young innovators concluded in a Q&A session that trust - in IT, in processes and in providers - is key for making significant progress in introducing new technology in the public transport sector.