Our report speaks about the Future of cities which is digital and connected. How do you see public transport playing a part in the city of future? 

The mobility sector is a highly regulated sector globally and comes under the ownership of the country/city authorities/councils, and they have the master plans for operations and every other component of infrastructure. For example, how the pedestrian traffic would move or how the metros/buses must move come under it. Any new change in the structure can create chaos. 

As we know in the world of innovation, absence of regulations mean true innovation, considering, sometimes, even the authorities do not know that there is something new. The regulations usually come after. For example, countries are struggling in terms of drone regulations, autonomous vehicle regulations, etc. Infrastructure is a combination of several moving parts, multiple functions and departments coming together to create regulations that will only benefit the nation/city. 

A country such as Kuwait requires a coherent approach that brings in all the stakeholders to develop a long-term vision, policies and regulations with regard to its developing infrastructure. Therefore, a well-coordinated and collaborative approach between public authorities and the private sector will enhance innovation. 

When we talk about the future of cities and public transport playing a part in it, it is important to understand the history of industrial revolutions. There are three fundamental infrastructure technologies that have been instrumental in industrial revolutions. They are energy, communication and transportation. These core technologies drive economic activities. 

Transport is one of core technologies that moves economic activities and drives the economic value of a country. Transport is even more important because you have to make it affordable, comfortable and available to the public and for the transport of goods. The core nature of public transport is that it must be accessible, inclusive and affordable for everyone in the city, and that is one of the reasons why, sometimes, public transport becomes inefficient. 

Because we have fixed/defined routes and frequencies, we have to run them irrespective of the demand. But through digital innovation, we are trying to optimize that. Why run all of these things? You just do not run them all the time, every time, right? But still, you have to do it to a certain degree. You have to run it because that is the definition of public transport. And that is why, regardless of any development, public transport will play a critical part in the overall infrastructure demands of the future. 


Mobility-as-a-service has the potential to be cost-competitive with public transport services and more convenient in servicing the last mile of customer journeys. How do you see public transport services facing these challenges?

One of the challenges when it comes to public transport modes such as metros is last-mile/first-mile connectivity. The question arises, “What has been done to bring people from their homes to the stations and to take them from the stations to their destinations?” If you want to make public transport more attractive and thrive, you need to have a one-stop end-to-end mobility solution available, preferably through a mobile app. 

If you do not have that solution, then any public transport mode will be difficult to grow because there is no way you can expect people to park their cars and board the train/bus and vice versa. You need to have full connectivity to be successful and get returns on such investments. All these investments are based on one of infrastructure investments’ biggest risks, i.e. patronage risk. And ridership is key in deciding whether you will get the right patronage of customers, be profitable, etc. 

Mobility-as-a-service does make your life easier by offering you all the modes of transport to go from one destination to another. In cities like London and Dubai, they are creating walking as a mobility service. There are dedicated lanes/areas where you can walk comfortably, take the electric scooters/bikes, opt for feeder buses, etc. A country cannot have only the metro and say it has public transport. It is an ecosystem and you need to provide this ecosystem on a single platform, i.e. mobility-as-a-service (MaaS). 


Customers are increasingly asking for personalized services even in the public transport space. What steps is CityBus taking to address it?

We are working on something called ‘Super app’, through which our customers can top-up money in their digital wallet, which they can leverage to pay for their travel needs when using CityBus and Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) service, making peer-to-peer transfers, such as paying a friend, conducting FX transfers and buying groceries. The mobile app will allow CityBus customers to plan journeys and buy tickets and period passes at their convenience. Through this, we will get interesting data that we can use to personalize customer experiences by creating efficient routes, among other means. Currently, we are working on a mobile ticketing system known as the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) system. Once it is implemented this summer, it will become a benchmarked ticketing system for global cities.


Decarbonization of public road transport will likely become a strategic business priority. How focused is the City Group Co. on using renewable energy in the public transport space in Kuwait?

Speaking about sustainability, we have to accept the fact that we operate in an oil-rich country. So, do not expect anyone to go electric in one go. Extreme weather conditions and the lack of electric charging infrastructure makes the transition to electric even more challenging. Furthermore, electric bus technology needs to evolve (e.g. a battery technology that can provide a 450-kilometer run 20 hours a day) to fulfill operational requirements. 

Nevertheless, we cannot sit and say that we will not do anything. There is a lot of waste we need to talk about. And when I talk about waste, we go back to all types of waste that we learn in Six Sigma (e.g. process waste, energy waste, etc.). Let us first reduce these wastes and make our operations highly efficient. This will certainly help in creating positive environmental impact. 


Digitalization has evolved rapidly in Kuwait, including digital payments. What steps are you taking in terms of digitalization and infusing digital payments into your systems?  

As an organization, we have decided to digitalize everything and chose to go with fully automated service delivery. We have a new planning/scheduling tool which is based on cloud, AI and data analytics. It is a business case as well as a CSR case. Using these tools, we know the routes we are running, no. of buses we are running and at what times, and when we are resting them. Everything is digitalized. We have a command-and-control system and CCTV cameras that provide us with live feeds of our buses, behavioral data of the drivers, etc. 

All our buses are equipped with the AVL (Automated Vehicle Location) system that allows us to know how the driver is driving. We have a digital fuel management system and each bus has a unique RFID tag. The nozzle has an RFID tag and it identifies the bus number the moment you put it in. Using our tools, we can track who is driving, the amount of fuel going in and the real-time fuel consumption per kilometer. Thanks to this system, we have cut down fuel loss from 10 percent to 0.1 percent in the last three months, started to understand fuel efficiency better and even reduced our carbon footprint. As for the other digitalization initiatives in mobility, we are moving from card centric to account-based systems, i.e. digital ticketing, where you will have a unique ID and all your account details, information and interactions will be saved on cloud in real time. Digital wallet is core to our new mobile ticketing system. 

Our study finds that as cities grow in size and density, private and public transport players must work closely to deliver accessibility and livability. How are you collaborating with the authorities in Kuwait to enhance the public transport space? 

We were told that we had too many buses running and it was crowding the traffic. However, when we looked at the data, we realized that we move 15,000 passengers per hour during peak hours. To move such numbers, we can easily calculate how many buses we need. We did the math: how many routes to run and how many buses to use. We realized that the number of buses needed is more than what we currently operate. When the buses enter the crowded areas, we lose the headway, i.e. the distance between two buses. So, every trip, we need to create extra headway. We have to stop the buses somewhere and do it. The second problem is the lack of dedicated sideways to alight and onboard passengers to free the road lanes for moving traffic. Currently, it is being done on the main lane. Once the buses enter, they start bundling up and it looks like we are running too many buses. It is a fundamental infrastructure issue. 

The second problem is the lack of standardization in transport vehicle capacity. For instance, a 9-meter bus and an 11-meter bus are allowed to be used as a public transport means. Another issue is lost mileage. We have almost 4–5 percent lost mileage every day as we have to return to our depot, which is 35 kilometers away from the city, for refueling and maintenance. We have not been provided with a depot within the vicinity of our operations. It is about increasing the capacity of the road infrastructure as well as vehicles’ carrying capacity. Having said this, we are working very closely with the authorities to resolve such issues. 

We helped impose the regulation where if a driver picked up passengers from non-designated bus stops, then they would be reported straightaway. This applies to all three operators. We are investing and innovating to enhance public transport services. Additionally, we are pushing an initiative called the fare evasion policy, wherein if you got caught travelling without a ticket on a bus in Kuwait, then all the ticket inspectors can do is sell you a ticket. This does not happen anywhere in the world. We have prepared a full benchmark report with the recommendations, and whatever fines we will collect, will go to the government.


Talk to us about the vision behind Citylink Shuttle services.

Let me talk about Citylink. This is called Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) which is a major global mobility transformation to make public transport easily available and accessible. Citylink Shuttle is a complementary public transport service to CityBus to make public transport more accessible, comfortable and convenient for the residents. The reason is that public transport is based on networks, routes, timings and availability. 

At some point, it becomes very inefficient because the demand is periodic and not continuous everywhere. You can predict it to a certain level, but you cannot predict it to the level of efficiency you want. With DRT becoming popular, you do not have to run your services continuously as it functions on a demand and dynamic routing basis. You could do fixed routing too. DRT is much more efficient, economic, optimized and runs on a digital platform.

You book it when you need it, see how long it will take to reach you, you board it, and then you can see how long it will take to drop you. It is a self-learning data-driven AI tool, so it is much more effective. Currently, we have created more than 3500 virtual bus stops across Kuwait based on the DRT system. Depending on the locations we get, we check if there is a place for stopping a bus for a few minutes and onboarding the passenger(s) safely. So, this may not be a right at your doorstep. It may be within, you know, a maximum of two-minute walking distance. 

To offer flexible options to our customers, we ask them if they need a virtual stop anywhere. And depending on their request and our survey, we will create a new one. These virtual stops help people select where to go so that we know where to pick them from. For the first 15–20 minutes, it will try to pool the vehicles in the area where the first booking was made and then it will go straight to the destination. We want to minimize the number of rides where there is a single passenger as that is the idea of shared mobility. You can pay using cash and credit cards. And if you do not want to interact with the driver, then you can choose not to. This mode of transport has to be slightly more expensive than buses but a lot cheaper than taxis. 

Currently, we also have distance-based dynamic pricing, considering we are deploying everywhere in Kuwait. It is considerably more affordable than the taxis and we are witnessing phenomenal growth in its usage as well as the requests for virtual stops. We are working on taking the platform to other regions such as Europe, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.



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