The world is slowly going back to all the in-person activities we used to love and cherish – meeting with friends, having dinner with the family, traveling, and transit events. For us, the latter was a way of connecting not only with potential customers but also with like-minded people who would push our development forward. So, our team was thrilled to be able to attend the PPTA 2021 Spring into Fall conference last month. It might have been a small-scale event, but it sure made us feel in our own element!
Konstantin Spasov, our Business Development Manager, was on the floor along with a part of the sales team. We decided to capture his thoughts after the event in a short interview about getting back to in-person conferences, trends and potential in the pandemic and post-pandemic mobility landscape, his ideas and predictions for the industry’s future, and more. Let’s dive in!
What was the first thing that came to your mind after setting foot on the conference floor? How did you feel?
Konstantin: Excited! I’ve been around this for quite a while having had chances to attend shows on three continents (APAC, Europe and the US). I am the kind of person who believes we are social animals and personal contact cannot be replaced with any digital tool. The energy everyone brings into the showroom makes all the difference. Even helping each other there to build up the booth very often you’d borrow a screwdriver from a competitor only to laugh about it later.
Do you think transit events have changed during the pandemic?
K: Not so much. Most people are just happy to be able to be there again. I don’t think masks, social distancing, and other measures were such a problem. We were all grateful to be there and do what inspired us.
What was the most important takeaway from the PPTA conference for you?
K: At PPTA 2021 Spring into Fall, we were able to present on stage with a valued customer – South Central Transit Authority (SCTA). It was an amazing opportunity to give insight into our smart mobility system and have someone who actually uses it share their experience with it. A huge thanks to Greg Downing, SCTA’s Executive Director, for helping us communicate the benefits of the system!
What business opportunities came forward during the conference?
K: During the past year, government funding for transit in the area exploded. Many agencies are looking into options to update their fare collection systems to reflect the need for contactless payments, and that’s where we come in. Not only with a solution that can be implemented quickly, but that can be built upon – a fare collection system that will be up to date no matter what happens in the transit industry. I believe this is something that many agencies have a bad experience with, having to upgrade costly and clumsy systems. We are trying to do better in giving them the tools to keep up with innovations on a pay-as-you-go model.
Based on your experience during the past year and a half, what trends do you see coming up on the market in the near future?
K: Obviously, the pandemic shifted the focus in our favor. Before, we had to work on communicating contactless payments as something valuable and special – now almost all governmental institutions are talking about it and investing in it. This shift in the mindset is helping us a lot. No one questions the need for safe, contactless payments today (and the need to reduce cash usage). The real question is what else we can do to help transit agencies and riders embrace digital transformation. And I believe that we have a great opportunity window to use this unprecedented time, now that everything is changing and people are willing to experiment with new technologies. This is how we make the real steps in transforming the way we interact with systems.
In your opinion, in what ways and how often should transit providers innovate in times like these? How important are partnerships and open systems?
K: Communication is crucial. Transit agencies need to be ready to communicate with other industry players (mobility, payment, information providers) in order to address the needs of the modern city. I know that there will always be riders in rural areas who will not buy a smartphone and start using mobile ticketing. This is why we are building features designed for them and their needs. But we should also agree that when we are transforming an industry that lacked innovation (for many reasons), we should think at least 10 years ahead. Open payments give us many new opportunities but why don’t we look even further – do we even need to buy a ticket? Think of how you pay your toll fees. Maybe this is the next big thing in public transit.
Which are the major blockers for mobility product development and how can they be overcome?
K: Unstructured environment. During the past 10-15 years, technologies have made gigantic leaps forward. Or I should say creating new technology has improved so much that now it is easy (and affordable) to create an app or website and roll it out. So, on the top layer (if we have the governing body or the operator in the center) we have systems that provide information and products to end users who fail to understand or just refuse to validate the city-centric business case. Just because you are gaining traction and making money doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing good for the city. We need to look at what’s really changing and improving the mobility industry and our behavior – not only at the profit. We have too many systems built to stand alone that we need to integrate.
How do you see Modeshift in 10 years?
K: I firmly believe that we already have the backbone of the transit transformation – public transportation. It needs to receive the attention and praise it deserves, as well as the funding it needs. It’s up to companies like us to connect this backbone to the periphery in order to make it more convenient, more usable, and more accessible. We will be investing our time and expertise to make MaaS a reality and give riders the means they need to solve their first and last mile problems. The integration of micromobility and ridesharing operators will provide us with working and highly efficient transportation network so that we can forget about cars and their impact on the environment (and our mental health). I don’t know if we will be there in 10 years, but I will make sure we move in the right direction at the maximum speed possible!
Ilina Chipilska is a marketing expert with more than 10 years of experience being involved in a wide range of projects. At Modeshift she manages all marketing activities and the company's online presence.