NEW DELHI (Metro Rail News): Metro Rail News conducted an email interview with Mohamed Mezghani, UITP Secretary General. In the interview, he discussed planning and organising the UITP Global Public Transport Summit 2023.
Mohamed Mezghani has worked for more than 30 years in public transport and urban mobility-related fields. He has been the Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) since 1st January 2018. He has been Deputy Secretary General of UITP from January 2014 to December 2017.
Until then, he has worked at UITP as Senior Manager (1999-2001) and Knowledge Director (2001-2006), chairing the department developing knowledge-related services for UITP members: professional training, research projects, thematic studies, technical advice, conferences, networking activities, information centre, etc. From 2006 to 2013, he worked as an independent consultant and Adviser to UITP on several technical assistance and training projects in Africa and the Middle East. He managed several projects involving numerous experts and multidisciplinary teams.
Before joining UITP, M. Mezghani worked as a consultant in the French group BCEOM (from 1990 to 1999), particularly in urban mobility. He has managed and carried out projects including policy definition, technical assistance and research activities in several European countries, sub-Saharan Africa, and Arab countries.
During his collaboration with the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management, ADEME (from 1988-1990), M. Mezghani carried out actions to identify and evaluate transport energy efficiency projects likely financed by the Agency in France.
He has been graduated in Industrial Engineering (1987) from Ecole Nationale d’Ingénieurs de Tunis, Tunisia and has a Master in Transport (1988) from Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, Paris, France.
Here are the edited excerpts:
Mohamed, the UITP Global Public Transport Summit is heading to Barcelona next year (4-7 June) for the 2023 edition. What can you tell us about the planning and organising at this stage?
It’s an exciting time at UITP, that’s for sure! There’s an extra amount of energy around when we’re in the UITP Global Summit planning stage. It’s a huge undertaking to bring an event of this size and prestige to the stage. There won’t be a member of the UITP team who won’t contribute to the Summit, and a group leads our dedicated team of colleagues from each department to coordinate our efforts and to plan best. Many ideas are flowing, and solid plans are being made, and I am more than confident that we are on schedule to bring you an edition to remember. We are also working closely with the three local partners, who are lovely and excellent UITPs, and their enthusiasm for welcoming the sector to Barcelona is evident. The road to Barcelona is set, and I’m excited and confident we’re well on track.
What can you share about the programme and exhibition at this stage? Do you have any news to share on the topics?
Our programme is coming together at an impressive speed. You know, putting together a Congress programme for a global Summit takes a lot of focus and consideration. UITP is focused on all modes and all topics across public transport, and when hosting an event that brings the entire sector together, we need to ensure that we’re covering the whole gambit of the conversation. As the Summit has a truly global dimension, it attracts names and faces from across the globe eager to participate. UITP brings together all sector stakeholders, and that is on full display at each Summit. It may sound cliche to say there’s something for everyone, but there truly is a topic, a session, and a direction for every interest. We have developed a focus built around two pillars – Cities and People. And from that, we are defining the tracks underneath those pillars that will present individual focus and topics. We know that public transport defines our cities, and we also know that it should always be for those who work in it and use it. By determining a direction from those two pillars, we will have a relevant, informative programme, and crucially, it will help move the needle on what the sector should be talking about going forward. There is much expectation around the conversations that will take place during the Summit, as people are looking for answers to their concerns, ready to share priorities, and keen to observe the latest developments. That means there is a challenge to create a programme fit for the current climate and one that covers both public transport fundamentals, current trends, and issues such as the energy crisis, the impact of inflation, staff shortages, and more. We are also well on track to fill more halls and offer more space than ever for our exhibition. The exhibition is a phenomenal showcase of recognisable names and faces from across the sector, all around the world. You can see modes on display and new apps being presented. And all of it led by those who have brought it all to the Summit. It is something to see.
The 2023 edition theme is “Bright Light of the City”. Can you expand for our readers the thinking behind that approach?
Since the Global Summits had a theme assigned to them, we’ve always worked to make it a relevant and exciting statement on where the sector is. In the last few years, we’ve moved that idea closer to creating a theme well-connected to our host city. The city that has the honour to host the largest gathering of its kind in urban mobility plays a crucial role in the Summit. The Summit is a fantastic economic opportunity for the host city and a significant cultural and societal benefit to the local area. So, when we are fortunate to visit another great city, we feel we should connect the sector and the city to our theme. We saw this to incredible success with the 2019 edition in Stockholm and how “The Art of Public Transport” and our visual campaign saw our delegates showcase the beauty of their metro stations and the surroundings in and around the city. With the theme set for the next edition in Barcelona, we will ask the sector to show us some new enthusiasm for 2023 with “Bright Light of the City”. The thinking behind this edition’s theme is rooted in both what public transport offers and the city of Barcelona itself. Public transport is a guide. It navigates a way around a city. For workers, visitors, for everyone. When that takes place in a city like Barcelona, renowned for its incredible artistry, historical landmarks, and stunning architecture, it is easy to find beauty in your surroundings. And with a well-connected public transport system across all modes, movement is easy, and public transport should always be the bright light of any city. I’m excited to discover new parts of the city when we arrive next June!
With the next Summit heading to Barcelona – a city renowned for its impressive public transport and accessible living – are you excited to see the world of urban mobility gather there in June?
This leads us perfectly from the conversation on our theme to our host city! We’re very fortunate at UITP to receive passionate and incredibly detailed bids from many international cities hoping to become our next Summit host. I have and would love to continue visiting all of them myself. With Barcelona selected for 2023, we’ll arrive in a city with an imposing public transport system. The ease of access offered to people as they move around their surroundings is incredible, and the city plans to develop that in the years ahead. For the next edition, we also have our three local partners – FGC, TMB and Renfe – representing the region (Catalonia), the city (Barcelona) and the state (Spain). We were fortunate to co-host a local launch with all three in the city and to see their passion for the Summit and the local, regional, and national players they brought together who shared their excitement. Public transport is full of passionate people with an energetic approach to the future, and to see a strong level of engagement and interest from the local partners and those in Barcelona and beyond gives us strong encouragement for next year.
This is the first UITP Global Summit since the 2019 edition in Stockholm. A great deal has changed since that gathering. Has this impacted the direction of the Barcelona edition?
Public transport is certainly by no means alone as a sector impacted by the global pandemic. It was, unfortunately, badly impacted by ridership and finances hit since COVID began. These have been tough times. But I have been heartened throughout it by the strength of community across public transport that has come to define our sector. From the beginning, we came together knowing that a path through the tough times would be found in sharing ideas and experiences and working on solutions. UITP was in the position to be able to bring the sector together digitally at first and then, when appropriate, in person. Now that we can put into practice the best ways to rebuild and reposition ourselves for the future, hosting the Global Summit allows us to drive forward a direct fit for that future. Public transport has changed, and as we work on the Barcelona programme and listen to the views of our Committees, Boards and Working Bodies and Groups, we know that it’s a crucial time to put fresh ideas into place and come out the other side stronger and in best positioned for tomorrow. This will be a Summit that features all of what our audience recognises, but it will also be a Summit that discusses what recent times have shown us and how building back can make for a better public transport sector for everyone.
The global pandemic significantly impacted almost every sector worldwide, with public transport facing tough times during these past few years. As we look down the road towards Barcelona, where would you say the sector is right now?
The sector is rebuilding; this we know. But we also know that it is redefining itself. We are all aware that many sectors will be in different positions than before the pandemic. There’s no bouncing back; instead, it is building back. The sector is in a much better position than in 2020 and 2021; ridership has increased in many cities but remains slower to return in some locations. The political incentive was not as strong as it should have been during the pandemic, and public transport has had to fight hard to be seen and heard by decision-makers. However, I am an optimist, and I know those working in public transport will never stop fighting for its future. Of course, what must also be considered is that the pandemic has not, and is not, the only issue public transport faces. We are dealing with issues from the pandemic, ongoing conflicts, and economic issues worldwide. We are facing staff shortages; the energy crisis impacts public transport. The climate crisis continues to impact society, as does the ongoing issues with inflation. These all hurt daily functioning, and although public transport cannot solve these problems, we can find solutions to best suit our needs and concerns. It is safe to say that the public transport sector is experiencing a paradoxical situation. Everyone agrees that public transport is essential and part of the solution, but political and financial support is lacking. I hope to address these concerns during the Summit, as the best and brightest minds in the sector will come prepared to debate the challenges.
It’s the biggest event of its kind in public transport and urban mobility; just how vital is the UITP Summit to the sector?
Critical would be the short answer! It’s not difficult for me to talk about how vital and valued the UITP Global Public Transport Summit is to the sector. It is valued and valuable. The UITP Summit goes back to 1886, with the first edition hosted in Berlin, one year after UITP was created. That means it has been organised for more than 135 years! It’s part of the life of public transport and mobility professionals, but it also attracts more policymakers. I often hear from our members that it is the highlight of their calendar and, for many, the jewel in the crown of urban mobility gatherings. It is not by accident or an act of chance that we welcome hundreds of exhibitors, speakers, delegates, and tens of thousands of visitors across three days. It’s the defining event in public transport, and with the many networking and social events, alongside detailed technical visits, the Summit is the place to be when it is in town!
Hundreds of exhibitors, speakers and delegates, and thousands of visitors will be in attendance over the three days. What can they expect to see and experience?
Well, the first thing a delegate or visitor will see upon arrival is the welcoming faces of the UITP team on our registration desks! And after that, they will see a massive and awe-inspiring venue full of energy and excitement – packed with exhibitors, speakers, and delegates from across the globe. Our exhibition has crossed the 80% space sold by the close of November and is well on track to sell the remaining space at speed. There will be more than 300 speakers in our Congress, over 15000 visitors can be expected across three days, and all this activity will be covered by upwards of 150 international press and media representatives. It’s unlikely that a corner of the world will be covered in some form during the Summit. We are passionate about building an experience for those in attendance. For some, this may be the only event they attend, each edition of its size. Some UITP teams won’t have experienced an event like the UITP Global Summit. I’m determined that whatever the experience is, and for whoever it is, they enjoy it and take something away from it. Yes, we are all there to showcase public transport, present innovations, and find solutions, but we’re also there to learn and enjoy. It must be an experience to treasure – and I want that for everyone joining us in Barcelona.
What do you hope those in attendance – delegates, visitors, and more – take away from this edition?
I hope they take many things away from their time at the Summit in Barcelona. When they reflect on it and ask themselves what their experience was like, I hope what comes to mind is positive. The feedback we receive after our Summits is always far and away highly positive. And what is shared with us to improve, we always strive to build upon. No one is complacent, but we know that through hard work and a strong focus, we have a special event on our hands. I also hope that those in attendance are inspired to advance on their professional projects and personal development. The Summit is a human experience – an opportunity to connect with others during the Congress, the Exhibition, and the many networking events. I hope they feel the warmth in the public transport sector. We all have many friends across this community, and having the opportunity to come together like this for the first time in what will be four years is not something to take for granted. It’s an experience I will always cherish.
And finally, describe the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in three words.
You’ve given me a tricky question to conclude with! I could give you 30 or 300 words! How about I finish by reflecting on how I’ve presented the UITP Global Public Transport Summit in our conversation so far? “An Inspiring Experience”. I hope it’s one many people want to discover for themselves. See you all in Barcelona!