2023 Author: Eric Donovan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-27 05:39
Berthold Huber is the board member responsible for passenger transport at Deutsche Bahn. In an interview with Autogazette, the manager talks about punctuality in train traffic, the importance of ecology and new mobility services.
Deutsche Bahn sees itself in the lead in the competition between modes of transport. «We are number one in terms of growth in passenger numbers. We are growing faster than the car, the airplane and we are growing much faster than the long-distance bus, said Deutsche Bahn board member Berthold Huber in an interview with Autogazette.
As the manager said, Deutsche Bahn wants to be the market leader on the Berlin - Munich route, “and it looks like we can do it in the first year. By June we have already doubled the number of passengers compared to the same period last year ».
Double the number of passengers
With a view to the “five daily Sprinter connections from December, there will then be a total of 16 connections with 23,000 seats between Berlin and Munich,” said Huber and added: “This will mean the 1.8 million annual passengers that were here before Opening of the high-speed line were on the way, at least double."
I don't drive a car in Berlin
Autogazette: Mr. Huber, how did you travel from Berlin to Hamburg today?
Berthold Huber: I didn't come from Berlin today, but from Frankfurt. Because of the early appointment, I came by plane. I took the S-Bahn to and from the airport and took the ioki shuttle the rest of the way.
Autogazette: How often do you use the train compared to the plane?
Huber: Much, much more often. I take the train at least twice a week. That's because I live with my family in Munich. I drive long-distance transport twice a week and local transport to the office every day. I don't drive a car in Berlin. Public transport is totally superior to cars here.
Autogazette: And how often are the trains you use unpunctual?
Huber: Very rarely from Berlin to Munich. I always take the same trains: with the Sprinter in the morning and in the afternoon at six. In the past few weeks I cannot remember any delays.
We have to keep improving our punctuality
Autogazette: You are better off there than your customers. In June, an average of only 74.7 percent of the trains were on time. This puts you below the annual target of 82 percent. Does the goal persist?
Huber: I don't even want to avoid the bush: We are anything but satisfied with the current punctuality. Even if we are building more on the rail network than ever before and at the same time more and more passengers and trains are on the tracks, we want to and will achieve a trend reversal this year. For more reliable control and safety technology as well as for improved vehicle maintenance, we are taking another 100 million euros into our hands this year. Although this will no longer lead to us reaching our annual target, we are sticking to our medium and long-term punctuality targets.
Autogazette: Do you mind that people always talk about the delays at Deutsche Bahn, but less about the delays at Lufthansa?
Huber: I wouldn't just talk about Lufthansa, but about the aviation industry in general. And that has always been less punctual than long-distance rail transport. But it's not about pointing to others: we have to keep improving our punctuality.
We want to be the market leader on this route
Autogazette: How important is the aspect of punctuality besides the price to get customers to use the train?
Huber: It is very important. We see this again and again in the satisfaction surveys. If a train is not on time, this also leads to other negative evaluations. However, that is just decoupling. Customer satisfaction this year is significantly better than last year.
Autogazette: Half a year after the start of the high-speed connection between Berlin and Munich, two million travelers were already en route on this route. Where do you see the railways competing with planes, cars and long-distance buses?
Huber: We are number one when it comes to growth in passenger numbers. We are growing faster than the car, the plane and we are growing much faster than the long-distance bus. Our clear goal: We want to be the market leader on this route and it looks like we can do it in the first year. By June we have already doubled the number of passengers compared to the same period last year.
Autogazette: You will be expanding the service from Berlin to Munich by two more train pairs from December. Then the sprinters will run five times per day and route. What growth in travelers do you expect? 40 percent?
Huber: With a view to the five daily Sprinter connections from December, there will then be a total of 16 connections with 23,000 seats between Berlin and Munich. This means that we will at least double the 1.8 million annual passengers that were en route here before the high-speed line opened.
Ecology is playing an increasingly important role
Autogazette: After Berlin – Munich there will also be a connection from Berlin to Vienna. Up to what travel time are you an alternative to the plane?
Huber: There is a rule of thumb of four hours. If they are better than the other modes of transport, they are a real alternative. You have already seen that on the Frankfurt – Paris route. You can see it particularly well on the Stuttgart – Paris route, where hardly anyone uses the plane anymore due to the existing fast connection. It always depends on where the airport is located. If it is located outside of the city, as in Munich, and there is no connection to long-distance traffic, that suits us very well.
Autogazette: What role does ecology play? Is it relevant for your customers that Deutsche Bahn's ICE trains run on 100 percent green electricity?
Huber: It is playing an increasingly important role, especially with young customers.
Of course, green electricity costs more money
Autogazette: The EU plans a CO2 reduction of between 80 and 95 percent by 2050. Does Deutsche Bahn feel obliged to meet this climate target?
Huber: We feel very committed to this goal - and for two reasons: firstly, we won't reach the goal without a traffic turnaround. Second: We would be powdered with the clip bag if we did not exploit the ecological advantage over the customer. Contributing to climate protection is not just an obligation for society as a whole, but a prerequisite for achieving our economic results.
Autogazette: How much does it cost you to rely on green electricity?
Huber: Of course, green electricity costs more money. But it only becomes a problem if the customer is no longer willing to pay more for it and instead switches to environmentally harmful means of transport. As a railway, we would do well to be a pioneer in ecological mobility.
Autogazette: Deutsche Bahn wants to achieve CO2 neutrality across the group by 2050. A realistic goal?
Huber: Absolutely. We are doing everything we can to achieve this goal, if possible even earlier.
We rely on optimal utilization of the trains
Autogazette: At the beginning of the year, when presenting its climate study, the BDI described the goal of a CO2 reduction of 80 percent as ambitious, and 95 percent as overambitious. Does industrial policy come before environmental policy here?
Huber: (laughs) Good question, actually I should answer politically correct now …
Autogazette: … please don't do it …
Huber: … politics must set the framework conditions so that companies can continue to sell their goods even with ambitious climate protection goals. The aim cannot be for competitors to dominate the market because they produce dirtier and therefore cheaper.
Autogazette: What does it cost rail customers to use 100 percent green electricity?
Huber: Nothing at all! With the introduction of green electricity, we haven't changed the fare. We would rather focus on optimal utilization of the trains than on increasing prices by using green electricity.
Ecology is extremely important to us
Autogazette: In 2017, the share of green electricity in the energy mix was 36 percent nationwide, and 44 percent for the railways. How did you do that?
Huber: Because ecology is extremely important to us and it means a competitive advantage for us. That's why I decided to bring long-distance traffic to 75 percent in the first step and then to 100 percent green electricity in the second step. This has led to us increasing our energy mix. The ecological footprint is becoming increasingly important in the competition between modes of transport. If I'm competitive in terms of price and speed, ecology will decide who wins the race for the customer.
Autogazette: How important is follow-up mobility for customer acquisition? In addition to the core business of Zug, Deutsche Bahn is also a car, bike and ride sharing provider and has its own subsidiary, ioki, for on-demand mobility.
Huber: It is extremely important. The offer of public transport must increasingly be brought closer to individual mobility. If we stop expanding public transport, others will. If we do not make our customers an attractive offer for follow-up mobility, we will lose market share in our traditional business.
Offers like ioki come from the genetics of Deutsche Bahn
Autogazette: As the latest offer you are offering an electric shuttle service in Lurup and Osdorf with the Hamburg-Holstein transport company. Why?
Huber: It's about offering people more mobility, but with less traffic. Up to six people can drive in these ioki shuttle vehicles. You don't have to pay extra for it, as you can use the offer with your Hamburg transport association ticket.
Autogazette: How much is Deutsche Bahn investing in this project?
Huber: A total of 15 to 20 million euros are available to ioki this year to further develop the relevant applications and algorithms and to establish themselves on the market. In Hamburg, the partners share the costs. ioki brings the vehicles, the technology and a project team. VHH is responsible for operational control and the drivers.
Autogazette: Will you expand the offer to other cities?
Huber: Yes, that is our goal. We are already in contact with numerous cities and municipalities and are also holding initial discussions in other European countries about appropriate on-demand solutions.
Autogazette: Are you surprised that car manufacturers are only discovering the field of alternative mobility offers very late?
Huber: That doesn't surprise me at all, because we have been offering this mobility offer for a long time, even if not many have noticed.
Autogazette: Which offers do you mean specifically?
Huber: So-called shared taxis also existed earlier with the “branch traffic”. It was difficult to bring them closer to customers without today's digital services, but it worked. But today, digitization opens up completely new opportunities. What we did before, we can now do even better. Offers like ioki come from the genetics of Deutsche Bahn, because bringing people to their destination together and in an environmentally friendly way is our core business. The automakers, on the other hand, only produced cars for a long time.
Autogazette: Are you happy about the backwardness of the auto industry?
Huber: No, I'm happy about the structural advantage we have. It's nice that the auto industry has to orient itself towards our business models and not the other way around.
Autogazette: Do you see yourself as a pioneer in ecology, do you also see yourself as a pioneer in on-demand mobility?
Huber: We see ourselves as pioneers, at least when it comes to the systems that we consider the most effective: these are the offers that are deeply integrated into public transport, such as the shuttle fleet in Hamburg with the integration of the tariff system. Uber is certainly more prominent in on-demand mobility than we are with our subsidiary ioki. But when it comes to public transport, I don't see anyone who is further than us.
Emission-free mobility is the key
Autogazette: How important is electromobility in your mobility concepts ? We're driving a LEVC electric London taxi ourselves.
Huber: Emission-free mobility is the decisive factor, even though sufficient green electricity must of course be available. The energy and transport transition belong together. Since environmental and climate protection are part of our DNA, such an offer is only possible with electric mobility if we want to remain credible.
Autogazette: Traffic should reduce its CO2 emissions by 42 percent by 2030. It is currently above the 1990 reference value. Is the auto industry doing too little to put vehicles with alternative drives on the road?
Huber: That is less because the German auto industry is not able to build cars with alternative drives. The reason we chose a LEVC London taxi is because of the functionality of the car. It offers space for six people, drives electrically and can be boarded barrier-free.
Autogazette: Isn't the German auto industry just lagging behind when it comes to new mobility concepts ?
Huber: If anyone has the chance to catch up, it is the German automotive industry - and it is already doing it. As a railway company, we have been able to provide electromobility with a speed of 300 and 800 passengers for 100 years. What we can do, others still have to learn.
More competitors bring more attention
Autogazette: The first Alstom fuel cell trains are used in Lower Saxony. How do your ecological standards fit in with the fact that you still use diesel locomotives?
Huber: We operate diesel locomotives in regional traffic because many routes are not electrified. We discussed alternative drives with industry for a long time. Since we didn't get any further, we developed a hybrid model for the regional networks on our own initiative. A pilot operation for this is running at the Erzgebirgsbahn. This train can do both: diesel and electric. Now we're thinking about building power islands on the route where I can drive 80 kilometers on electricity before I recharge the battery using a pantograph.
Autogazette: You are also active in bike sharing. What do you think of the growing number of suppliers from the Far East who occasionally flood entire inner cities with their bikes?
Huber: More competitors attract more attention. Bike sharing offers have developed as a real alternative to traditional forms of mobility. With over 15,000 bicycles in 60 cities, we are the largest provider in Germany with Call a Bike. The whole thing only works in the long term, however, if citizens and administration have the good feeling that bike sharing makes their everyday lives easier and not a burden. We seek dialogue and close collaboration with the municipalities, we ensure that the number of bikes at the locations is appropriate, and we make sure that our bikes are really functional. That's the difference we're talking about here.
We want to create an everyday companion
Autogazette: You also rely very heavily on networking the offers. Is this just about your own travel modules?
Huber: No. With the City-Ticket for our long-distance customers, for example, we have integrated connecting public transport from more than 120 German cities free of charge and thus offer the entire journey in one ticket. And local transport tickets from 21 German transport associations are already available via the DB Navigator. 80 percent of the total of 65 million people who live in the catchment area of the German transport associations already have a kind of master key for public transport. Which, by the way, is also used diligently: three million times a day. No wonder that we will have a further eight transport associations on the app by the end of the year.
Autogazette: In addition to integrating local transport into the DB Navigator, you will also work on new platforms for cross-mode mobility. How far are you here?
Huber: We want to create an everyday companion who knows where the customers are, what the weather is, how they prefer to get around and get to their destination as quickly as possible. Car, bike or scooter? The goal is a navigator through the city. One who is constantly learning what customers want. We are currently developing the underlying platform technology together with the transport industry. The first transport associations will be able to offer the new application to their customers as early as next year. So let yourself be surprised …
Frank Mertens conducted the interview with Berthold Huber
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