5 questions for Frank Klingenhöfer
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a board member at DB Regio.
In April 2020 I became a member of the management board of DB Regio AG, taking charge of the Bus Division, and in January 2023 I became head of DB Regio Road Transport.
Previously, at DB Regio Rail Transport from 2017, I had been chairman of the regional management of ’Region Mitte’ while also head of Marketing. Prior to that I had held the same positions for four years at ’Region Südost’.
Other posts at the DB group included head of the Strategy Department in Passenger Transport, head of the Rhein-Neckar public transport company, managing director of the DB bus companies of Mannheim and Karlsruhe, and three years abroad with DB Arriva in London in Contract Awards Management.
The DB Regio Road Transport Division is a new creation. Why has this come about and how do passengers and operators benefit?
We are witnessing fascinating developments in roadbound public transport. There is growing demand among our customers for more flexible, demand-oriented services. This will be a mainstay of the day-to-day mobility mix of the modern age. New technologies and approaches have already made attractive options such as on-demand services and mobility hubs possible.
Within the Road Transport Division we have concentrated the DB group’s expertise and capacity for offering these services to passengers and operators.
We operate wide-ranging regular bus routes and school bus services and facilitate on-demand transport with smaller vehicles which are already under full digital control. This is supported by mobility analyses and the development of digital solutions for the entire public transport sector, which enable access to efficient ridesharing and on-demand services.
Every partner is from a different background and has for some time been focused on the same topic, the successful implementation of roadbound public transport.
Combining our efforts under one roof will allow us to coordinate our services even better, ensure optimum mobility services together and a shift in transport orientation.
What do you mean by integrated transport services and why in your opinion should tenders be invited for an entire system?
In Germany, 55 million people live in rural areas. Our services offer mobility in large areas and connect with climate-friendly rail services. We want to get people to switch to public transport by offering a practical alternative to car journeys.
In order to do so we need networked, integrated solutions that meet people’s mobility needs and which fit into existing service networks.
Tenders for integrated services are the best way to achieve that. The currently very rigid system of individual transport contracts does not afford an operator the necessary freedom to adapt services to passengers’ needs. Changing routes and on-demand systems to ensure better coordination for example is often not possible. Changes are only feasible when contracts expire, usually only after eight to ten years. That is no longer the way today’s dynamic environment works. We cannot afford these delays if we want to achieve our goals in transitioning to new forms of mobility.
With this aim in mind, we are offering one-stop integrated service concepts that are more attractive than the sum of their parts. In doing so we are attracting additional passengers and new revenue sources. In the end there will only be winners – our passengers, the operators and not least the climate.
Driverless on-demand vehicle fleets, is that the future of public transport? Will buses become a thing of the past?
Driverless shuttles mean cost savings which offer room for improving services. This is potentially a real gamechanger for public transport.
We have been operating driverless shuttles in Bad Birnbach since 2017, which made us pioneers in Germany. We are one of the partners in Upper Franconia, which is a region piloting shuttle services.
In Offenbach and Darmstadt we are graduating from what are effectively low-speed tests to a fully-fledged transport service. Together with Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund and the partners Kreisverkehrsgesellschaft Offenbach and HEAG mobilo from Darmstadt and as part of a research and development project, we are gathering important information about driverless public transport vehicles for the entire sector.
We are consortium leaders of the EU-wide ULTIMO project. I am delighted that together with 23 European partners we are working to resolve open issues for operating a safe service. Transport companies will benefit from this because the project’s aim is to assist efficient implementation and operations, and so will passengers of course, as a well-functioning system is a condition for expanding and improving services.
Buses are not on their way out. It sounds as if we are pitting on-demand services against regular bus routes. That is the wrong attitude to take. Nowadays, only a minority of people consciously choose buses as their transport option. We have to offer services that meet people’s transport needs. Then we will have achieved something. And that means connecting more on-demand services with regular routes, with benefits for the latter, the entire public transport system and above all people.
You grew up in northern Hesse and have first-hand experience of the challenges of transportation and its coverage of rural areas. ’Medibus’ and shopping bus services etc. offer possible solutions. Why is the so-called mobile infrastructure also part of transitioning to new forms of transport?
Correct, I grew up in the country. Back then, young people never took a bus to the disco and today nobody takes one to the club further down the road. Someone gives them a ride and at some point they have their own car. That is how we have been brought up and that is precisely what needs to change. However, it can only work with services that can compete with cars, which can offer benefits and can be seen as their equal.
It includes ensuring mobility services offer rural coverage. Apart from offering mobility we are also involving people. We also regard buses as platforms for a mobile infrastructure and are bringing a feature of everyday life directly to people in areas where their needs are no longer covered and as a result entire, attractive regions are becoming unattractive as places to live. An example is our ’medibus’ and shopping bus services which we have been offering together with REWE since March in northern Hesse.
We see great opportunities here for serving rural areas. We are creating alternatives to the car for everyday use which can become an example for rural areas. They reduce the number of car trips to the nearest town for daily supplies. This is convenient and climate-friendly, a step on the way to a new transport era.