Smarter Ways to Travel

Electric buses, charging stations, the integration of trains, buses and bicycles — Antonio Rizzi seems to be permanently preoccupied with how to make local transport in Parma’s functional urban area more convenient for the city and its hinterland’s roughly half a million inhabitants. As president of the local transport authority, TEP, he oversees public transportation in the entire province, serving 33 million passengers on an annual basis. Knowing the full extent of the work involved in achieving TEP’s goals, requesting an interview might seem like asking to be stuck in a traffic jam. However, Antonio kindly agreed to devote a few minutes to discuss the recent signing of the LOW-CARB Declaration and TEP’s vision of how Parma will go about reducing its transport-related carbon emissions.

Why is the LOW-CARB Declaration important?
The project gathers institutions from eight countries, all committed to finding new ways to reduce the environmental impacts of transportation in their cities and to shifting to more sustainable modes to reduce pollution. The most important thing is that we are working together, networking and sharing best practices. The local transportation authority in Parma is committed to environment-related issues. Parma is already one of the top cities in Italy in terms of cutting emissions, and as a company we are striving to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s not easy, bearing in mind all the aspects involved. Even at city level, we have to consider not only the fossil fuels used for transportation, but also energy consumption, how we use our lighting and heating systems, etc. There is plenty to be done, but we are heading in the right direction. 

In the framework of LOW-CARB, the Parma, through TEP, will be installing vehicle charging stations. What is your vision?
We have to shift from fossil fuels to electric vehicles. We currently have e-buses throughout the city, and our objective is to increase the number of such bus lines. Our vision is to make it possible to use different kinds of alternatively fuelled vehicles, and to distance ourselves from the use of diesel.

We also want to integrate the public transport system with other smart mobility systems, such as bike sharing and car sharing, and to explore the opportunities for intermodal transportation, such as combining train travel with the use of buses and bicycles.

What comes next?
We have already adopted a sustainable urban mobility plan, containing concrete actions for improving the environmental performance of local mobility. 

How do you think the public will respond to these actions?
There has already been a positive reaction. After watching the number of public transport passengers decrease for three consecutive years, we have observed a rapid increase in the past two. I believe this is due to the combination of the different initiatives we have undertaken, which have helped local people to regard buses as a smarter, more comfortable way to get around the region. Parma is a university city, with a student population of around 25,000. We therefore have a considerable number of young people looking for smarter ways to travel. If we can deliver a high-quality service and make public transportation services faster, more comfortable and more convenient, people will be more inclined to choose buses over private cars. We need to provide additional services and ensure that public transportation is the best option — not only in terms of cost, but also in terms of saving time and avoiding travel-related stress. 

Are the municipal authorities committed to supporting these objectives? 
We are working together with our city hall to create the necessary conditions for making the bus system more convenient. Four years ago, traffic jams were a major problem. The local authority decided to create one-way streets, cutting traffic on the main roads and making bus services faster. At the same time, this increased journey times for cars, further stimulating the use of public buses.

We need to keep working together to identify where the opportunities are. But we also need to be cautious: if you make car use too difficult, commercial activities can be affected. When one talks about closing the city centre to traffic, one needs to be aware of the potential impacts on local businesses. It’s a very delicate balance that we have to achieve.