Mohamed Mezghani is Secretary General of UITP (Union Internationale des Transports Publics). UITP is the International Association of Public Transport and a passionate champion of sustainable urban mobility.
Mohamed was reappointed as UITP Secretary General in May this year for a new five-year term. Before his position as Secretary General, Mohamed served in various positions at UITP including as Senior Manager; Department Director; Head of Regional Office for Middle East and North Africa; Projects Manager; and Deputy Secretary General. These various positions built his experience and gave him an understanding of the inner workings of UITP.
In a recent interaction with Urban Transport News, Mohamed talked on UITP Global Public Transport Summit which is scheduled to be hosted in June 2023 in Barcelona, Spain.
It’s an exciting time at UITP, that’s for sure! When we’re in the planning stage of the UITP Global Summit, there’s an extra amount of energy around. 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 make a contribution to the Summit, and our dedicated team are led by a group made up of colleagues from each department to best coordinate our efforts and planning. There’s a lot of ideas flowing, and solid plans being made, and I am more than confident that we are on schedule to bring you an edition to remember. We are of course also working closely with the three local partners, who are wonderful partners for UITP, and their enthusiasm for welcoming the sector to Barcelona is evident. The road to Barcelona is set, and I’m excited and confident that we’re well on track.
Our programme is coming together at an impressive speed. You know it takes a lot of focus and consideration to put together a Congress programme for a global Summit. 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 make sure that we’re covering the whole gambit of the conversations taking place. As the Summit has a truly global dimension to it, it attracts name 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 like a cliche to say there’s something for everyone, but there truly is a topic, a session, a direction for every interest. Right now, 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 is should always be for the people who work in it, and who use it. By determining a direction from those two pillars we are really going to have a programme that is relevant, is informative, and crucially, will help move the needle on what the sector should be talking about going forward. There is a lot of expectation around the conversations that will take place during the Summit, as people are looking for answers to their concerns; ready to share priorities with one another, 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, but also current trends and issues such as the energy crisis, the impact of inflation, staff shortages, and more. For our exhibition, we are also well on track to fill more halls, and offer more space then ever before. 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, you can new apps being presented. And all of it led by those who have brought it all to the Summit. It really is something to see.
Since the Global Summits had a theme assigned to them, we’ve always worked to make it a relevant and interesting statement on where the sector is right now. In the last few years, we’ve moved that idea closer to creating a theme that is 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. Not only is the Summit a fantastic economical opportunity for the host city, it is also of great cultural and societal benefit to the local area. So when we are fortunate to visit another great city, we feel that 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 really 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 their 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 myself when we arrive there next 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 was selected for 2023, we’ll be arriving in a city that has a very impressive public transport system. The ease of access offered to people as they move around their surroundings is incredible, and the city has impressive plans to develop on 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 not only their own passion for the Summit, but 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.
Public transport is certainly by no means alone as a sector impacted by the global pandemic. It was, unfortunately, badly impacted with 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 really come to define our sector. From the very beginning, we came together knowing that a path through the tough times would be found in sharing ideas, 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 are in a position to put into practice the best ways to rebuild, and reposition ourselves for the future, hosting the Global Summit gives us the opportunity to drive forward a direction 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 the recent times has shown us, and how building back can make for a better public transport sector for everyone.
The sector is rebuilding, this we know. But we also know that it is redefining itself. I think we are all aware that many sectors will not be in the same positions as they were before the pandemic. There’s no bouncing back; instead it is building back. The sector is in a much better position than it was in 2020 and 2021, ridership has increased in many cities, but remains slower to return in some locations. 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 that those working in public transport will never stop fighting for its future. What must also be considered of course, is that the pandemic has not, and is not, the only issue public transport faces. We are dealing with issues that stem from the pandemic, but also from ongoing conflicts and economic issues around the world. 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 have a negative impact on daily functioning, and although public transport cannot solve these problems, we can find solutions in them 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 the political and financial support is lacking. I remain hopeful that we can address these concerns during the Summit, as the best and brightest minds in the sector will come prepared to debate the challenges.
Very important 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 all the way 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 also attracts more and more policy makers. I often hear from our members that 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, thousands of 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!
Well the very 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 truly impressive 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 of this activity will covered by upwards of 150 international press and media representatives. It’s unlikely a corner of the world won’t be covered in some form during the Summit. One thing we are passionate about is building an experience for those in attendance. For some this may be the only event of its size they attend each edition. For some of the UITP team, they 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 who comes to join us in Barcelona.
I hope that 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 extremely 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 really do have a special event in our hands. I also hope that those in attendance are inspired to advance on their own professional projects, and also their 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 that they feel the warmth that lives 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 always cherish.
I applaud the publication of your wonderful news website and magazine for enhancing the overall development of urban & public transportation sectors across the world. The Urban Transport Infrastructure magazine is unique in its presentation style.
You’ve given me a tough question to conclude with! I could give you 30 words, 300 words! How about I finish off by reflecting on the ways 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!