A new participant in the second part of the Vehicle Situation series was Sándor Nagy, Vice Mayor for City Development, besides Zoltán Majó-Petri, Managing Director of Szeged Transport Ltd. (Szegedi Közlekedési Kft.), and traffic engineer Tibor Vincze.
The main topic of the discussion was the situation of community transport in Szeged. Free parking, which was introduced as an element of the set of coronavirus combat measures, triggered a more intensive use of cars – as a result, the local transportation company (SZKT) was forced to introduce an extraordinary “pandemic” timetable. As was said during the first discussion, city community transport vehicles are now the safest means of transport, yet we do not use them.
One of the key aims of the SASMob project is for the employees of the programme member organisations to travel to work in a pre-planned and more environmentally friendly way. On the other hand, though SASMob, SZKT and many others encourage the use of community transport, it is very difficult to beat free parking.
During the discussion, Sándor Nagy highlighted the situation before the virus:
“In normal years before the pandemic, the term public service had the same meaning in Szeged as anywhere else: half of the price of the service was paid by the municipal government, one sixth was covered through some supplement from state resources, like in the case of student season tickets, and one third was paid by the passenger. Passengers paying less than half of costs is typical in city community systems.”
The vice mayor also emphasised that mass transport is indispensable to maintain mobility: its social function is beyond dispute. However, its continuous availability (also on public holidays and at weekends) is the highest cost element.
The question arises: to what extent can public transport services be thinned out? Haw far more can the system be cut back? May there come a time when decision makers begin to think whether it makes any sense to maintain community transport?
This last possibility was quickly ruled out by the participants. Regarding the timetable, they noted that the minimum service frequency was half an hour in Szeged; anything less frequent on any route would make the service symbolic. – Whether we like it or not, community transport is a sector hit by the pandemic. This is one of the reasons we had to make the 6–8–10-minute service frequencies longer – said Sándor Nagy.
At present, the highest loss is in passengers in the morning peak. The big question here is whether employees will return to mass transport when, one day, everything comes back to normal. In the case of students, the decrease can be considered temporary.
– What we are witnessing now is that home office is becoming ever more important, will remain with us, and will have a long-term impact, which will fundamentally determine and transform our mobility. We leave home later, the first online meeting finds us in our homes, many go to work at ten. Passengers tend to buy daily tickets rather than season tickets – said Zoltán Majó-Petri.
Sándor Nagy added to the words of local transportation company’s managing director that a service provider always has to keep sufficient capacities available: it must run the trolleybuses, trams and buses. And though we can rightfully ask why these vehicles run completely or half empty, there is nothing we can do. You never know when an unexpected wave comes, when many suddenly take community transport.