Rennes, innovation across all lines

Accomplish • Pulse #2 • 7 min
By Ingrid Labuzan By Emmanuel Couet Chairman of Rennes Metropolitan Area (France)

Rennes tops the league of the best French cities to live and work in. For sure, being close to the sea, the air quality and the cultural choices on offer, are some of the reasons. But the economic strength and the share of population that use public transport are also part of the ranking criteria. Having said that, if you think about it, isn’t there a link between these two points ?

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Changing the paradigm of mobility

2 min

“Economic success and mobility are linked and these links will only become stronger in the years to come”, Emmanuel Couet affirms with strong conviction. Elected Chairman of the Rennes Metropolitan area in 2014, he is one of several who have crafted the success of the Metropole to make it a magnet of attraction nationally.

“The city of the future is one with a centre accessible from the outskirts and where intercity travel is seamless. If we look forward 10 years, I think this will be the number one point of attraction, particularly for young working people. This will have direct repercussions on the creation of economic, social and cultural value and enable the emergence of urban centres, ripe for innovation. If you want proof, you only have to look at some of the towns in Northern Europe or Germany: the most dynamic ones economically are those who have the boldest mobility and transport policies.”

INNOVATION, THE PLATFORM FOR MOBILITY

Talking of bold decision-making, the city of Rennes has recently taken several. These are big challenges for this valley of 450,000 inhabitants which has to simultaneously anticipate population needs, maintain the pioneering position it occupies in the transport field and manage the consequences of its popularity. The multi-modal network has already been awarded the Golden Transport Pass for efficiency three times over by the monthly magazine “Towns, Rail & Transports”.

“The Rennes Metropolitan area has a long history of innovation in transport terms but that doesn’t stop us from being at a pivotal moment right now, confirms Emmanuel Couet. The region welcomes 6,000 new inhabitants every year. Imagine how many people that represents for a public transport delegation contract in seven years!”

A contract awarded once again to Keolis in 2017.

In order to respond to the challenges of economic appeal and population growth, the city and its partners are working on a global response based on residents’ usage habits. “It’s no longer possible to think in terms of public transport if we exclude passenger habits connected to car use. It is also essential to harness the benefits of new technologies, with digital and smart data. Mobility must be seen as a whole, like a service linked to others, all making people’s lives easier,” Emmanuel Couet states ambitiously.

STRENGTHEN MULTIMODALITY

In a year’s time, the city of Rennes will adopt a new Urban Mobility Plan. Its principal objectives will reflect Emmanuel Couet’s vision of mobility. Put together following consultation with the region, the department, the state and neighbouring municipalities, the objective of this urban mobility plan is behavioural change. An ambition to be achieved primarily by expanding the multi-modal network of public transport. In this context, we would have to mention the opening of the second automated metro line – line B in 2020. This will enable 70% of the city of Rennes’s inhabitants (that will be 230,000 residents) to be situated less than 600 metres’ distance from a station. A great next step for encouraging public transport use and making journey times quicker. This new line represents undeniable progress but is not the only example. Rennes is determined to continue its intermodal efforts with its transport service.

The emphasis is on the buses with the Metropolitan Innovation Pact signed with the French government in January 2017. Buses are perhaps not the height of innovation ? On the contrary. Services for surrounding areas are to be increased. But above all, the fleet is undergoing a major transformation towards 100% electric. Indeed, the Innovation Pact provides for a move to electric between now and 2025 to 2030 thanks to the partnership deal signed with the building consortium, Bolloré.

The main objective of Rennes’ new Urban Mobility Plan, to be adopted in 2019, is behavioural change. An ambition to be achieved primarily by expanding the multi‑modal network of public transport.

Bicycles will also go electric. These will play a crucial role in our Rennes Metropole, designated as an “archipelago”. “In addition to urban bicycle hire schemes available in the city centre, we are encouraging long term hire of electric bicycles with preferential renting conditions.

Today the fleet is composed of 1,900 electric bikes. We will make a significant investment in order to expand the fleet by 1,800 additional electric bikes per year. This kind of bicycle will be the perfect mode of transport for linking up municipalities of between 5 and 10 km in distance. At the same time, we are also in the process of developing an express bicycle network of 16 km across the city which will enable riders to travel between the city outskirts and the centre in 15 minutes”, Emmanuel Couet illustrates.

So it’s a smart network that is being woven together with these initiatives which have all been designed to respond to the expectations of Rennes city dwellers. They have been researched and analysed in opinion polls carried out in situ or by telephone, particularly in the context of the public service delegation contract. “Constructing mobility policy for all travel, whatever the mode, from the viewpoint of the customer, is a ‘no-brainer’,” is the message that Emmanuel Couet hammers home.

SMART DATA SUPPORTING THE “METROPOLITAN ARCHIPELAGO”

If innovation is the name of the game, it is not just restricted to transport and also applies to ticketing and payment methods. It is impossible to design a global mobility service without thinking digital and smart data. The city of Rennes understood the importance of data long ago as it is the first French city to have embraced Open Data nearly ten years ago.

As regards transport cards, Rennes is streets ahead with its KorriGo Services. “Rennes Metropole is a pioneer of the national system AMC (multi-citizen application) which allows for the addition of services on a transport card,” explains Mylène Péridy, Rennes Metropolitan Area Transport Manager. These work on a  regional level and enable other councils to add on various  services, like swimming- -pool or media library  entrance costs, or even pay school dinners or childcare. A huge success considering that for 650,000 travel cards in circulation in the region, 250,000 of these are used in the city area.

From car manufacturers to network operators, including regional start-ups, all the actors of the economic fabric are asked to contribute their own digital building block. “We work in a context of transparency and accessibility to public data – within a regulated framework of course – so that each of us can benefit from this data and build new applications, new urban services,” adds Emmanuel Couet enthusiastically. The first result of this is the new STAR application launched in March 2018 which provides far more sophisticated services than current route planner calculation apps.

WORKING FOR A SOLIDARITY RATE

Given that Rennes mobility policy illustrates a very clear picture of modernity, it is out of the question to leave other residents by the wayside. Since January 2017, the city has introduced progressive, solidarity-based pricing. “Pricing is household and means-related, adds Mylène Péridy. The threshold for those eligible has also been raised, in particular for grant  eligible students. The number of students benefiting from this measure has risen to 75%. It’s not just down to price, it’s also due to information campaigns carried out in tandem with Keolis and the online approach.”

The city of Rennes, Keolis and the University of Rennes have also coordinated efforts to work on a better organisation of timetabling to even out traffic at peak travel times. What with travel discounts and adapted timetabling, students are definitely well-served. Another element of appeal for the town.

WINNING THE FIGHT AGAINST SINGLE CAR OCCUPANCY

As part of the new travel plan, this redesigned transport network represents a solid basis on which to build behavioural change. The objective here is to restrict single car occupancy, the heart of Emmanuel Couet’s and his team’s combat: “Just imagine, for 100 cars in rush-hour, only 103 people are transported.”

However, if you listen to the Chairman of the Rennes Metropolitan area, the challenge is not insurmountable. Particularly with a car-pooling solution. “If the people of Rennes car-shared just one day out of five, that would be the end of traffic congestion problems”… and a huge advance in terms of less pollution.

To this end, the city is offering two new dedicated services. The first is a system which allows people to organise regular journeys like their commutes from home to work. “We offer a mobile site for getting in touch in order to form car- sharing teams over the long term,” explains Mylène Péridy. The second service responds to more occasional needs, on a city scale, like any other means of transport.

This system of dynamic car-pooling developed by Keolis Rennes is available on the network’s new multimodal app, STAR. So an offer of car-sharing can come up at the same time with other travel routes provided in real time, or as an alternative to available transport networks. “The driver who offers a journey is rewarded by voucher reductions valid in shops in the city. We are also thinking about an incentive system for the passenger. We will also encourage car-sharing with dedicated traffic routes and parking areas,” adds Mylène Péridy.

With these two tools, cost-free, car-sharing solutions are provided, both for long term and also on-the-move offers available to residents. Riding on its ambitious innovation policy, in conjunction with the entire Rennes ecosystem, the Rennes Metroplitan Area has invented new ways of travelling together, whether it’s on public transport or with a car-pool. Emmanuel Couet is convinced, with the freeing-up of public space, innovation also generates a stimulating   urban context which in turn encourages an improved quality of life.


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