Tamlyn Shimizu 00:00:06 Welcome to Smart in the City - The BABLE podcast, where we bring together top actors in the smart city arena, sparking dialogues and interactions around the stakeholders and themes most prevalent for today's citizens and tomorrow's generations. I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope that you'll enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to drive the change for a better urban life. Smart in the City is brought to you by BABLE Smart Cities. We enable processes from research and strategy development to co-creation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at bable-smartcities.eu.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:00:46 Before we get into the episode, let me tell you about an exciting event happening in Tampere, Finland on the 6th and 7th of June 2023: the Tampere Smart City Expo and Conference. The event offers forward-looking, cutting edge thinking technology services and solutions. We'll link to it in the show notes, and I definitely think this is one to check out now on to the regular programming.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:09 So welcome to a new episode in collaboration with Autonomy Mobility World Expo. I am sitting in the city of Paris, live at the Expo as a media partner and enjoying meeting lots and lots of people, partners, urban stakeholders, and one of them today is sitting here. Um, we might be in Paris, but we're traveling again into Spain, um, uh, one of my favorite countries to, to dive into the mobility scene of, um, and specifically to the City of Madrid. So, um, I'm sitting here with Sergio Fernández Balaguer who is the head of international department at the Municipal Transport Company (EMT) of Madrid. So, welcome, Sergio.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:01:51 Hi, how are you?
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:01:52 Uh, I'm doing well. Thank you for asking. Um, wonderful to have you here and welcome onto the show. So, um, are you enjoying this year's, uh, addition of the Autonomy?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:02:01 Oh, yes, yes. So far. Very good.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:02:03 Good. Um, and, uh, so I always like to get a little bit warmed up into the mood and swing of things here. So, um, I was wondering, um, and it's okay if you take a minute to think, um, but what is one odd or weird thing that you've seen on the streets of Madrid recently?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:02:21 <laugh>.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:02:23 I mean, the answer is quite simple and straightforward because perhaps it, that didn't happen that recently, but, uh, some months ago I was working in the street and I saw kind of a courage, uh, of cycling people and, and it was a beer courage. So they were drinking beer and at the same time cycling. Yeah. All together <laugh>, but in a, in a, I mean, it was something really weird. And I think it's, it's not operating anymore. I think perhaps it had some sort of safety issues, <laugh>, or it was not legalized or something because it was really odd. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:02:55 I've seen this in many cities, actually. Yeah. Um, yeah, the, the bicycling with the, the bar while drinking beer. Yeah. I, I actually, um, in, in one of my hometowns, Fort Collins of Colorado in the US we have that that goes around the town. <laugh>. Yeah. <laugh>. Um, it's quite a scene. So <laugh>. Um, good answer. Um, so I really want to, to know more about you. So, um, tell us a bit about yourself, your background story. How did you come to work at EMT Madrid?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:03:23 Okay. Well, uh, I'm, I would say that I'm working in mobility in Europe, mobility topics, kind of a, as an accident. Uh, cuz actually my background is forestry, uh
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:03:34 Oh, wow.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:03:35 So it has nothing to see with mobility or human mobility or transportation. Uh, but, um, after walking seven years for the private sector as environmental, um, consultant, um, one ex client asked me to join him, uh, in a new foundation promoted by Madrid City Council called ‘Fundación Movilidad” So Mobility Foundation to start walking on sustainable mobility back in a time when basically mobility was just traffic management. So to start thinking about cycling, walking, uh, electrification, this type of, you know, governance for instance, which is also very important. Uh, back in your time when this was not the day on a daily basis, something applied by by cities. It was a very interesting job. And then, um, yeah, at a certain point, uh, I just moved to, to EMT Madrid, the public Transp Corporator, uh, while I've been working since, uh, 2011.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:04:34 Wow. And that's quite the journey from forest to, to mobility. Yeah. Um, I, I, I love hearing about people's different backgrounds and how they, how they transition between those two things. Um, did you, did you take anything from your experiences in forestry with you into the mobility sector?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:04:50 <laugh>, I mean, I think the most challenging, uh, thing was to, um, how to say, um, fulfill my expectations professionally speaking mm-hmm. <affirmative> shifting from forestry to sustainable mobility and basically it's about sustainability. It's all about sustainability. That is what I, I repeated to myself like, okay, this is not bad. I will keep walking in sustainability, but from another perspective, which is mobility and it's fundamental for cities and, and for the yeah. Wellbeing of all of us. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, yeah. Yeah. It was not that radical, I would say.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:05:28 Yeah, still connected.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:05:29 It touches, it touches a lot of topics which are also of high interest. Uh, so yeah, I'm, I'm really glad that I took that step. Um, and I love urban mobility. I, I love walking in the mobility sector. Um, and I like everything. And you can, something which is also very interesting for me is that, uh, the work you do is directly applied and you see the results because you live in the city you work for. Yeah. So that's very, very nice.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:06:01 So many urban practitioners that I talk to talk about that being so rewarding Yeah. To see the fruits of your labor actually happening in the streets around you. So, um, I see that really, that's fantastic. So, um, about Madrid, what are the main challenges, um, that, that you think, uh, Madrid is facing when it comes to public transport?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:06:22 I mean, Madrid is very well known for a good public transport network. Um, it's one of the cities with the, uh, biggest, uh, subway networks, for instance. I think it's the eighth in the world at the moment. Uh, the same happens with the public, uh, buses. The European buses, uh, EMT is well known for the good service and the very high satisfaction, uh, rates from, from customers. It has a very well integrated system, um, managed, uh, by the public transport authority, the consortium transport, with some very unique, um, approach, which is using interchange stations where all these public transport, uh, services are interconnected. So at the very entrance of main access roads getting into the city, you have, uh, a big station where subway, trains, buses, Europe ambassadors get connected and plus all the additional mobility services. And that allows the city to cover a very big demand of around 1,600 million passengers per year.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:07:31 Which is a lot. Yeah. Um, so public transport is really working well. If you go to the inner, inner part of the city, so the central area of the city, the, the model shift is really good in, in favor of public transport and walking. If you go to the outskirts, the percentages decreases. It's something logical, because many times public transport is not so competitive with, uh, other mobility solutions cuz you know, the urban is pro, um, the density of population, et cetera. But I would think, or I think that the most challenging aspect today for the public transport service in Madrid and in Madrid region, if we go beyond the city borders, is how to solve, uh, the transversal connectivity of public transport. Meaning that if you live in an outskirts or in a neighborhood neighbor, neighbor, metropolitan area, and you want to go to another one today, most of the times you need to get first to the city center or quite into the city center to get out again. And that is something that is still not fully solved and it, um, conditions a lot, uh, the use of private car if you have this mobility pattern. So that is why, uh, both at the regional level and at the city level, uh, technicians are, are walking in and trying to find solutions for that.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:09:03 Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, it doesn't make sense if people have to go inside, everyone says, oh, that's backtracking, then I'm just gonna go directly with my car then. Right? Yeah.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:09:12 I mean, you, you, for instance, I, I would say that the ideal situation, and I don't mean that is easy, um, could be to plan somehow the same way as ring roads or plan for cars, trying to plan ring roads for public transport. Yeah. Um, so there are some initiatives on the way, but it's something that, uh, yeah, we need to work for. There is an additional difficulty on top of this is the pandemic, uh, because many public transport operators across the globe are still struggling with the, the level of usage of public transport. Um, in Madrid, we have not recovered yet the previous figures before the pandemic, we are still depending on the day, uh, between, uh, yeah, I would say around 90% or even more. But still, we haven't reached a hundred percent, whereas private car use has not only reached the previous levels, but even beyond mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that's a big challenge. Yeah. Because our mobility behavior, our mobility patterns have changed, uh, and it takes a lot of time to go back, so, yeah. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:10:27 Yeah. It's, it's a challenge that we hear across many cities in Europe. Um, do you find, so you're here also with, uh, you know, Polis, um, and doing a lot of facilitation, I guess, and talks between different cities across Europe. And I'm wondering, um, how you, especially in the international department, how you work with other, um, with other EU countries, with other cities. How does that collaboration work?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:10:55 Well, it's working very well. Um, first of all, perhaps it would be good to point out why a public transport operator, a local public transport operator, is interested in international activity, <laugh>. And, um, the main topic has a kind of a two-fold approach. The first one is because you learn a lot, so it's very good to know what others are doing anywhere you learn and you can distract and get things to bring back home and, and to, to implement and deploy in your own, uh, local context. The other one is because it's very good to show what you're doing because it, it always come back somehow. So it's, it's because of reputation, uh, it's because the visibility you bring to your city. Um, so it allows a lot of, it opens up a lot, a wide variety of, uh, father either collaborations, corporations, exchanges, et cetera.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:11:52 Um, and it's good for the city. So, um, we have kind of different approaches. The first one, as you mentioned, would be to get involved in international networks such as police, but also Euro Cities, or U I T P, the International Association of Poly Transport and many others. Um, there, you, you really can have, uh, a very good exchange of, uh, initiatives, opinions, debates, uh, you have, you learn a lot from other, um, uh, companies and cities and operators. Uh, so you establish some sort of peer-to-peer collaboration. Um, the other way would be to get involved in research and innovation projects on, in our, from our point of view, I mean, all these European funded initiatives ha really help a lot because in, in perhaps three, four years times, you, you create a very good, uh, team with all peers, uh, to work in a very specific topic.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:12:52 And EMT has a quite a, a big tradition in becoming involved in these type of projects, uh, since many years ago. Um, and then the third one would be perhaps the consultancy activities, emt, Madrid, um, it's really willing to share, uh, the knowledge. We have a specific department for consultancy purposes, so we provide technical assistance as well to other public transport operators across the globe. We have had a project in, uh, in, uh, Southeast Asia, middle East, in Latin America, especially because of Yeah. Uh mm-hmm. <affirmative> their brothers. Um, and that's also another way, a very good way of, you know, bringing, uh, your knowledge to help others, uh, and also to add value to the, the work you already do.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:13:45 I, is that part of like, the business model then behind it? Or, I, I wanna get into finances a little bit.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:13:50 I, I, I wouldn't say business model mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because we are a public company. Yeah. And, uh, our aim is not to make a profit out of it. Yeah. But it also, but it helps somehow, uh, to balance the way we finance, the service we provide to citizens. Yeah. So, uh, the percentage that represents is minimal, uh, but it helps and, uh, it also helps to project, um, the vision of the city and the vision of EMT Madrid. So it's a very good way also of, uh, promoting what we do. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:14:21 Yeah. That's incredible. I, I've actually haven't heard of that model before, so it's really, really interesting. Um, a and I, I'm wondering, um, so I, I heard Spain recently took the lead when it comes to free mobility, um, such as with long distance buses and trains, uh, city bikes free of charge as well, um, at least until the 31st of July, or something along those lines. So you're trialing some of these models out. Um, what, how can other cities replicate this? Like, can you talk a little bit about what that entails?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:14:56 Yeah. Well, uh, as a matter of fact, uh, EMT and the City of Madrid already started thinking about free transport days, um, quite a few years ago. Um, for instance, during the pandemic, the City of Madrid launched, uh, two specific bus lanes. Bus lines, sorry, uh, called zero, zero, meaning that there were zero emissions, but also zero cost for the user, um, to allow people get into the city center, um, and trying to promote, uh, public transport instead of private car use. These bus lines have had a great success and they are still up and running. Um, so we've been working on this kind of free, uh, transport as an incentive kind of, yeah. Just a promotional measure. But, uh, in addition to that, uh, E M T also sets or, or defines some free days, uh, depending on the occasion. So for instance, after summer holidays, when schools are, again, back in activity, inter activity, we have free days, uh, to help people, you know, going back to normality <laugh>, uh, without using the private car or when, uh, the Black Friday arrives.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:16:15 Then we have also some free days or in Christmas. So the city defines, of course, in corporation with the public transport authorities, some specific days for public transport. And when getting into the, uh, public bike sharing scheme, the public bike sharing system you mentioned, uh, that is due, uh, because we are, uh, changing completely bima, which is the public bike sharing system in Madrid. Uh, so it's being completely renewed from the bike to the dock, to the back office system, everything. It's a complete new set. Um, so to help in this transition and to somehow compensate the user for the difficulties, uh, or the drawbacks during this transition period, the city has decided to make it free until the 31st of July. Uh, yeah. As a mean of, well, compensating. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:17:10 Yeah. Really interesting. I, I think it's, I know in Germany, you know, recently they, they played around with different models, very cheap ticket for public transport. Uh, obviously there's many challenges to doing this. Um, so it's, it's really interesting to hear about all these use cases from transport companies, um, uh, trialing this. So, um, I want to get a little bit into, I, I know you, um, with the international focus that you have, you work quite closely or, um, around the commission's goals, I would say. Um, and, uh, the, the EC recently proposed to ban the sale of carbon emitting cars from, uh, 2035. Um, I was just wondering what your opinion is <laugh>
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:17:53 <laugh>, is it feasible? I mean, I think it's a bit ambitious. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, and actually just a few days ago, we knew from the media that there's been some sort of, uh, exemption for e fuels that has been pushed by, uh, the German car industry and Italian car industry. I think, I mean, I'm fully convinced about our own, our own responsibilities in achieving sustainability goals. So I fully agree with what is said in the European Green Deal and the sustainable development goals. Uh, but sometimes I think that perhaps we are too, uh, ambitious because I think this approach must be something, um, that has been or should be adopted by everyone in the planet. I mean, there is no point in getting, uh, a little part of the population of the planet very sustainable if the rest is not sustainable at all, perhaps for our own self, uh, relief <laugh>, it's something good.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:18:59 Nevertheless, uh, I think we need to set ambitious goals, otherwise we will never get to that point. And, uh, I'm kind of optimistic despite the difficulties, uh, in the path. Uh, EMT, uh, is really pushing a lot, is we are very committed. So EMT Madrid has a very ambitious target of reaching one third of our fleet, fully electrified by 2027. Um, and to reach decarbonization by 2030, um, we have, uh, we have been making a great effort in fleet renewal, uh, but also in, in other initiatives. Um, so, uh, compensating emissions, exploring alternative fuels, for instance, uh, EMT banned, well, not banned, actually, we phased out, so we get rid of all the diesel pass units last December. So we are currently the biggest city in Europe, and one of the first in having a hundred percent clean fleet according to the European Clean Vehicles Directive.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:20:04 That's a good goal. And now we are exploring also the possibilities of hydrogen. So we are building a green hydrogen, uh, fueling station in one of our past airports, which, uh, should be finished by the end of this year. Um, we are working also on, um, uh, affordable tank panels to reduce the demand of energy in our buildings. We are working as well in the use of renewable biogas. So biogas coming from waste management plant in Madrid is being used as a fuel in, in our buses, in some of our buses, uh, which is a completely renewable source of energy. So I think we all need to put an effort, uh, in our own, let's say, area of responsibility Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:20:53 To achieve the goal. Absolutely. Do you think it's enough? I, I like to play a devil's advocate a little bit. Um, do you think it's enough? Do you think that there's more that we, we could be doing?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:21:03 Um, it's a tricky question. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:21:05 <laugh>, I know <laugh>
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:21:07 Because, um, many times doing more means more financing, for instance. Yeah. Which is many times a critical point. Um, and, uh, then we need to fight again, uh, against our own, our own behavior. So I think, uh, you have kind of a twofold approach. First, you need to change your own mindset to be fully committed and, and being confident about what you're doing, but then you need resources to do that. And this is when perhaps it comes the biggest difficulty, how to balance both and how to get Yeah. The right proportion of both. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:21:43 Absolutely. I see your point. Um, uh, now we just get to the point where I want to ask you, um, if you, if we missed the topic that you're quite passionate about, because I like to give, um, every person the open floor. This is your podcast, this is your time. You can take it if you like, you don't have to, but is there anything else that you're quite passionate about or that you really want listeners to know?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:22:08 Whew. Um, I don't know. Um, perhaps as we are all citizens somewhere, uh, it would be good to think about what can we each one of us do on our daily life, on our daily basis to contribute for a more sustainable, uh, planet mm-hmm. <affirmative> and a more sustainable life. Uh, uh, and I I, I'm the first, let's say guilty, uh, because many times, uh, I, I don't realize that my, my daily choices may influence, uh, what's what's going on out there. So yeah. I think it's, it's, it's fundamental to think about ourselves. Yeah. I mean, yeah. What can we do
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:22:53 Reflect a little bit on now?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:22:54 Yeah. And be, be more, more, um, yeah. Have more awareness about what we can do. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:01 Yeah. I agree. Um, good. So wonderful. So you got through the hardest part. Now we just get to play a little bit of a game. Are you ready? Okay. <laugh> an easy one. So, so yeah. So we, we have different segments that we do on the show, so we like to, you know, keep it lively and entertaining. So, um, this is one of my favorite segments. Um, and it's called Roll with the Punches, roll with the punches, answer this or that questions quickly, and with your first instincts. Um, okay. So don't worry, it's not, you just go with whatever you feel is the best choice in the moment, and then you can go back again. Explain at the end. Okay. Okay. So, are you ready?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:23:47 Yeah, I think so.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:48 Morning person or night owl.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:23:50 Morning person or?
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:52 Morning person or night owl.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:23:55 Uh, oof. Morning person.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:23:57 Scooters or bikes?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:23:59 Bikes.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:24:00 Summer or winter in mid winter. Electric mobility or active mobility?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:24:05 Active
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:24:07 Planning or implementing.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:24:08 Implementing
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:24:10 Sidewalk or bike lane.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:24:12 Oof. <laugh> bike Lane.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:24:14 Okay. Do you want to, uh, explain any of your answers? <laugh>.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:24:18 Okay. Um, I mean, um, turning 15, two weeks time, <laugh>. So regarding morning person or night Owl? Uh, before I was a night owl, now I'm a morning person. Okay.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:24:31 <laugh>.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:24:32 Yeah. I'm passionate about cycling, so that's why whenever there is a cycling between, I, I always, I mean, go with cycling, I go with cycling because I love it.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:24:40 You, you don't like the pedestrians, you just wanna do the bike. I mean, I'm just kidding.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:24:44 <laugh>, I love, I love walking. Yeah. I love walking. But, um, yeah, I think cycling has such big potential, um, that I, I, I really love cycling now. Whenever you cycle, you see things from another perspective. Yeah. Uh, you, you may know a city really by heart, everything, then you take a bike and you see it from a completely different perspective. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:25:08 I love it. Yeah, I agree. And
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:25:10 Then what else?
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:25:11 Um, winter in Madrid, oh,
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:25:13 I mean, have you ever been to Madrid in summer? <laugh>? It's
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:25:16 Hot. Yeah.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:25:17 It's terribly hot. Yeah. So I would go for winter. And winter in Madrid is especially nice because we, I mean, it's, we have a dry weather, so the, the sky general is crystal clear, blue, it's beautiful. And even if it's cold, the sunny is always kind of warm, so you can always find good spots. Yeah. For enjoying.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:25:38 Yeah. Perfect. Um, yeah, all clear. Oh, what did you say for planning or implementing? Ah,
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:25:43 Because, uh, it's linked to, to what we were mentioning before, I really love working for a public company, which works with the local environment Yeah. And the local context. And it's, it's always very nice to see that the projects get implemented and you see the results. Mm-hmm.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:25:58 <affirmative>. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Good choices. Good answers. Thanks for playing along. Um, now I have one last question for you, and it's the question we ask every single guest. Um, it's really interesting to see the different perspectives from the different sectors and angles mm-hmm. <affirmative> and all of that. So, um, to you, what is a smart city?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:26:18 Okay. Um, I would say that a smart city is a city that uses technology, um, to, um, improve the quality of life of the citizens and to improve the way it's managed. Uh, and, um, yeah, basically that would be always ensuring accessibility and uh, and sustainable development. Yeah.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:26:48 Very, very well put. I think that's a pretty text textbook answer. Um, do you think Madrid is a smart city?
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:26:55 I think it's doing a big effort to become a very smart city. There's
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:26:59 It, there's not a black and white there, right? No. No.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:27:01 It's, it's, it's, you have a whole range of gray colors in between. Yeah. So, yeah. I, I think it's, it depends very much. Yeah. And, uh, something, I mean, perhaps the city is, is, is working on a very specific topic. Uh, and other city might not have that necessity and has another approach, uh, because cities are very diverse. Yeah. And the local context matters a lot.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:27:29 Yeah. Local context matters. Yes. Uh, with that, I will, I will leave, I will leave you to it, uh, to keep on enjoying this, this event and keep mingling and exploring and learning. Um, so that, for that, I just have to thank you so much for your time and for your honest answers. And, uh, it was a great conversation. I really had, uh, enjoyed it.
Sergio Fernández Balaguer 00:27:50 Thank you so much. Thanks you.
Tamlyn Shimizu 00:27:51 And to all of our listeners, uh, don't forget, you can always create a free account on bable-smartcities.eu, to find out more about smart city projects, solutions, implementations, all these cool things happening. Um, and with that, thank you so much. Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.