#79 iTranSys: AI-Powered Public Transport Management

Episode 85 June 12, 2024 00:31:36
#79 iTranSys: AI-Powered Public Transport Management
Smart in the City – The BABLE Podcast
#79 iTranSys: AI-Powered Public Transport Management

Jun 12 2024 | 00:31:36


Hosted By

Tamlyn Shimizu

Show Notes

In this episode, we talked with Milan Sarzik, Business Development and Marketing at iTranSys, about their AI-powered public transport optimisation tool. The discussion covered how this innovative solution addresses driver shortages and inefficient scheduling in Slovakia, showcasing significant improvements in cities like Povazska Bystrica.

The conversation also delved into the challenges and insights gained from various regional implementations and examined the potential for international expansion.


Overview of the episode:

[00:02:02] Teaser Question: "If iTranSys was a type of food, what type of food would it be?"

[00:03:34] Our guest's background

[00:05:32] The problem iTranSys aims to solve for cities

[00:12:08] Planning and real-time management powered by AI

[00:14:59] Learnings from implementations

[00:17:23] Balancing stakeholder needs

[00:19:49] Future development plans

[00:24:55] Roll With the Punches: our guest answers this or that questions quickly and with their first instinct!

[00:28:52] Ending Question: "To you, what is a Smart City?"


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Tamlyn Shimizu: 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. [00:00:21] Tamlyn Shimizu: I am your host, Tamlyn Shimizu, and I hope you will enjoy this episode and gain knowledge and connections to accelerate the change for a better urban life. [00:00:31] Tamlyn Shimizu: Smart in the city is brought to you by BABLE Smart cities. We enable processes from research and strategy development to cocreation and implementation. To learn more about us, please visit the BABLE platform at BABLE Smartcities. EU. [00:00:46] Tamlyn Shimizu: Welcome back to another episode of Smart in the city, everyone. This is a special episode hosted by one of my colleagues, this time hosted by our CEO and founder, Alexander Schmidt. I hope you enjoyed the change in voice and pace and I will catch you next time. [00:01:02] Alexander Schmidt: Hello everyone, and welcome to our second episode with a winner from our urban Shark Tank session at the autonomy Mobility World Expo this March. The company iTranSys was co winners alongside Karos Mobility. If you missed our previous episode on Karos Mobilitys AI powered carpooling project, make sure to get back and give it a listen. It's packed with fascinating insights into how AI is revolutionizing carpooling, but today we focus on iTranSys cutting edge AI powered public transport optimization solution, addressing Slovakia's pressing issues on driver shortages and inefficient scheduling. Their solution offers a quick timetable adjustment, advanced scheduling algorithms and enhancements in driver and passenger satisfaction, aiming at substantial ESG goal achievements. Without further ado, I would like you to be introduced to Milan Sarzik. He's responsible for business development and marketing at iTranSys. Welcome, Milan. [00:02:02] Milan Sarzik: Thank you very much, Alex. It's an honor and pleasure to be here. [00:02:06] Alexander Schmidt: Great to have you on the podcast. Before we start our line of questioning, I'll have a warm up question for you. Let's get it started on the light way. So to say, if iTranSys was a type of food, what type of food would it be? [00:02:22] Milan Sarzik: Oh, that's a, that's a funny and good question, actually. Interestingly enough, we did talk about this with our team, and my colleague Janko had a very nice and interesting answer. He said if I chances was a type of food, he would like it to be a bokeh or bokeh ball. And the reason was that because poke is a very healthy, diverse dish with lots of ingredients, etcetera. And I really like the dancer and I hope he doesn't mind me borrowing it today. So if we were a type of food I would like iTranSys to be a nice, yummy, healthy pokeball served somewhere in Hawaii or another tropical island. [00:03:18] Alexander Schmidt: That does a lot for the taste if it's served in Hawaii. Very cool answer. Kudos to the colleague for coming up with that. So now let's talk a little bit about your background. What got you to where you are today? [00:03:34] Milan Sarzik: My background is mainly in business development in terms of itransys. So itransys is a small group of eight people, plus some external consultants, and I'm basically the only non it person at the company. So everyone else focuses on software development or engineering, and I'm in charge of sales, marketing, partnerships, pr, everything non technical, basically. And that's also what I spent most of my professional life doing. So I tried to grow multiple projects in different countries and that's also what I'm trying to do at itransys. [00:04:19] Alexander Schmidt: Very cool. Where are you based and where are you operating at the moment? [00:04:24] Milan Sarzik: So we are based in Slovakia, in a small town called Ziolina. But it's not so small for Slovakia. It's like 80 to 90,000 people, which I know in some countries it would be a small town, but for Slovakia it's one of the biggest cities, actually number five, maybe six. And it's in northwestern part, very close to the mountains. And also the reason why we are based here is because there is a pretty famous university which is focused on transport and technology here in the town. We are actually based on campus. So that's where we are. That's where most of the team lives. And, yeah, that's where we operate. [00:05:14] Alexander Schmidt: Good source for talent then as well. It sounds like a great place to live and to work from. Before we talk about your solution more in depth, let's talk about the problem that you are solving with your solution. So what is it that you help cities with? [00:05:32] Milan Sarzik: Well, that's a very interesting question. So the original story behind iTranSys, or the problem which was there as a motivation for creating the company, goes way back. So our founder's grandfather worked in public transport innovation for more than 50 years. He started a university. He was the dean of the university, which I mentioned here in Ziolina. And he had formed a group of experts around himself, which worked in public transport innovation. And this group of people saw a need for a public transport optimization tool, which cities, regions or any other public transport provider could use to improve not only the public transport itself, but in terms of how the transport is planned, how the vehicles run, whether the drivers and passengers are satisfied. Et cetera, but also to help them improve their operations, processes and everything else connected to this. And from this area, we then moved to other subfields, I would say, in transport, but this was what was at the beginning or at the core and the problem, why the company started and why it's still working. [00:07:08] Alexander Schmidt: Okay, wow. So this is basically the third generation working on that? [00:07:12] Milan Sarzik: Yes. Yes. More than 70 years now in total. [00:07:17] Alexander Schmidt: Very interesting. Despite, you know, in the area where you are currently, you've rolled out your solution into several other areas in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic. What type of cities or regions, you know, normally have the highest need for your solution or have the highest kind of challenges in the area? [00:07:41] Milan Sarzik: I think because public transport and mobility are very complex issues. I don't think there is a city which can honestly say that, yes, our public transport is perfect and also everything is changing so fast and many cities are getting bigger. There are even new cities being built in Egypt or Saudi Arabia and other countries. So I believe there is always something to. To be improved. And that's why we are here and because we do have a good market share, at least here in Slovakia, where we work with almost 80% of public transport providers, plus some public transport providers in the Czech Republic. Public, from our experience, I think we can say, and I believe other people would agree as well, that the vast majority of cities do experience some sort of issues with public transport. Obviously depends from a city to city or from a country to country. [00:08:49] Tamlyn Shimizu: Okay. [00:08:50] Alexander Schmidt: So there's always room for improvement, for optimization. That sounds also like the experience I have visiting a lot of cities in Europe. So explain to us a little bit more how your solution works with the algorithm behind it. How does it achieve those improvements? [00:09:07] Milan Sarzik: It depends on what tool which we have we are talking about. But, for example, the main tool which we have is a very simple or easy to use optimization platform which a user let it be a city, region or anyone else who is planning or creating public transport can import their data into. And this would be the data about routes, trips, timetables, et cetera. And once they import the data into the tool, they can pretty much start optimizing almost instantly. Maybe to give you a specific example, I think, Alex, you are based in Stuttgart, is it right? [00:09:55] Alexander Schmidt: Yes, sir, I am. [00:09:57] Milan Sarzik: Okay, perfect. So if you imagine Stuttgart has a big public transport network. And now let's imagine if you take one bus line, and I'll make up a number. Let's say bus line 20. Let's say bus line number 20 starts at 07:00 a.m. and it runs every 30 minutes. And now imagine if you want to change when this one bus line runs by five minutes. So it doesn't start at 07:00 a.m. but starts at, let's say, 07:05 or 655. Now, if you want to do this, this is going to, even if it's a minor change from like the whole Stuttgart perspective, because the city has many lines, it's going to have a very significant impact on the overall network. And people who are planning or constructing the public transport plans, they need to be able to calculate this. Or another example would be if something is happening on the road, they need to be able to react to the changes very quickly. And many cities or even transport engineers in many countries, they do these calculations by hand or in excel, which is. And it's a very difficult task, which means it's going to take very long, very long hours. It's going to be very difficult. On the other side, our users or cities that use our platform can do it in minutes or sometimes in seconds, depending on the size. But while also achieving, let's say, savings in vehicles, less transits, less CO2, less delays, et cetera. So that's basically what the main platform which we have is about and what it does. [00:11:52] Alexander Schmidt: That means you do optimization in the planning stage, but you can also kind of manage life when something is happening. Because as we all know, our transport system never runs as it's supposed to be. There's always an accident or something happening. So it does both. It does the planning element and the. [00:12:08] Milan Sarzik: Life management from what we hear from our users or what we planned or developed the software with, was to give them an option to react very quickly. So once again, if they import their data into the tool, they can create different scenarios in the tool very quickly. So if something happens, it's not like real time or instant right now, but it's a very significant improvement compared to if you have to do something in, let's say, Excel, which many transport engineers do, or they did here in Slovakia in the past. So that's what they can do with the tool. And that was one of the, what we believe to be one of the main benefits is to be able to react quickly to changes that happen, and they happen a lot. [00:13:03] Alexander Schmidt: Very interesting, very cool. I can still remember when I was studying transport engineering, we were standing at the junction manually counting the number of trucks and vehicles going through. We've come a long way from there. You are even using one of the most used terms at the moment, artificial intelligence. For your software and for your services. Can you explain a little bit more, maybe a little beyond the password of just AI, what it does and why it helps? [00:13:33] Milan Sarzik: Sure. So we use AI in the optimization itself. So how the new plans are calculated, maybe something not more interesting, but also something. What I will mention is that we also develop models for predicting delays and occupancy rates for vehicles in public transport, and predictions are done by AI. What's interesting about this project is that we developed these models in over via a research partnership with the University of Giolina, which I mentioned in the beginning. So that's also something what I believe is interesting and what can be very interesting to cities, for them to be able to predict how the vehicles are going to be delayed. So that's something from like, as I see it from my citizen or customer perspective, let's say in terms of like the technology perspective, that would be a better question for our engineers. But this is how I see it from my, if I think about it as a citizen or as someone who would be buying or using the platform or the models. [00:14:59] Alexander Schmidt: Very cool, very cool. And talking about the users, you said you 80% of ptos cities regions in Slovakia are already customers, and several also in the Czech Republic. There are some very different types of cities and regions. Every region has their own specificities, specifically around transport. So what did you learn when implementing those things? What are the differences? What are the things that maybe even surprised you? [00:15:28] Milan Sarzik: So I'll start with maybe the biggest or one of the biggest learnings. I don't think it's something would like surprise us a lot. I think we expected it, but maybe not in such a big way. And the learning would be that if you work in a field as complex as public transport or mobility or smart cities, it's very important to listen to your partners and users, because so only over the next or the last twelve months, we have added like more than 200 features to the platform. And most of them were based on our users feedback, so they would request something to be added. We add the feature to the platform and then we give access to this feature to everyone for free, not just the user who requested it. And so I think this allows us, even if we are a small team internally, up to ten people, if we count our users and partners in it, makes basically hundreds of people working together on improving the public transport. So that would be one of the biggest learnings would be, especially in complicated fields where you have so many people who somehow are part of the process, it's very important to listen to them and talk less because you cannot force the changes. If you are working with cities, you have to be able to find compromises and you have to be able to find a common ground. So that would be something what we learned and are learning all the time. [00:17:23] Alexander Schmidt: Okay. Wow. Yeah. You set up the next bit quite nicely because you said the balancing and the kind of, you know, prioritizing between the needs of different stakeholders is very, very important. You know, having economic factors against environmental, against social factors. And I heard from you that this is part of the algorithm. So how do you do that in practice? Because it might be optimum, but it might not be seen the same way by different types of stakeholders. [00:17:57] Milan Sarzik: Well, as you said, there are many stakeholders who we have to take into account and we have to work with them. Yes, there are cities, city councils, drivers, passengers, transport engineers, etcetera, a lot of people. And as I said, we do have to take them into account and we try our best to do it. But something, what we've been really working on lately is that we also try to stay in our circle of competence because we are not here to tell our users or clients exactly what to do with the platform. We are not here to tell them what exactly they have to implement in practice. That's up to them because they know. I'll use Stuttgart one more time as an example. If we want to improve the actual public transport in Stuttgart, it needs to be done at least at the point where we are right now or where the world is. It needs to be done also by someone who really knows the city. So we don't tell, tell these people exactly what to do. We are here to give them the best possible tools which then they can use to do their job effectively. And we believe that if this happens, then we can all enjoy better public transport and that's what we focus on. [00:19:33] Alexander Schmidt: Sounds great. Makes a lot of sense. And as you said, that adds a lot of functionality and benefits to the platform. Working so closely together with cities that you think is coming next for iTranSys, for your development. [00:19:49] Milan Sarzik: So right now we are, I would say international expansion is one of our main goals. Now we want to see whether we can replicate what we did in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, in other countries as well. And it's actually very interesting because we talk to cities in, obviously, so we are in Slovakia and maybe the natural progression would be in, like, Western Europe or northern Europe, etcetera, which we do want to do. But it's also interesting because we try to talk to cities in like very different parts of the world. For example, cities in Southeast Asia, which is very interesting and from what we take from those conversations is that our tool can be, it works in Slovakia, it's going to work in western Europe. If it can help the cities, it's great. But it's very interesting to talk to cities in, let's say Southeast Asia is a real good example because the cities are very big, they are growing, there is a lot of public transport and the cities we talk to, they plan very big public transport networks and the networks are thousands of buses. We talked to a city which has 4500 daily active buses, which is incredible number and they plan it in excel right now, which is just mind blowing to be able to do that. And if we can help them to do their job more effectively, that makes us happy. And also from our conversations with them is also something what they want to do because they do realize that they kind of need to move on because it's very hard to sustain that level. If you are planning a very complex, very big public transport networks to do it in excel, super difficult. So that's what we are working on. We are trying to find countries and cities where our tools can be most helpful and at the same time we are working on other tools. For example, we are now starting to work in demand responsive transport, which is a big trend now, as I mentioned, we work on the predictions for dlas and occupancy rates and we are always working on the core domain platform which we have. [00:22:32] Alexander Schmidt: Wow. Lots of stuff still to come. That's great to hear, Milan. And I love this explorer mindset that what you do now in 90,000 inhabitants, that you could work in cities in southeast Asia with millions of habitants and maybe as many buses as, as some of the cities have inhabitants that you are working with right now. That's really cool to hear. At the end of this section, we always give an open floor if there is anything that you still want to talk about that is important to you, close to your heart, anything that you want to share with our listeners. [00:23:11] Milan Sarzik: I would say to everyone who is listening, don't be so hard on public transport in your city. From what we get from working with the people who do it, most of the people, they really do their best. It can be very difficult to take what we talked about in the podcast, to take everything in, all the information and to be able to react to all the changes. It's very difficult. And there are also a lot of shortages for both drivers in Slovakia. That's a very big issue right now, but also for transport engineers. There are not many people who work in that field and many of those people, there are cities here in Slovakia which basically rely on one person. So if something happens to that person, the public transport in the city can basically go down. And this happens in many countries. So I would say don't be so hard on the public transport. Of course there are issues, but many of the people are really working over time and doing their best to make it work. [00:24:30] Alexander Schmidt: Okay, great. Be kind to one another. Be kind to your public transport system. And I like that a lot. Very good. Very good point on this session where we got closing remark on the interview. We are moving to our next segment. That's a fun one. One of my favorites, really. It's called roll with the punches. [00:24:55] Tamlyn Shimizu: Roll with the punches. Answer this or that questions quickly and with your first instincts. [00:25:05] Alexander Schmidt: So no explanations, no thinking, really go with your gut. And afterwards you can. We're going to ask you a little bit on the. On the why and you can explain a little bit. But first, now really go with your first instinct. Split second to reply. Ready? [00:25:23] Milan Sarzik: Okay, let's do it. [00:25:25] Alexander Schmidt: Brilliant. Train or bus? [00:25:28] Milan Sarzik: Train. [00:25:29] Alexander Schmidt: Smartphone or book? [00:25:31] Milan Sarzik: Book. [00:25:33] Alexander Schmidt: AI assistant or colleagues? [00:25:36] Milan Sarzik: Colleagues. [00:25:37] Alexander Schmidt: Low tech or high tech? [00:25:40] Milan Sarzik: High tech. [00:25:41] Alexander Schmidt: Beer or wine? [00:25:44] Milan Sarzik: I don't drink alcohol. [00:25:46] Alexander Schmidt: It's also a good answer because the next one is then drinking or driving? [00:25:50] Milan Sarzik: Driving. [00:25:53] Alexander Schmidt: That one answered itself automatically. Anything you want to add on those ones? On why you prefer one about the other? [00:26:03] Milan Sarzik: Maybe train and bus is an interesting choice. So the reason why I chose train is that you can move around. Especially if you are doing a. If it's a short journey, like in a city, it doesn't matter. For example, I would prefer a bus to taking a cab. But if it's like a long journey and I have to choose between a bus and a train, I'll go for a train just because I can move around. I can go for a walk because I'm quite tall. So it can be. If the seats are not or there is not too much space. It's a bit hard, but that's maybe something what I would add to. But otherwise. Well, it also would be interesting to hear your answers. [00:26:59] Alexander Schmidt: Oh well, I'm certainly with you on the problem with having space in public transport. I think us people with around 1 meter 90 cm, we should be receiving enough space to move in public transport. There was a funny petition which I supported on LinkedIn to give the emergency access to the tall people across the world. I feel you on a lot of this and my answer for the beer or wine, things would be done. Well, beer and wine. That might have been the biggest difference between our answers, but one that I want to quickly talk about is the AI assistant or colleagues. You chose the colleagues. [00:27:42] Milan Sarzik: I do like spending time with people. I used to be very introverted when I was young, and I would force myself to go out of my comfort zone and actually meet new people. And then I somehow got used to it. So I'm originally from Slovakia, went to elementary, middle and high school here. And then I moved to Scotland for university, which was like a very big, like, hit for my comfort zone. And I would have to force myself to really, because I wanted to meet new people. It was just hard, but somehow I got used to it. And then somehow I ended up working in sales and business development, which I guess it's not natural for introverted people, but yeah. And then I started enjoying it. And now I really like spending time with people, meeting new people, and I like going to our office, so I'll always go for colleagues and real people. [00:28:52] Alexander Schmidt: Yeah, that's a problem about a podcast. One cannot see how you're smiling all the time talking about colleagues and your solution. That's really great to see. Let's move on to the final question that we ask every one of our guests. And you can answer that from your personal perspective, of course. So what is a smart city to you? [00:29:16] Milan Sarzik: Well, that's a good question, and I'm sure there are many detailed and professional definitions of what a smart city is or is not. I'll maybe try to answer it from maybe a citizen perspective. As someone who lives in a city, I think a smart city is a city that is willing to move forward and wants to improve how the things are currently run. I think it doesn't matter so much where or in what situation the city is right now because everyone has to start somewhere. But in my opinion, it's really the willingness and the effort that counts. And because I think things can change very quickly and people tend to look at stuff which is happening from a kind of a short term perspective. But I believe that most of the cities are moving, even if they are moving slowly, but. But most of them are moving in a good direction. And that's smart, I think. [00:30:36] Alexander Schmidt: I love the optimism in that part, and I totally share this. So thank you, Milan. That was fun. Congrats again for winning the urban shark tank and to many more great solutions implemented with your expansion plans. Thank you for joining. [00:30:51] Milan Sarzik: Thank you so much, Alex. It was a pleasure talking to you and being a guest here. Thank you. [00:30:57] Alexander Schmidt: Brilliant. And to all of our listeners, don't forget you can always create a free account on BABLE smartcities EU to find out more about smart city projects, solutions and implementations. Thank you all very much. Have an amazing day. [00:31:12] Tamlyn Shimizu: Thank you all for listening. I'll see you at the next stop on the journey to a better urban life.

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