Urban Public Transport Workshop shows that Trade Union involvement is key in “Going Digital”

25 Nov 2019

The social partners in urban public transport, ETF and UITP, the International Association of Public Transport, held the workshop Digital transformation in maintenance and its impact on work in urban public transport on 20 and 21 November 2019 in Paris. The meeting gathered researchers and experts from trade unions as well as urban public transport (UPT) companies from across Europe.

Participants spent two days discussing the impact of digitalisation on the public transport sector. The following technological developments in maintenance were identified as key issues:

  • Predictive maintenance;
  • Condition-based maintenance;
  • Sensor-based maintenance;
  • Remote maintenance;
  • Automated diagnosis of cause of failure based on machine learning;
  • Computer-analysis and use of tablets;
  • Stock and missing part management.

The workshop showed that although digitalisation of maintenance is expected to have a significant impact on work and employment in UPT, actual changes in maintenance regimes are still in the early stages. From a trade union’s point of view, it is essential that workers are involved in companies’ plans to “go digital” and introduce new technologies. Likewise, participants agreed that a step-by-step approach and gradual deployment of new devices are needed. The discussion confirmed a growing need for continuous (re-)training of transport employees to ensure adequate skills and capability to confidently work with new technologies and new devices. The employers’ representatives highlighted that the possibility for employees to sign up for e-learning courses is becoming more and more common across UPT companies.

The discussions during the workshop showed that there is a potential for digitalisation to contribute to the creation of completely new job profiles, such as maintenance planners. However, companies together with trade unions agreed that such new professions and the skills required for them are still to be defined.

Besides the exchange of views between trade unionists and employers, the workshop served as an opportunity for participants to learn from concrete examples and explore new technologies and their functioning in UPT companies.

Practical examples showed that if “going digital” is done in a reasonable way, it can not only be beneficial for companies, but it can also facilitate employees’ tasks or alleviate some of their workload. However, it was stressed that communication between staff representatives and management is of the utmost importance.

Participants agreed that lack of dialogue about foreseen digital changes leads to developing a doubtful attitude towards digitalisation as well as a fear of job losses and overall uncertainty about the future of the urban public transport companies and their functioning. That is why trade unions’ involvement in designing a company strategy to deal with digitalisation is a crucial criterion that must be met if the digital transformation is to be successful and benefit all.