Redesigning cities in the age of digital revolution


Redesigning cities in the age of digital revolution


Since May 2015 Elisabeth Borne has been CEO of RATP Group. She is also President of the Supervisory Council of Systra, the engineering subsidiary of RATP and SNCF.


The Women’s Forum Global Meeting provides a good opportunity to acknowledge that cities can no longer be conceived by and for men, and that the city of the future must serve all of all of us and incorporate a feminine approach.

While a UN report predicts an additional 2.5 billion urban residents by 2050, the havoc wreaked by unregulated urbanization is strikingly clear: uncontrolled urban sprawl and sub-urbanization; the delayed development of urban services – transport, in particular – and their inability to meet the explosion in demand; the intensification of social inequities in the urban sphere; and massive air pollution which is having a direct impact on the health of an increasing number of city dwellers.

At the same time, the digital revolution is generating a major transformation in what people expect from the city and how they use city services. Putting aside for a moment some of the troubling questions, such as the use of personal data, the new services ushered in by the digital revolution represent inestimable opportunities.

As with the onset of digitalization, new modes of urbanization must be sufficiently regulated and coordinated to actively contribute to the harmonious development of the world’s major cities. We must create a model for a more eco-friendly, a more sustainable and a smarter city.

The RATP Group, operating in 15 countries across four continents, seeks to play a central role in developing this new urban model, as a key player in sustainable mobility. Applying the tools of the digital revolution to the transport sector, RATP is poised to meet the unprecedented increase in mobility needs. Above all, RATP is capable of implementing solutions suited to each situation, region, and to the specific needs of its passengers. And that justifies putting an end to some stubborn misconceptions.

First of all, let’s stop setting “conventional” modes of transport against new, emerging options. Connected and autonomous vehicles will not replace, but may indeed supplement, the Ile-de-France regional RER. With more than 1.2 million passengers every day, the RER A line is an irreplaceable mass transit solution for the Paris region. No innovative mode of transport could replace it within the foreseeable future. However, the new transport solutions of the digital revolution can offer “door-to-door” routes, on request, that are complementary and extremely useful for our passengers. Smart cities will not provide a miracle solution to the challenges of urban transport, but rather a combination of possibilities which – brought together in an efficient and clear way – will be the best solution for all passengers, depending on their needs and expectations.

Let us also do away with the opposition of the so-called “old Paris Metro” and new, innovative transport solutions. Technology is not always where we think it is. Like the RER, the Paris Metro relies on myriad innovations that are not always visible to our passengers, but which have a strong impact on the quality of service and the maintenance of our infrastructure. Thanks to the digital revolution, we are now improving the operational performance of the Ile-de-France network. For example, during the restoration of the trackbeds of the central section of the RER A this summer, we implemented Wi-Fi sensors in the stations to measure anonymously the flow of passengers redirected from the RER to the Metro. In so doing we were able to compare our forecasts with the reality, and thereby better prepare the rest of the works for next year.

This proves that RATP, a traditional player, has fully integrated the world of digital technology. We also have the strong conviction that it is essential to combine the strength and expertise of a major public group with the agility of start-ups, in the service of a smarter city. We are working, for example, with a young Californian start-up specializing in big-data technologies to optimize the operation of the Casablanca tramway network by the RATP Group. We are also using these big-data technologies in the Ile-de-France region for the predictive maintenance of our rolling stock. These solutions can of course be adapted for other regions.

The optimization of economic and environmental resources is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century city, and transport plays a decisive role. Our goal to replace our 4,500 buses with a fleet that is 100% clean (electric and bio-NGV) by 2015 – an ambition backed by our board – reflects our determination to make Paris and its surrounding region the global capital of urban and sustainable mobility. Moreover, the aim is to promote innovative urban mobility with new modes of transport, such as autonomous electric river shuttles that we tested along the Seine River in September, to offer innovative solutions that will supplement conventional modes of transport.

Lastly, it should be remembered that urban public transport is a source of empowerment for many members of the community unable to own personal vehicles, whether for economic reasons or, in certain countries, due to their gender. The prohibition on women driving is still a reality, just like the sense of insecurity regarding travel in overloaded transport networks used mainly by men. A high-quality transport service enables many women to discover (or rediscover) a way to reach the city and its services in complete freedom and security.


Meet Elisabeth Borne at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Deauville – Thursday 01 Dec. at 11:20