In the French department of Alpes-Maritimes, Keolis Alpes-Maritimes has taken on two major challenges: to increase the number of passengers on the ZOU! network by 30% and to introduce a fleet of all-electric intercity vehicles in one year. A race against the clock, where the main challenge is managing the process of change.
Going beyond the expectations of the region
Supporting the public transport authorities in meeting their objectives is a priority for Keolis. And for Région Sud, the main priority is to be a pioneering region in the energy transition. When it launched its call for tenders in 2020, the public transport authority identified three emblematic lines of the ZOU! network (lines 200, 230 and 100) to launch its conversion to low-carbon energy. A fine ambition which Keolis has nonetheless decided to take even further by suggesting the electrification of 100% of the fleet by July 2023. Which represents 123 intercity vehicles running along the coast and in the Grasse sector, including the double-decker buses of line 230, a first in France.
As soon as it had been announced that Keolis had been awarded two out of three lots, the entire project team got down to work, both technically (feasibility studies, permit applications, roadworks to install pantographs and charging terminals, dimensioning and electrification of depots, ordering vehicles, applying for subsidies) and in terms of human resources (training plan for the teams, maintenance, operation and driving, recruiting the skills needed to manage this major change). All these new tasks called for the creation of a new position: that of Engineering and Energy Transition Director. The transformation is being implemented by Sandrine Boutry, who is managing and monitoring the project at all levels: administrative, legal, technical and human.
On the technical side, the equations that require solving are complex, with constraints that vary according to the topology and length of the different lines, as well as the requirements for autonomy. "We have to make sure that the charging stations work properly, with one goal: service continuity," explains Sandrine Boutry. "The slow charging terminals are reserved for buses that can be charged in the evening. The fast charging terminals located at the terminals and in the streets can charge the high-speed lines in under three minutes.”
Change management and new professional training
While technical constraints, safety and timing are major issues for the subsidiary, the greatest challenge for Keolis is managing the process of change. "The switch from thermal to electric is a major change which calls for a new, global way of organising the company and creating new jobs," explains Clémence Cordier, Sector Marketing and Sales Representative for the Alpes-Maritimes subsidiary. With the switch to electricity, the jobs change. Mechanics become electromechanics, network regulators also need to learn how to handle vehicle autonomy and drivers need to improve their skills in eco-driving. And maintenance technicians need new accreditation for battery maintenance. "It’s essential to support our teams so that everyone can adopt new ways of working, with performance objectives that are changing," Sandrine Boutry points out. "We’re training our maintenance technicians in depot safety issues and we’re training our drivers in eco-driving to help them get to grips with the vehicles and the new energy.”
A more attractive network to increase passenger numbers
Improving mobility services to encourage residents and tourists to use fewer cars is the second key objective of the local authority, which is aiming for a 30% increase in network patronage. This is all the more important given that road traffic on the coastal strip becomes denser in the summer with the influx of tourists. Keolis is therefore deploying a whole range of measures to improve mobility services: better complementarity with the regional TER rail networks and city networks, optimised passenger information, more services on weekends, an evening service to Nice airport, etc. And Keolis is even going out to meet the inhabitants and tourists of Alpes-Maritimes with its mobile agency in markets, tourist areas, shopping centres, businesses, etc. to promote the attractions of the network and sell transport tickets.
Our employees say it best
Clémence Cordier, sector marketing and sales representative for the Alpes-Maritimes subsidiary
"The transition to electricity is creating positive momentum throughout the whole company. It's a great way to bring people together and everyone understands how important it is to make this change to contribute to the energy transition. It has also become a key selection criterion in tenders."
The ZOU! network in Alpes-Maritimes
km covered per year
journeys per year
including 240 drivers