Exclusive Interview with Dr. Amudhan Valavan, Executive Director, TECHSACS

Anushka Khare Posted on: 2020-09-23 15:14:00 Viewer: 6,172 Comments: 0 Country: India City: Chennai

Exclusive Interview with Dr. Amudhan Valavan, Executive Director, TECHSACS

Dr. Amudhan Valavan possesses over 26 years of experience in Public Transport and Urban Mobility related fields since 1993. From 2016, he has worked as an Independent Consultant and Adviser to leading Companies like Thriveni Earthmovers, Thriveni Sainik and also RTA, Dubai and KPTC, Kuwait etc. on several technical assistance and training projects in India & the Middle-East and managed a number of projects involving numerous experts and multidisciplinary teams.

Dr. Valavan finished his graduation in BITS, PILANI in 2004, further he was awarded a Doctorate in Management (h.c) in 2018 from Young Scientist University, USA. He has constantly been upgrading his knowledge with the latest trends and technologies in the field of transportation i.e MaaS, E-Mobility, Urban Transport Planning, Climate Change, Carbon Funding, IoT, Artificial Intelligence, and Smart Technologies through leading International Institutions like Delft University of Technology, Netherlands, University of Copenhagen, Yonsei University, South Korea, École Des Ponts Paristech, France, INSEAD, IBM, World Bank and currently pursuing courses with Oxford University, UK. His Professional Affiliations membership status is with ISM-USA, ITE-USA & SAE INDIA. He is also a fellowship Member and Chartered Engineer from the Institution of Engineers (India). The course of his educational journey is an inspiration to many young aspirants who want to make a change in the transportation Industry.

Congratulations on bagging the "Transport Researcher of the year" award at Rail Infra and Mobility Business Digital Awards 2020. Before we begin, please tell us a little bit about your professional journey in the transportation industry?

Thank you for your accomplishments. My career started in the year 1993  when I joined as a Graduate Trainee in PT.Dr.JJTC Pvt Ltd (currently goes by the name “SETC, Tamilnadu Ltd, Chennai). There were other attractive courses for a Mechanical Engineer in those days, industries were booming opportunities were plenty, but my heart and mind were long set towards the field of transportation. Through constant hard work and sincere efforts, I benchmarked the levels of development in the Transport sector and reached a designation of Executive Director in TECHNO SOCIAL organization like TECHSACS.

After my initial assignment with the maintenance division of State Express Transport Corporation (Tamilnadu) – Chennai, India, as  Sr. Engineer,  I  have had an enriching experience (for almost 7 years) in the operational services and maintenance aspect of the transportation business of Kuwait Public Transport Co. – Safat, Kuwait, under the stewardship of Vice Chairman (Maintenance & Operation), in the role of Senior Researcher – Planning & Development.

Post-Kuwait experience, I moved back to my motherland, India, initially joining with M/s Parveen Automobiles (AB Group) Ltd as Head Service for one year and afterwards for almost 5 years with SRM Transports (India) Pvt. Ltd. – Chennai, India, I contributed my part as Head of Maintenance. Post my SRM services, I was a Senior Bus Expert to RTA, Dubai through M/s Bahwan Cybertek, in their “SMART BUS MAINTENANCE SYSTEM Project.” 

With many years of experience working under various government and private runners in the Transportation field, I decided to follow my dream of being an independent consultant and contribute to the field of transportation to make its shift to face the coming era.

Currently, I provide consulting, education, guidance, mentoring and training for companies in India & Internationally for transport planning success.

What things inspired you to choose your career in the transport sectors?

My Uncle did almost all maintenance and repairs on the family vehicles himself, and by the time I was eight, I helped him in the garage fixing all those fancy toys which were always a fascination to me. I can still remember him telling me why the correct sequence for tightening head bolts was important when I was helping him do a “top overhaul” on our family car when I was nine. As soon as I was old enough to reach the pedals (I think I was twelve) he taught me to drive, though I never drove off the compounds of our private farm until I got my license in the future. Though cars and small vehicles remained in my fascination, I still wanted to go big. Buses were big and provided indispensible service to many villages and cities. They served as an invaluable component to the development of the nation. I decided I wanted to play my part in it.

And then, there is this one incident which I remember, that forged in me the desire and passion to stay and contribute my best to the field of Transportation. It was the eve of Diwali; I was a Graduate Trainee during 1993, the nights are usually crazy during festivities in India, people moving to their natives to be with their loved ones. There was one particular bus that had a small hiccup with its headlights, it had to come back to have the light fixed before resuming its journey. The small rerouting and delay caused a frenzy amongst every passenger on the bus that night. But the Foreman in-charge handled the situation like a charm despite having every reason to go home early and spend his time with his family during Diwali. I would like to be a part of that team, that family which tirelessly works with a service-oriented mind, silently enhancing the daily experience of millions of commuters. The need for betterment and sophistication of the transport system is high and right now very few are putting all their efforts into achieving a superior Transportation. On seeing his attitude, I was motivated to serve in the Public Transport Sector as a social service in my life.

To simply put, my personal interest in vehicles and mass transit, combined with my burning desire to serve selflessly, fuelled with the immense opportunities, potential and scope for development in this field have drawn me to become who I am right now, an expert in Transport Mobility. I have dedicated my life to the development and glory of this backbone and to bring innovation and effectiveness in the system. I would be extremely happy if multitudes are inspired to bring a revolution in this industry.

Please highlight some major research activities and their outcomes carried by you towards solving transportation issues?

All throughout my professional journey, in various positions, I have been involved in the countless number of research activities. Be it small or big, the change that every minute detail that was observed showed scope for improvement and transformation. There is always a better way. Right now, in my opinion, the better way for Public Transportation in India is adopting ITS and employing MaaS concepts in practical ways thereby making public transport effective, sustainable for the future, and more appealing to the public. Millions of people commute every day and millions and millions of valuable man-hours are wasted waiting for a bus or in the availability of smooth transition between modes of travel. Employing MaaS, ITS, and recent trends like IoT (Internet of Things) can bring revolutionary changes in the way the veins of our country, our transport system can contribute to the nation's growth. I have been talking to various heads in India and abroad to bring these concepts a reality.

How did Covid-19 affect the transportation industry and commute?

It is no secret that Covid-19 has brought almost all public activities to a standstill. Public transport has been no different. Even private movement is curbed completely by tight regulations in view to restrict the spread of the virus. This has awakened a sense of cleanliness among the public. Countries like Korea have adopted advanced technologies in closed space bus stops. Temperature detection, Ultra Violet C Type light sterilization, and other advanced technology are on the rise and are widely welcomed by the general public. The sudden burst in COVID-19 spread has turned the face of people towards the need for a clean transportation system. This is a wakeup call to every field that needs sanitization. New technologies will continue to emerge and it is the need of the hour.

Do you think that ITS can solve the transportation problems in India?

Yes, most definitely. I would not say ITS alone can solve most of the problems in India. But ITS is a step taken further in achieving many practical problems that our traditional transport architecture faces. ITS is powerful in itself, but there are various other combinational factors that contribute to a developed transport system. By Employing ITS, there is more control and insights on vehicles and passengers, the behavioural and functional data combined with IOT and Artificial Intelligence can put India at the forefront of the transport field.

What role can MaaS and the new forms of transportation play in making transportation more accessible for all?

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on-demand through apps or kiosks. In this modern-day and age, there has been a burst in the availability of various modes of transport for any destination, be it locally or across borders. But it is up to the individual to decide with their limited knowledge and experience on how to reach their destination. This often leads to wastage of resources and time; the whole journey is not always a smooth experience. MaaS solves this problem by bringing in a wholesome system that's smart enough to optimize the travel based on customer needs. Integration of MaaS with concepts of IoT and Artificial Intelligence gives an individual passenger easy access to multimodal transportation thereby greatly enhancing the travel experience and encouraging many people to opt for public transportation.

What other things could be happening right now to make transport more accessible for everyone?

The key element recognized for a high quality, sustainable, and efficient transport system is accessibility. Indeed all of us as users of the transport system benefit from easier access to buses, metros, trains, planes, and ships. The economic benefits of better accessibility for transport operators and service providers are also becoming progressively clearer. The first step towards better accessibility is access to reliable information regarding the timing and availability of various modes of transport that an individual can use at any given moment. The knowledge of the applications and other smart technology available at the individual's disposal greatly enhances the common interest in public transportation. Transport poverty is another issue that's creeping in the shadows on the outskirts of developing cities. Identifying the areas that need proper connectivity based on the demand and other statistical data is another key factor that would re-establish the faith in public transportation among the public from all walks of life.

How do we make the process of designing transportation more inclusive?

City populations are growing exponentially; this aggravates urban challenges like congestion and pollution. Multimodal integration promotes social growth through greater access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities and also solving many challenges that public transport currently faces. The availability of additional, convenient transit options also acts to reduce private car ownership. Inclusiveness of transportation begins with Smart Technologies like Automated  Fare   Collection,  Connected and Automated Vehicles infused with Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things, security and surveillance, Climate Free Modernization of available modes of transport to reach destination, Real-Time Passenger and Driver Information and Multimodal Transport (i.e. Maas- Mobility as a Service). The requirements are named out, now all we need is a team of enthusiastic individuals who share the same passion for transportation to come together and speed up the process of evolution.

How do we make sure that new forms of mobility are an attractive solution for people?

This is a brilliant question, one that needs to be thought about beforehand. Unless and until the public feels the newer system is advantageous and attractive, the implementation of smart technologies will not be welcomed. The learning curve and adopting rate are high but when the public is well convinced of the advantages, the work is done easily.  Collecting evidential data and presenting in a form that appeals to the public is a must. Media support is crucial in creating proper awareness among the public. Public consciousness is at its peak towards creating a sustainable future and if properly conveyed, there will surely be an overwhelming response from the people.

What are your thoughts on the future of mobility and what developments are to be expected in 2020-21?

The future of public transport is exciting - automated vehicles, on-demand services, zero-emission technology, and growing regions. However, the transport industry faces several challenges. The American Trucking Association estimates that the shortage of drivers will reach a deficit of 170,000 drivers by 2026. Another issue is the shortage of warehousing space. To overcome these challenges and improve efficiency, organizations are turning to new transportation technologies. Some of the trends transforming today’s transportation industry include Electric trucks besides their electric engine, these trucks implement technologies such as brakes that convert kinetic energy into electricity. Electric buses with an electric propulsion system are cost-effective and reduce emissions. Autonomous Vehicles in public transportation options. Such vehicles are already operating in London’s Heathrow Airport and the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.  Delivery robots are adopted Many start-ups are launching robotic delivery services, especially in the USA. One such company, Starship Robots, has started deliveries in California. Delivery drones: Cargo drones are a last-mile solution still in development. Giants like Amazon are still testing their own fleet of drones, to deliver to rural areas. Intelligent Transportation Systems that can manage traffic lights, toll booths, bridges, and roads, distributing transport efficiently. It gives citizens real-time data about traffic and public transport. Artificial Intelligence in logistics: Machine learning algorithms help logistic providers find the optimal route and the right mode of transport for specific shipments, and even forecast demand.

With the pace in which the world was moving, this break due to Corona can be seen as an opportunity to revamp a lot of existing systems with modern technology. A better world is on the rising and I urge every reader to make use of the opportunities at this crucial hour to bring a change in any possible way.

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