Last weekend, the first India Summer Days took place in Karlsruhe (please also read our report). We have seized the opportunity to conduct an interview with Iris Becker from Let’s Bridge IT. She is the representative of the Karlsruhe India Board Network in Pune, Karlsruhe’s twin city, and has been representing the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg in the Indian State of Maharashtra since January. Her task is to promote business contacts and cultural exchange programmes between Indian and German companies – like PTV. In this interview with the Compass Blog, she outlines how Pune will transform into a smart city and why German companies should keep their eyes on the ball in India.
Compass: Your company Let’s Bridge IT represents the City of Karlsruhe in the business metropolis of Pune. For all those who do not know Pune, could you please tell us something about this Indian city.
Iris Becker: Pune is located approximately 120 kilometres southeast of Mumbai and it is a very young, vibrant and fast-growing city of more than four million people. It is also called the Oxford of the East, because there is a well-developed, traditional, yet modern landscape of higher education with over 200,000 students. Pune is known for its Bhagwan movement in the 80s and 90s, which attracted many people from abroad. So the city was among the first to welcome and deal with guests from around the world and is now very receptive and hospitable towards foreigners.
Compass: Is this the reason why there are so many foreign companies in Pune?
Iris Becker: This is certainly one of the reasons for this development. As mentioned earlier, Pune is a very young city in terms of its population. Therefore, there are many skilled workers. Today, most German companies are located here – with more than 360 companies, 70 of them from Baden-Wuerttemberg. Especially car manufacturers such as VW and Daimler have invested in this region and thus attracted a lot of automotive suppliers. In addition, there is very strong IT hub. However, the economic opening has also lead to an increase in traffic and pollution.
Compass: What does traffic in Pune look like?
Iris Becker: From a German perspective, everything seems rather chaotic. The number of motorized vehicles is continuously increasing, however there are only a few road signs and rules. All vehicles seem to zig-zag their way around. And you’ll hear lots of honking. However, it’s not an aggressive “Get out of the way” honking. It rather means “Watch out, here I come.” You have to look at things more closely to recognize the system behind it. Everyone scans the area in front of them. Nevertheless, the city has to cope with stop-and-go traffic and a lot of traffic jams. The distance between my house and my office in Pune is around 10 kilometres. But if things do not go as smoothly as they ideally should, it might take me two hours to get to my office in town.
Compass: Is this the reason why Pune now aims to become a smart city?
Iris Becker: Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India initiated a competition with the aim to transform 100 Indian cities into smart cities. Pune participated in the ‘Make Your City SMART’ contest and was ranked second. When we talk about Smart Cities in Germany, we refer to the last few percentage points required to fine-tune our cities. In India, it means to establish the infrastructure for liveable cities and to ensure the basic supply of water and electricity, for example. In order to make Pune “smart”, the city will have to reduce traffic and pollution and improve its energy supply.
Compass: PTV has also participated in a tender concerning Mobility for the Smart City of Pune. What are the main challenges in this area?
Iris Becker: A relevant issue which emerges is the question of how to ensure smooth traffic flow in the future. PTV’s intelligent software solutions could certainly help solve this problem. In Mumbai, Delhi and Pune we already implemented joint pilot projects focusing on “green waves”. I think if we manage to improve traffic flow and thus reduce travel times – that would be a huge step forward. Another challenge is to expand public transport. Currently, it is very difficult to use public transport in the downtown area.
Compass: Electric mobility is another issue that India intends to address…
Iris Becker: According to Prime Minister Modi, the transition to electric vehicles should be completed by 2030. This is a very ambitious goal, but I think it’s a good signal that clearly indicates where things are heading. So, everything can change quickly and I even believe that India could become the first green nation – if they do things right. In order to tackle the dependency on imports and to ensure stable growth, India is promoting renewable energies. Here, it can learn from other countries that are ahead in this field and take an integrated approach to e-mobility.
Compass: There is a joint project that you are currently working on in close partnership with PTV and the College of Engineering in Pune. What is it about?
Iris Becker: We have organized a five-day workshop on transport planning and traffic engineering that will take place in Pune in late July. It will be about modelling and simulating traffic, using the PTV Visum and PTV Vissim software tools. We expect 25 participants, including students and representatives of the city and the transport industry. I see much potential there in the future: the universities are open and ready to cooperate.
Compass: So there is a lot going on in India…
Iris Becker: Yes, indeed, I believe that India will be moving forward quickly within the next ten to fifteen years. If India takes advantage of the experience and expertise of other countries, they can skip intermediate steps and implement a lot of things immediately. As a German company, it is worth thinking about becoming part of this process. However, many companies assume that it would be sufficient to make a few business contacts in India. But this is not the case. Tom Schwerdtfeger, PTV Managing Director for the MENA region, and his team, have taken the right approach. As far as I’m aware, PTV is the only German company in the mobility sector that is so active in this region. They are constantly on site, are highly committed and interested in sharing their knowledge and expertise. It is great fun to work with such a reliable partner and I enjoy supporting them in growing their network.