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Dr Carlos Romero Grezzi in front of the main building of the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. (Photo: Philipp Viehweger)
Published: 04 June 2024

‘Improving public transport means creating opportunities.’

Considerations about the future of mobility and how all people can be equally and fairly mobile do not stop at national borders. Local public transport can make a major contribution to this. Dr Carlos Romero Grezzi is someone who is very familiar with the comprehensive reorganisation of local transport services.

He sees buses and trains as an opportunity for the structural development of regions. In San Juan, Argentina, he and his team have achieved in just a few years what takes decades elsewhere: as Director of Traffic and Mobility Planning for the government of the province of San Juan, he analysed the existing public transport network in San Juan between 2020 and 2023, redefined the routes of the bus lines based on the needs of residents, expanded them to include stops in rural regions, adjusted prices, tested and implemented accessibility options, introduced an official app for use and pushed ahead with the purchase of new buses. 

The Chair of Transport System Planning has now welcomed Carlos for a month as a research guest on the future of mobility. It is no coincidence that he chose Weimar as one of his research visits, as he completed his doctorate in urban and regional studies here in 2018 as part of a double degree programme with the National University of Córdoba.

Carlos, what are you currently working on and what insights do you hope to gain in Germany?

I came back to Germany to think about the future of mobility and to talk to people. What topics are interesting for politics, administration and research here in Germany? In the past, I have had a lot of contact with transport planners in other countries. The principle is the same everywhere: Political decisions that affect the mobility system are unpopular because they usually take a long time to implement. That's why we need to initiate changes whose results are visible until the next election. Of course, these are embedded in long-term perspectives and a progressive idea. It is not only important to seek dialogue with political decision-makers, but also with journalists and the public.

You speak with a lot of enthusiasm, what is your motivation?

I remember what a professor at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar said while I was working on my doctoral thesis. He said: ‘If you're really enthusiastic about your work, then you'll get up on a Sunday and get started.’ I have retained that enthusiasm. For me, working for the public sector means being able to improve people's lives in just a few years. When we expanded the bus network in San Juan, we connected a number of rural villages. The residents welcomed the first bus with cheers and banners! It's about creating opportunities. To be honest, Argentina is not one of the biggest CO2 emitters on the planet. Improving public transport here means creating opportunities first and foremost and environmental protection second.

Is there a kind of fundamental agreement between transport planners in Germany and Argentina when it comes to the mobility of the future?

I have noticed that when we talk about mobility in Argentina, it is often about financing, salaries and fares. Few people talk about the future, i.e. urban development, new technologies, optimising the network and what opportunities we have to improve it. Here I find it very helpful to think globally because we share many challenges. I have noticed that developments in Germany are progressing rather slowly and that decisions take a long time, although they are based on a high standard. There is already a very extensive network and many mobility services. In Latin America, on the other hand, some changes are taking place quickly, but there is often a lack of the consensus and planning required for sustainability. Chile is a good example of very rapid adaptation to technological developments: The country has been quick to embrace electrification and currently has the second largest electrified bus fleet in the world.

You have returned to Weimar after a few years. How does it feel to be back here?

I feel accepted and challenged at the same time. I've always felt that way here. The city is very fragmented, on the one hand you have the university, more international environment and then again the non-university environment. As a foreigner, I always had the feeling that I had to embed my ideas in a context in order to be heard and be able to follow discussions. That is a bit exhausting. Learning the language has helped to overcome some of these barriers. For me, it's a motivation to keep coming back and face the challenges. I really like the city and have many wonderful experiences and encounters with it. When I'm very stressed in my job in San Juan, I think of Weimar with wanderlust.

Carlos Romero Grezzi is spending the next two months at the German Aerospace Centre in Berlin. He is working there on the development of participatory methods for drawing up mobility plans. By reviewing more than 100 plans from different cities, he will identify key aspects that could be important for future mobility plans in Germany - valuable insights that Carlos will take back to San Juan.