The International Transport Forum (ITF) 2015 was again held in Leipzig, Germany from May 27 to 29. This year’s stated theme was “Transport, Trade and Tourism.” The Paris based ITF is a specialized part of the Organization for Cooperation and Development (OECD) focusing on transport research and the sharing of best practice across OECD members as well as more widely. The organization works across all transport modes and links transport policy to economic development and growth.
It is of note that the ITF has chosen to hold its leading event in Leipzig for eight consecutive years. Leipzig is a middle-sized and very historic city — celebrating its 1000th anniversary in 2015 — in Saxony, Germany, which is south of Berlin and near the Czech border. Whether for other Europeans or more globally, travel options to the city can be limited, although the city has a very modern airport, a large railway station with good connections to Berlin as well as modern highway connections.
Leipzig is famous for its trade market, which is over 800 years old and is represented in the contemporary Leipzig Messe (Convention and Congress Centre) just outside of the city. The modern facility is one of the best that the author has visited for a mid-sized event and has excellent facilities and access. The regional and national German governments have clearly encouraged the ITF to consider and return to Leipzig for this event and the city makes substantial efforts to make the guests welcome, including free public transport for attendees as well as complementary limousine shuttles from the city center hotels to the Messe.
As a city, Leipzig is an excellent example of the German principals of transport planning and service as well as eastern Germany’s long history. The city has benefitted from large amounts of investment in infrastructure over the years since German reunification and most transport systems seem to be new or rebuilt, expanded and in a very good current state of repair. The most notable element in the transport mix is inevitably the enormous and historic main railway station, which is one of the largest, but certainly not busiest, in Europe. It stems from an earlier era when the city was more prosperous and at the center of a larger rail transport network. The station has been comprehensively modernized and rebuilt and maintains its dramatic architecture as well as a modern intervention of a large shopping mall.
As part of the modernization of the city’s transport infrastructure post-German reunification, the city has upgraded its comprehensive tram system and built an impressive S-Bahn (subterranean through railway system) that crosses the city from north to south from the main rail station. The level of investment for this system is substantial and while fairly busy provides a level of mobility that is well in excess of the expectations of many other similarly sized cities. The view of the front of the central station represents an impressive lesson in integrated mobility as cycles, taxis, parking, rail, S-Bahn, tram, bus and pedestrianized areas converge on the site.
At a more modest investment scale, the prevalence of cycling across the city is substantial, even for a fellow European. Cycling infrastructure in terms of bike lanes and parking locations is extensive. Cycling use by the young, students, and very wide range of adults is common, as well as numerous leisure cyclists traveling within the city and clearly for longer trips to the Saxon countryside.
The ITF Annual Summit is a well-run, moderate scale, but high value networking event run by a very knowledgeable organization. As a transport professional it provides, over a few days, an ability to network with and within a powerful set of industry and government leaders in a relaxed and accessible environment. While fundamentally always looking at transport through the context of its impact on the economy, which some may find frustrating, the event should rank as a key global conference to be monitored, if not attended.
Giles K Bailey is a director at Stratageeb Ltd., a London based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation.