Private partners in a UIA project: Interview with the head of BP team in Szeged
Short description
Just over the first half of project implementation, partners within SASMob project are thinking about how to maintain the momentum, how to keep the Smart Alliance working after the end of funding from Urban Innovative Actions. The University of Szeged is busy to make contacts with new employers in the city, making appointments, explaining, persuading them. Whether the partnership will be able to replicate and expand itself, is a strong indicator of project success.

What is clear that the private partners within the partnership are real changemakers, they are fresh, energetic and flexible. Open for fun activities and new ideas, they are ready to be mobility leaders in the city. Their enthusiasm is already fuelling new partners to join.
On the 18th of October an employers’ meeting was held in the municipality of Szeged where 7 new companies expressed their interest to join the alliance. Together with Viktor Knezevics, head of BP team in Szeged, one of the new signatories to join SASMob, we discussed their motivation, what is appealing in the cooperation and what would they expect from it.

Viktor Knezevics, head of BP team in Szeged

What brought you here to join the Smart Alliance for Sustainable Mobility in Szeged?
We have never been outsiders. We followed the work of the project from the beginning. At the conception of the project BP was just planning its new office in Szeged and therefore we did not yet have employees to join the project itself. It has never been a question whether we are interested in this project. Now we are a large employer in the city with 500 colleagues and eager to take mobility on board.

What is the driving force for BP to join this alliance? 
Sustainable mobility is an important challenge for BP. We can offer individual solutions, independently from the city and other companies. For example, our colleagues can work from home two days a week. It is not only comfortable for the employee, but it is also good for the mobility of the city, since during these two days these colleagues are not commuting at all.
However, if we want to belong to the community where we live, and we want to be active members of this community, we cannot change it individually. Especially the behaviour changes related to mobility require the engagement of the whole community.

What was so persuasive about the alliance? How do you see your benefit in SASMob? 
It is very important to see that so many important players in the city are in it. We feel this is an initiative we cannot stay out of. Also, I personally like the spirit of the cooperation, the way private companies are working together with the municipality in such a concerted and transparent way to make Szeged to become greener and more sustainable is appealing. This is great.

Can you assume this mobility alliance in Szeged to be maintained on the long run?
SASMob put down the fundaments to work together in Szeged for sustainable mobility. It introduced innovative solutions, which can be further developed, also can be transferred also to other cities as well. Networks are important. There is an intrinsic strength in creating networks to articulate our concerns together. It is also easier to approach bureaucratic systems together.

Is mobility planning new for BP?
We haven’t done mobility planning systematically, but we take commuting seriously and we have quite a few initiatives as well. There is a rack with a capacity of 250 bicycle at our office, which is usually full, besides our office selection was consciously looked at the close availability of public transport. Nevertheless, still far too many employees are commuting by car, demanding for more parking places. Considering the excellent amenities of Szeged, we will have to match this demand in another way. More parking places should be avoided. We will work to overcome this challenge through understanding the motivations and mobility habits of our colleagues and we could also choose from a larger pool of solutions piloted within SASMob partners. 

Will you be able to finance mobility planning at your organisation?
The required investments are for the colleagues to feel better at the workplace. The benefits are not always quantifiable, but there are also financial gains if it influences employee fluctuation. Also work satisfaction and wellbeing at the workplace has a strong effect on personal efficiency, which in turn translate into company level efficiency.

How can you incorporate sustainable commuting into the company profile?
The health of colleagues is essential for BP, commuting could be incorporated into our employee’s well-being framework. We take care of the mental, dietetic and physical health of our employees. From the ergonomic assessors’ sessions to train our employees on the best fitting and healthy work posture to employees’ health assistance programme, we organise events and workshops which would benefit work-life balance and well-being of our colleagues.

BP Office in Szeged

How does sustainability encode in your company profile? Being such an important player in fuel design, how do you see the future of mobility?
Sustainable mobility is in the core of the company philosophy. It has been a long way for BP. BP is a large energy company, which started as a petroleum company, but we are becoming an energy company with a more complete portfolio. We are a responsible partner within the environmental challenge of today on a global platform. We see environmental challenge as a dual challenge: while the energy demand of humankind is ever growing - access to energy and with it access to mobility, heating, clean water which can lift people out of poverty – we commit ourselves to reduce greenhouse gas and CO2 emission, as put forward in the Paris Agreement.
Our own commitment to create a better world include the reduction of CO2 emission within our production, include large investments for alternative energy sources, such as Light Source BP an important solar energy supply company. We also own one of the largest wind turbine park in North America and we are investing also in biofuels. While electrification of mobility on ground is becoming a viable option, BP is the first company to experiment with biojet fuel, so that bio fuel can penetrate air traffic with lower levels of emissions.
Besides using alternative energy, we believe that changing mobility habits and customs is a key element of the solution to the environmental challenge. We will have to change the way we travel, and it will require a new mindset. In the future we will commute differently, let it be shared mobility or renewing public transport to provide single use mobility experience in terms of flexibility and comfort. We believe that autonomous vehicles will bring massive changes in shared mobility options and owning a car will not have to be an option and a necessity for everyone. How much a city feels comfortable will depend more and more on the mobility it can offer. 

Lets’ turn back to the SASMob alliance. Being part of a large enterprise, how do you see the position of Szeged in this global trend of finding new ways for sustainable mobility. What can a middle-sized city in Eastern Hungary offer to Europe?
There is great interest within BP towards mobility management in Szeged and the work of SASMob in general. BP in Europe is working on more sustainable city solutions with other larger cities such as Manchester or Berlin and we are interested if any of the solutions and good practices from this project can be adopted elsewhere. They are not categorically more advanced in mobility planning than we are, but the complexity is also bigger. I am sure that we create transferable relevant solutions. There is a lot to study within our company too and BP is ready to invest in such knowhow.
I think Szeged is just the right city size for experimentation and piloting. Szeged with its 160 000 inhabitants is already a complex system, but a comfortable sized city, where results can be solid and reliable with smaller risks of experimenting. Once there are results and good practices they can be transferred and introduced to larger ecosystems. This is very relevant for us right now. Since BP has another office in Budapest, with 2000 employees which will move to a new campus in August 2020 to another district, which in terms of mobility is like moving to another town. With 2000 employees we will have to plan mobility solutions in advance and to suggest options to our employees. I believe we will be able to support them. 

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