Expert article
Modifier 14 March 2021
by Evangelos Mitsakis, UIA Expert

TMaaS web article No 4 - Interview with Sophie Gillaerts, the TMaaS project coordinator

TMaaS web article No 4 - Interview with Sophie Gillaerts, the TMaaS project coordinator

Sophie Gillaerts is the TMaaS project coordinator, representing the City of Ghent which is the project consortium partner. Sophie has spent several years in the preparation, execution and management of the project. During that time, she gained significant experiences, which are important to be shared with other city representatives within and beyond the UIA activities. For this reason, Evangelos Mitsakis, external expert of the TMaaS project interviewed recently Sophie Gillaerts, asking about her experiences, views and lessons learnt, that will be of assistance for everyone interested in innovation projects in general, as well as in traffic management in particular.


Evangelos Mitsakis: “Tell us how you got involved into traffic and mobility management. What motivated you to prepare the TMaaS project?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “I already worked for the Mobility Company of the City of Ghent when TMaaS started. I had been working as project coordinator for some years, local projects as well as European projects. I was not involved in the preparation phase of TMaaS, but was very enthusiastic when my colleagues asked me to coordinate it. I was new in traffic management, but found it a very interesting topic.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “How did UIA support the city of Ghent vision towards improved urban mobility and traffic management?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “For Ghent the UIA really was the accelerator to test our idea. It made us research, develop, implement and test a new solution in only three years. In a context without the UIA supporting us, this would have taken many, many years.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “Which were the moments and milestones during the project’s lifetime that you will never forget?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “In the beginning of the project we still had to set the project scope clear as all the partners had different expectations. At a certain moment everybody began to speak the same language and understanding the scope in the same way. This was a very nice moment. With TMaaS we also won two awards (the Civitas Bold Measure Award in 2018 and the Belfius Smart Belgium Award for Cities < 30.000 inhabitants), these were very rewarding moments motivating the whole team to continue the good work. The last milestone was when the citizen dashboard was finally finished in spring 2020. It took a lot of hard work to get there, and everybody was very involved in the whole process. It was very rewarding to finally see the result.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “Which are the main innovative contributions of the TMaaS project that differentiate it from previous projects?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “Citizens were involved in the project from the beginning onwards, this gave a lot of input for the developers. It was not possible to take all the suggestions and ideas into account. But it was a very interesting exercise and the input will be used in future projects as well. We now know quite well what citizens find helpful and what not, which information they need and what not, etc.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “Which would be the main lessons learnt (dos and don’ts) that you would like to share as TMaaS project coordinator with other cities towards the implementation of innovative transport solutions? From concept, political consensus and planning up to actual implementation/execution.”

Sophie Gillaerts: “Make the scope clear and narrow from the beginning, otherwise you risk losing a lot of time in the first months. Set the expectations of the different partners right. This is also very important for the local politicians: they also have to understand the scope and know what they can expect at the end of the project. Check with your involved partners whether there are limitations to their contributions IP wise. This way you can already solve some issues from the very beginning. The mix with research, industry and public partners, is very interesting but also makes it quite complicated in the end.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “The future of traffic management lies in the cooperation of public sector entities with private sector companies. How have you, as TMaaS project coordinator, manage to establish and maintain this cooperation?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “In our project many private companies were involved. This made it interesting in the sense that we as a public actor could feed them with our needs and knowledge towards developing the solution. This is a very interesting way of working together. We hope to continue cooperating in the future.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “Which do you believe are the main urban mobility and traffic management challenges that cities will face in the next 10 years?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “Traffic will continue to increase as cities keep on growing, new (autonomous) transport modes are emerging, more shared mobility solutions and all its challenges.”


Evangelos Mitsakis: “Which opportunities do you see for continuation and actual deployment of the project’s results both in the city of Ghent as well as elsewhere?”

Sophie Gillaerts: “We know now really well what the importance is of qualitative data to be able to communicate with the citizens in a correct and real-time way. We certainly want to continue on this: data gathering, storing and analysing the data, communicating with the citizens in order to (in the end) reach an even better modal split in Ghent. We also realised that e.g. in Flanders the solution should be implemented at a regional level as many data sources are the same and commuters travel between cities and not just in Ghent.”