Meet Peter Aczel. With transport experience in both Europe and North America, Peter now leads Vontas — a company that wants to make public transport the desired mode of transport for every community.
Your educational background is pretty interesting. Tell me more about it.
Oh, yes, I went to I went to the University of Economics in Vienna, Austria. Growing up I was very interested in politics and public policy. I learned that pretty much everything any society wants to do, it has to figure out how to pay for it and that is driven by the economy!
So, how did you end up in Public Transport?
Public Affairs is where I started my career. I was born in Budapest, Hungary, but my parents moved me to Vienna (Austria) when I was five years old. And that’s where I grew up and stayed for the next 20 years. I ended up in transportation because I had a couple of transportation-related companies as clients. One of them recruited me to work for them and sent me to North America. They had just completed an acquisition in California and that was my entry into ITS.
That must have been a big decision to leave Europe and move to the US?
It was decided in an afternoon, very, very quickly. At that point, I had a pretty good understanding of transportation in central Eastern Europe, but learning and trying it in North America with a company I knew well and people I liked working with, made it a great opportunity. So I said, ‘Let’s just do it.’
With your experience of transport in both Europe and North America, what are some of the key differences that you see?
The way transit is used by the population. I mean, in North America cities were built for cars? North America is largely set up for the convenience of driving, of big highways, and parking in general. In Europe transit is, for many people, the number one way to get to get around. The cities are much older and they were not built for cars. In my hometown of Vienna, it’s much, much faster to get downtown taking the subway or bus. Public transport is the transportation mode of choice.
And now you’re with Vontas. What was it about Vontas that got you excited to come on board?
My experience has been more about roadway transportation — tolling, cars, and trucks. But I always was very interested in public transit itself. To me access to transit means access to opportunity. It’s less about creating something for a few people who can afford it and more about creating something that actually expands opportunity for all through access to transportation. Growing up I Vienna, I lived on public transit. I didn’t drive until I was 21, because I didn’t need to.
Vontas’ vision is ‘to make public transport the desired mode of transport for every community.’ What does that mean to you?
It means to me, that in a world of options, transit is the first choice for everyone – not just for those that are transit-dependent. It means expanding the footprint of public transit into more communities. Where we come in as a technology and solution provider is to help our customers make public transit more reliable, safer, more convenient, and more viable.
With all the talk about the environment and sustainability, electric fleets has become a hot topic. What do you see as some of the challenges in this area?
It’s definitely a topic with every agency and every customer we talk to. They already either have electric vehicles as part of their fleet, or are looking to add them.
Some of the challenges are financial as always, but then there are also operational and implementation challenges. Things like equipping your garages with the right equipment and training your maintenance staff to look after them. And then there’s the challenge of having a dual fleet (traditional and electric) and the impact that has on scheduling as turnaround times for electronic electric vehicles is different.
So I think these are challenges that our clients are working through right now. And also challenges where we are called upon to help provide solutions – particularly in yard management and dispatch.
I’m going to ask the dreaded question. When do you think ridership will recover from the pandemic?
I think as life comes back and people need to start going places again in their professional and personal lives. I know there is a lot of conversations about how people will get back to the office and their workplaces and that is still evolving. But I think people are eager to resume attending recreational activities as well, like concerts and, like sporting events, and we will really start to see things happening again. People will need and want to start riding. I’m a big sports fan. I watch a lot of sports. And now we’re starting to see sporting venues and arenas with people again. That makes me very happy, but also excited from a transit perspective.
So you’re a sports fan. Tell me more.
I absolutely love football and soccer. I’m a very big American football fan. My friends and family joke that the real reason I moved to the US was so I could watch the NFL at a normal time and not in the middle of the night!
I have a two year old (and another on the way) and we watched a lot of the Euro Cup as well as soccer together every Saturday morning – just like I grew up watching with my dad. So I’m slowly, slowly getting him into it. His attention span is expanding. [laughs] He’s only two.
I also I play basketball, tennis and golf – I’m really bad at it. But I really enjoy playing.
Who did you cheer for during the Euro Cup?
Italy, funnily enough. I’ve always supported Italy. I was born in Hungary, but grew up in Austria. They were both pretty bad in soccer and never made the big tournaments. And as a family we used to spend a lot of summers in Italy; my friends there watched a lot of Italian soccer.
Tell me something that people don’t typically know about you.
Many people don’t know that I speak five languages. Bu when I say five, it’s really four and two half languages. I speak Hungarian, German (my native language), English and French. And then I have solid conversational Italian and conversational Hebrew. So I count those two languages as halves, which makes up five!
You just recently joined Vontas. Tell me about your first impressions about being a part of the Modaxo collective of companies?
I really enjoy working with big diverse international teams with a lot of different backgrounds. That’s a lot of fun to me. And that’s what I found has been amazing with Vontas and Modaxo. I love what we’re doing with Modaxo. Encouraging collaboration, , between different groups, and being able to bounce ideas and share experiences.
There’s a lot of level headedness surrounding Modaxo. The people are just very, very knowledgeable with a lot of domain knowledge. That is very impressive. People really know what they’re talking about. And the culture and mentality of helping each other is unique.