Marina Karandina

Marina Karandina

We’ve had a talk with Marina Karandina, CEO of the Passenger Transport Enterprise of the town of Kamensk-Uralsky, about digitalization as a way of effective competition, about the prevention of frauds, and the iron «white swans».

You came into work to the Passenger Transport Enterprise at the beginning of the year 2016, when it was on the brink of bankruptcy. How are things going now?

Four years later we managed to flatten the curve, so to speak. Not everything is going so smoothly and well as we would love to go. Nevertheless, we are stable, even considering the pandemic, we move forward steadily, and develop. The latter is very important because one cannot make plans and see the prospects without the development. In our industry, it is very difficult to achieve some lofty heights and successes, but one can very well stand firmly on one’s feet.

There was a moment during the pandemic when most of the people stayed home and the buses were totally empty. How did you rearrange the work to survive in such difficult conditions?

We saved the fuel tooth and nail and went to a «rupture», meaning that we only made trips in the mornings and the evenings, taking the people to and from the pressing-continuity businesses. During the daytime, most of the fleet was stationed, and only several buses ran so that the town dwellers would not remain without the public transport at all. Your drivers and ticket inspectors bore with the situation.

Did the government help somehow?

Yes, we were among the companies eligible to aid from the government. We were surprised at how flawlessly and quickly everything worked. I thank the people who took on this matter. Thanks to them, we did not stop the wages a day. Besides, a small loan was granted to the company, and they promised to discharge it if we kept at least 80% of our staff. We use all of those funds to repay the fuel debts.

However, the Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights worked flawlessly as well. They punish for the smallest inexactness, impose huge fines that are unsustainable for our enterprise. However, international researches have shown that public transport is not a threat in terms Covid-19 spreading.

Some time ago you started to cooperate with MST company and to equip your buses with JoinPOS terminals which enable the passengers to pay their fares in any way convenient to them. Focus on technology is not common to find in small towns. Why have you started moving that way?

Because competition exists even in small towns. We will attract more passengers if we offer a more convenient service, more simple and transparent modes of payment for the fares. In Kamensk-Uralsy, there are two official carrier enterprises and one that is an effectively illegal carrier enterprise that radically undermines the economies of our enterprises. They run wherever they want and however they want, thus gathering the most passengers.

The routed taxicabs?

Yes. The messy minibuses that buzz about everywhere, out of any schedule. They are the law unto themselves, so it is difficult to compete with them. It is our pain, and there is only one way to fight that: with good service. «MST Company» helps us with this. They suggested us to trial their IT solutions for transport in our transports, and naturally, I agreed. In general, I am up for any new ideas that will be useful not only now but also in the future.

We decided to forgo the reel-type tickets because they are a relic of the past and to switch to payments through the JoinPOS terminals and QR codes. The functionality of the service offered by «MST Company» is totally relatable and convenient, and the JoinPAY Transport analytics enables us to track the density of the passenger flow, to analyze its increase or reduction depending on the time of day and even seasons.

Besides, the new application is being currently developed, the electronic travel pass. Through a personal user account, you will be able to manage your transport activities: to accumulate bonuses, to charge off the travels, to look through the schedule of the buses and their routes.

The passenger carrier companies have the inner fraud issue. How do you fight it?

The fancy word «fraud» means a simple theft. I think it is ineradicable here in Russia, it is like our people have this mindset or something... It is difficult to fight the fraud, and it is even more difficult to track it down. Again, the terminals are of help to us. With them, we can see clearly how many repeated, null, or invalid tickets are issued. And so we can understand if it was actually an error of the terminal or if it was the ticket inspector who forced such a payment. Now, each case can be carefully considered and analyzed.

Also, «MST Company» has a neural network that analyzes all prime numbers (fare payments) and generates reports on the efficiency of each ticket inspectors’ work in the personal user account.

Your other pain is bids that began since the last year.

Initially, we hoped very much that they would reverse the whole transport system, result in some kind of reform. However, everything ended in small subsidies intended for repayment of the interest charged on losses. In some routes, one has to come down to zero if there is more than one participant. Which means that there would be no subsidy! At any rate, previously we did not even have that... We decided not to change the routes, although I think that our company and the town itself are already at the point where they have to be reviewed. Many town-forming companies transform, the work schedules change, more and more additional training and sports centers emerge, the town develops! This has to be taken into account.

Are you in close interaction with the local administration?

The municipal authorities know all our problem issues and seek to do their best in this regard. However, they cannot dramatically change the industry. It happened that the municipal transport enterprise in Kamensk-Uralsky went bankrupt. We saved all that we could, and nowadays we continue working so that the town would not remain without public transport. It is impossible at all to restore the trolleybus line because it costs a lot of money.

The transport fleet is given out to the private sector, which makes the funding difficult, and the administrative authority cannot do that in full. Hence, all that remains is the bids, which partially compensate some losses, or the participation in the projects like the «Smart Town. It would be totally different if our enterprise was a municipal company. We would be backed by the Ministry of Transport which provides funding for its projects.

Do you keep track of the novelties related to the urban carriages? Is there a bus that you dream of obtaining for your bus fleet?

I will not speak of the foreign manufacturers because their transports are certainly not for our town. As to the Russian automotive industry, the «NefAZ» buses, manufactured in Tatarstan, are pretty good. We bought some of them, and we are very happy about it. I cannot say that there were no problems at all, there were some. However, the upsides were more numerous. It is pleasant to see white, nice and spacious buses swim around our town like swans. There are, of course, more expensive, more contemporary makes of transport. For example, «Volzhanin» and «LiAZ» manufacture classy buses nowadays. However, they belong to the price tier that is still totally unattainable for our company.

Do the passengers often cause failures of the buses?

Pretty often. Speaking with good humor, our people are very inquisitive and seek to strip down everything, to press everything (laughs). There is the emergency doors opening button that people fool with all the time. Meanwhile, the new buses are so sophisticated that they won’t move until the door is tightly closed. It is good if there is a ticket inspector in the passenger compartment who could maintain order. However, not all of our transports have ticket inspectors.

It is most likely that most people who work in the company, are men. How do you deal with such considerable staff?

Yes, most of our employees are men. Drivers and a large number of repairmen, who have to promptly eliminate the malfunctions and maintain the technical serviceability of the buses. Sometimes, they work all night so that all of the rolling stock could be ready to carry the passengers in the morning. Most of the women are ticket inspectors.

I only manage large-scale processes. The column commanders are those who work directly with the staff members. They are sensible men who find common ground with everyone and identify the problem issues better than a woman like me. I have three «right hands» who help very much in my work. They manage very well the current tasks, move out to the scenes of the car accidents, as the chief officers of the company must do.

There are more and more electric buses on the roads of the cities with a million-plus population. How soon can this trend reach Kamensk-Uralsky?

Such buses will not appear in this town until the transport becomes municipal property. A private entrepreneur or company would never cope with that task because it requires significant investments both in the buses and the infrastructure and in the specially trained staff.

In general, I would like our government to concern itself with passenger transport. I regularly receive the statistics gathered from around the country in general, and it is deplorable. Due to the transports wear degree, many car accidents occur, the drivers often fall asleep at the wheel because the work and rest schedules are not complied with. The severe accidents are especially dangerous when they occur somewhere outside of the cities and towns and involve the inter-municipal transports that carry people between the localities. Besides, there is a great shortage of «D» category drivers, which is a major issue as well. I think that the transport companies will begin to develop and become modernized at a much faster rate if the government really busies itself with our industry.