Time is as if suspended. Through the window of his office at the Geneva Public Transport (TPG) headquarters in Bachet-de-Pesay, Denis Berdoz looks at the road and the tram line below. Three days before the start of the school year, he wonders: “During the semi-confinement, we have fallen to 15% of the customers that we transport in normal times. We have since recovered to 80%. We are doing everything to get back to the level before the pandemic. It’s hard to know when we’ll get there. ” A fortiori if Switzerland puts France on its red list.
So much for the short term. And after? What influence will the crisis have on the company’s 2030 strategy? “Fundamentally, it is not in question.” The stated objective is to decarbonise at 100% a fleet that already runs half on electricity. The famous fast-charging TOSA buses, developed by ABB Sécheron, illustrate the pioneering spirit of TPG. There are now a dozen of the approximately 400 vehicles in circulation in Geneva. But a lasting decline in revenues and the inevitable deterioration in public finances should not slow down the transition.
If there is a constant in the life of Denis Berdoz, it is mobility. On four wheels, in the air, on the rails … Barely graduating from EPFL in mechanics, in the mid-1980s, the young engineer had the choice between two positions in the automotive industry. At BMW in Germany. Or at Peugeot-Citroën near Paris. He chose the offer from the French manufacturer, which immediately propelled him into a project manager with the mission of developing an engine from A to Z. He developed two before returning to Switzerland.
“In 1989, I came across an interview with Nicolas Hayek who announced his dream of building a small urban electric car capable of carrying two passengers … and a case of beer,” recounts this great reader of newspapers and magazines. Denis Berdoz writes to the charismatic CEO of Swatch Group [SMH à l’époque], he was hired and soon moved to the Biel region with his family.
This will be the Swatchmobile adventure, which soon results in a partnership with Daimler Benz and the birth of the Smart. In the meantime, ambitions have been lowered. With an electric vision, we returned to the heat engine. One of the reasons for the divorce with the German group. “The automobile was a bit of the boss’s dancer,” he recalls. Every Friday afternoon, we had a session with him dedicated to this visionary project. That is, after he was done with watchmaking. “
This remarkable meeting will be followed by another, with Jean-Pierre Jobin, General Manager of Geneva Airport, whom he joined as a member of the management in 1995. “I was impressed by his empathy towards his employees . It must be said that we have lived through a rather crazy period. ” In 1996, Swissair ceased long-haul flights from Cointrin, and in October 2001, it was the tragedy of grounding. Denis Berdoz will also be the delegate of the canton of Geneva within the task force.
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These twelve years also give him a first public experience. And if he goes back to the private sector as director of the Mauerhofer & Zuber company in Lausanne, he does not hesitate for a second when a headhunter approaches him to take over the TPG. It remains in the field of mobility. It responds to a growing desire to be of service to the community and to more sustainable development. He who began his professional life developing car engines is adamant that the exclusive motorist is an endangered species. The mantra for the future: multimodality.
What particularly speaks to his soul as an engineer is the possibility now of integrating the different means of transport thanks to digitization. The Zengo application materializes this ambition: public transport, taxis, car sharing … And since Geneva has finally cleared the bicycles issue, we can even imagine that two-wheelers will soon be part of the offer.
To breathe, to dive back …
We do not know, however, when self-driving cars will enter our lives. Their most enthusiastic zealots have moreover lowered their fervor. This does not prevent the TPG from participating in the Avenue consortium, under the aegis of the European Union. This project aims to develop and test a system of autonomous shuttles on demand, on a hospital site in Thônex. The Federal Roads Office (Ofrou) has just given it the green light. And since the boss wants to share this experience (and many others) nationally, he should soon work on the committee of the Swiss Union of Public Transport.
Mobility, at Denis Berdoz, is finally combined with leisure: skiing and mountain biking (“for speed”). And hiking. At the front without respite from March, he swallowed dozens of kilometers on foot this summer. In the company of his wife, a pharmacist by profession and, like him, in high demand during the pandemic. A crossing of the canton of Vaud. And another week to connect Bellinzona to Mendrisio. Walking in pairs, catching up on crazy weeks, each spent on his own. Take a deep breath before diving back.
1962 Born in Lausanne.
1983 Meets the one who will become his wife and with whom he will have three daughters.
1986 After studies at Carnegie Mellon University (USA) and EPFL, mechanical engineering degree and first job at Peugeot-Citroën in Paris.
1990 Return to Switzerland to begin the adventure of the Swatchmobile / Smart vehicle, then, five years later, the first parapublic-private “round trip” to Geneva Airport, then to the head of the Mauerhofer & Zuber company.
2015 Takes the general direction of Geneva public transport.
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