Hamburg's Hanse Mondial rethinking buses to navigate pandemic

Tour buses becoming rolling laboratories for rapid coronavirus tests
08 March 2021
Bus outside the Elbphilharmonie

Julien Figur, founder and CEO of the Hamburg-based startup Hanse Mondial for pan-European bus logistics, hopes to transition to the "new normal" as soon possible. "Coaches are safe even in the coronavirus era. The air in a coach is exchanged seven times faster than in an InterCity Express train, and four and a half times faster than in an airplane." Passenger transport to events, festivals and functions is not being operated at present prompting Hanse Mondial to focus mainly on shuttles for employees of large companies and corporations.

Buses becoming rolling test centres

Hanse Mondial has also joined the "GoTestMe" project in which buses are used as mobile test centres in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. Entire schools, companies and authorities can be tested to enable normal operations at their premises. "We already have two converted luxury coaches in which we can perform rapid antigen tests, PCR tests and even vaccinations eventually. Up to 200 swabs per day are possible per bus," he added. PCR tests can be evaluated on site in the laboratory housed in the rear of the bus, which should reduce waiting times and sources of error. "Prof. Dr. Kai Gutensohn, a Hamburg-based specialist in laboratory medicine, is the medical patron," Figur said.

Bus transport sustainable thanks to high utilization rates

Sustainability and digitalization are top priorities for the start-up. "According to a recent study by the German Environment Agency, bus travel is the most sustainable and environment-friendly mode of transport in terms of CO2 emissions per person and kilometre because the utilization rate is highest," Figur noted, who is also keen on more digitalisation as well as managing and booking autonomously driven vehicles in future. "We are now investing in developing our IT infrastructure. That will form the basic framework for managing autonomously-driven buses in about three to five years." This involves, for instance, automating the dispatch of drivers and vehicles, the automatic display of trip combinations, and matching empty runs and idle times with existing demand.

1,000 network partners of mobility platform 

Figur's idea of building a full-service agency for pan-European bus logistics is catching on. "We earned turnover of more than EUR 1 million from a cold start during the first year of business in 2018," he added. Hanse Mondial now has a 25-strong workforce. "We also had a pretty good year in 2019 as well." Despite the coronavirus-induced crisis, the start-up which is self-financed, clocked up sales in the mid-seven-figure range last year.