The concept of smart, connected transport is a hot topic among city leaders looking to ride the wave of innovation to more sustainable, prosperous cities. Despite this, building a truly smart and interconnected urban transport system is more than most cities can hope to do all at once.
Three key elements of smart urban transport – communications, efficient operations, and integration – serve as important starting points and can yield significant social, environmental, and economic benefits.
Using a “Smart City” approach to integrate services
Transport involves a host of variables that lead to complex coordination problems. In today’s cities, these challenges have led to the creation of individual networks, each one trying to solve each challenge separately. Many cities are burdened by individualized, disconnected transport systems that exist in silos and fail to connect the parts to the whole. Take the example of Bangalore, which has the largest bus fleet in India, and recently integrated and reorganized its service to improve user experience and efficiency.
Cities can use these smart technologies and services as a catalyst for integrating their disparate networks and cutting costs. As in the case of Bangalore, this frees up funds to improve quality of service and deliver greater mobility for residents.
Many cities are also using smart technology to integrate services between different areas of government. For example, Barcelona has undertaken an ambitious multi-year program, Smart City Barcelona, in order to efficiently ensure that city services reach all citizens. The city’s long-term plan involves government, residents, and the business community in developing and shaping the city’s technological initiatives. One of these unique solutions will be called CityOS (operating system), for which the city is currently seeking a developer. City officials envision this OS as an open platform that unites the various smart technology projects operating across the city. In particular, the OS is expected to improve the daily commuting experience as well as reduce the operating costs of transport systems.
Improving communication, integration, and efficiency of transport systems
Networks supporting most mass transport systems have typically been built on proprietary solutions, and many of them were put in place decades ago. That means cities have aging and disparate networks that are growing increasingly expensive to operate and manage. It also means fragmented communications between different systems, which leads to public safety risks for passengers and first responders. Through a coordinated city effort, leaders can advance innovative smart technology solutions to improve transport systems and create social, environmental, and economic benefits that improve urban governance and quality of life for citizens.
Many smart technology solutions are already feasible. Cities can develop advanced traffic management systems, including traffic cameras, variable message signs, traffic detectors, weather stations, traffic websites, and mobile apps to improve urban transport. The state of Utah’s traffic monitoring system, for instance, allows remote access for monitoring and adjusting the timing of 80% of the traffic signals in the state. The UPLAN platform has also been used as far as Mbirikani, Kenya to support planning and monitoring, proving that these systems can be applied in global context.
Smart transport systems for developed and emerging cities
Smart technology can dramatically alter city governments’ ability to improve transport systems. By providing better visibility into urban transport systems and the systems that surround the city, cities can have faster, more efficient traffic management, timelier infrastructure repairs, improved traffic flow and road safety, and faster commutes. Further, improving transport systems can reduce fuel costs and CO2 emissions.
And while these mobility technologies certainly look different in Barcelona than they do in Bangalore, we are seeing cities in both the Global North and the Global South turn to integrated technologies to improve urban mobility. Perhaps due to the investment required for developing smart technologies, the majority of well-known ‘smart cities’ are in developed economies. This could certainly change in the next few decades, however, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announcing plans to develop 100 smart cities across India, and smart city projects popping up in places like Kigali, Rwanda and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.