Urban mobility in the age of smart cities

The urbanization process impacts the spatial distribution of land uses and travel demand created by the distribution of activities. Therefore it becomes imperative that the mobility of people and goods should be planned appropriately to minimize congestion and other environmental impacts on the cities

By 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 50 percent today. Over the same period, more than two billion people are likely to enter the middle class, with the majority of them living in cities in emerging markets. The number of megacities with more than ten million people will continue to grow. This is according to a study done by Mckinsey. the study also says that many people entering the global middle class will want to buy cars: automobile sales are expected to increase from about 70 million a year in 2010 to 125 million by 2025, with more than half forecasted to be bought in cities. Some automotive analysts have gone as far as predicting that on the existing trajectory, today’s 1.2 billion strong global car fleet could double by 2030.

Obviously, the existing urban infrastructure cannot support such an increase in vehicles on the road. Congestion is already close to unbearable in many cities and can cost as much as 2 to 4 percent of national GDP, due to issues such as lost time, wasted fuel, and increased cost of doing business. In India too we are facing the same problem. If we take the example of Delhi, the national capital, the situation is quite similar. People struggle everyday with chaotic traffic on the roads. Metro that was supposed to bring much relief to the people has not yielded the desired result because of the ever growing urban population. Adding to the citizen’s woes is that there is no synchronization between various public transport systems. In many European cities these services are integrated and people travel on one smart card. In addition to the increasing demand for urban mobility, mobility needs are evolving. changing travel habits, demand for services to increase convenience, speed and predictability, as well as evolving customer expectations towards individualization and sustainability will require extension of mobility services portfolio as well as business model transformation. Specialized players from other sectors are assessing opportunities to play a role in the extended mobility ecosystem.

Take for example Delhi. A new initiative has been undertaken.  Raahgiri is a pioneer project. In the heart of Delhi, vehicular traffic is stopped so that people can freely commute, walk and exercise in a place called Connaught place. In addition, now there is a proposal to build an elevated cycle track. It aims to promote cycling among the people and to provide last mile connectivity.

“Designs of the project have been prepared by consultants. This is the first time that an elevated cycle track is being constructed in the country. It will be built in South Delhi. As per the plan, the proposed elevated corridor would be made of steel. In Europe, there are about two-three experiments of such tracks going on, ”stated the minister of transport (Delhi), Satyendra Jain. He further said that the government will provide a cycle to the rider free of cost at the elevated track and after using it, he or she will have to deposit it at the station to be built at the track. According to the plan, government has also proposed to develop cycle track as a tourist destination by creating a lot of activities there.” each station will have lifts through which people can reach track and ride a cycle free of cost. Lifts will also have space for cycle if a person wants to ride own bicycle on the track,” Jain added.

In January, the government had announced that it would provide subsidy on purchase of cycles, from the money collected as fines during the odd-even schemes implementation period. The transport minister has also appealed to Delhiites to use bicycles for their daily needs every day instead of using bikes just in their colonies and said that government will build cycle tracks and stands on roads.

Why is the innovation potential not being unleashed? There is a key reason: the management of urban mobility operates in an environment that is too fragmented and hostile to innovation.

Our urban management systems do not allow market players to compete and establish business models that bring demand and supply into a natural balance. It is one of the toughest system level challenges facing actors of the mobility ecosystems.

There are plenty of solutions and business models available, but very few have managed to smartly integrate them to unleash their full business potential. What is needed is system level collaboration between all stakeholders of the mobility ecosystem to come up with innovative and integrated business models.

Road safety is key for urban mobility

While travelling in urban places one has to be extremely keen on the safety on the road. Today when road and transport has become an integral part of human life, its imperative that road safety is key to everyone’s survival. Everybody is a road user in one mode or the other. While the present mode of transport has reduced the distance but simultaneously it has increased risk. Accidents in cities results in loss of thousands of lives every year. According to a study by Delhi traffic police, “In India itself about eighty thousand people are killed in road crashes every year which is thirteen percent of the total fatality all over the world. Man behind the wheel plays an important role in most of the crashes”. These fatalities occur mostly due to carelessness of the people behind the wheels or lack of road safety awareness. Hence, road safety education is as essential as any other basic skills of survival.

Behaviour is the key while driving. Safe and efficient use of traffic environment is most important. And also important is formal training in road safety. It is with this purpose that traffic police in various cities have opened road Safety cell to generate awareness among road users. What is required is a comprehensive training program to educate the whole range of road using citizens, from a common pedestrian to a vehicle driver. And that is where the public transport system becomes much more important. It’s not just reduced traffic and congestion on the roads but also makes travelling much safer.  A solution that is begging to be implemented in the urban set up. It must be expanded at a rapid pace to be in sync with growing urban population in India and its ever growing demands.

Solving the mobility challenge will require bold, coordinated actions from the private and public sectors. Technological advances and commercialization, funding, intelligent policies, and business-model innovation will be needed to realize productivity improvements while creating more sustainable environments in our cities. One has to be optimistic that this will help the world avoid a future of global gridlock. Already, there is discernible movement towards new “multimodal” services— those that facilitate journeys combining walking, cars, buses, bikes, and trains—as well as shared transportation services.

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