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How can Smart Mobility change the way cities move?

This article was originally published on ET Insights.

By 2030, India’s urban population is expected to nearly double to 600 million. Cities have always attracted migrants who come to urban areas in search of better opportunities. However, this increased urbanization will put enormous pressure on infrastructure and increase pollution as well.

At the same time, India has witnessed a tremendous influence of technology and IoT in its travel options. India alone is expected to have about 5 billion devices by 2022. Between 2014-2019, more than 5,000 patents related to Internet of Things (IoT) have been filed in India. Next generation mobile technologies, smart cities and IoT offer potentially massive opportunities to simplify how people travel.

Everything around us today is “smart,” from our vehicles to wearables and refrigerators. Our world has become increasingly digitized, driven by advancements in smart devices, but most important of all is IoT, which connects smart devices, enabling them to seamlessly collect and analyse massive volumes of data. This field is rapidly growing - PwC estimates that the total value of the global smart city market is projected to exceed US$1 trillion by 2020 and US$2.5 trillion by 2025.

This networked world is spilling into our understanding of “smart mobility” as well. Technological advances, such as RFID tag readers at toll booths, air-quality monitoring sensors, and digital payments/automated fare collection in public transport services, are creating a more data-driven future of mobility.

In India, the government has launched the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC), a single smart card that commuters can use for booking travel. Another example is how WRI India is working with the Delhi Transport Department to deploy a QR-code based ticketing app for Delhi’s buses, in a bid to encourage cashless ticketing. Under the Smart Cities Mission, several cities are setting up integrated traffic management centres and have even deployed smart low-cost air-quality monitoring devices.

However, key challenges still remain. Devices working in silos, data privacy, security concerns, usage of data for addressing real world problems and the lack of capacity in public agencies are barriers that need to be overcome to create an integrated smart mobility system. For India’s mobility to truly become smart we need to focus on improving efficiencies in four key areas:

Using big data to prepare Comprehensive Mobility Plans (CMPs)

Every year, several municipal corporations and development authorities develop Comprehensive Mobility Plans. CMPs collect various data sets such as traffic counts and classification, speed data, demographic and household information and analyse the date to determine the feasibility of infrastructure projects.

Data from origin & destination points of commuters
Figure 2: Data from origin & destination points of commuters that use Bengaluru's Outer Ring Road can be used to manage traffic and effectively plan public transport systems on the city's congested highway. Photo source: Digital Globe, CNES/Astrium; Image analysis by WRI India.

However, such information can also be used to better understand the access and coverage of different mobility systems, as well as the impact as a whole, rather than looking at projects in isolation. For example, a flyover or elevated corridor project should be evaluated in the context of the impact it will have at both local and city level. Cities should be able to evaluate alternative options and use a data-based approach for the final suitable solution.

Various scenarios can then be generated to understand travel patterns based on origin, destination (as shown in Figure 2) and preferred modes. The solution then need not only be focussed on increasing supply, by increasing capacity of roadway systems, but can also aim at managing demands. All this is possible if data collection efforts are coordinated and automated. Sharing relevant data sets in the public domain can also lead to the development of innovative solutions by entrepreneurs and citizens.

Designing public transportation systems to improve access to jobs

Most public transport system buses are equipped with GPS. With buses generating data at every ping (roughly every 10 seconds) for each bus, a wealth of information is obtained in understanding the bus systems. This information, combined with automated fare collection data, can lead to rationalising the operations of the routes, understanding the demand and supply for the bus systems to determine the required fleet augmentation, introduction of new routes and integration with other modes. For example, a well-connected transport network can get residents around the city in say 45 minutes or less; creating an inclusive and greener transport ecosystem.

wealth of information can be obtained by understanding India’s bus systems
Figure 3: A wealth of information can be obtained by understanding India’s bus systems. Photo by WRI India Ross Center.

Creating Smart Electric Vehicles

All EVs are smart systems with battery management systems and IoT devices. These help not only in improving the performance of the battery and the vehicle but also in predictive maintenance resulting in cost savings. For logistic companies, this could mean improved last mile delivery of goods and arriving at smarter business models.

Unlocking full potential of transportation systems through multimodal integration

Full-scale multimodal integration is characterized by two key features: The integration of mass transport modes with each other, and integration of mass transport modes with other “feeder” modes such as taxis, shared-mobility services like car-sharing and bike-sharing, walking, and cycling – all of which help provide first- and last-mile connectivity.

Fare integration includes use of integrated payment solutions like smart cards, Near Field Communication (NFCs) and digital payments. This offers seamless access and payment across different modes without penalizing the user for using different modes as it charges across the system based on total distance travelled.

Transportation systems are complex and their impacts are far reaching in terms of access to jobs, health care, education and recreation. While smart devices and IoT applications have made great strides in improving mobility solutions in India, on a case-by-case basis, the future must call for system-level changes for improving transport service levels and access to all sections of society. Only then can we call it truly “Smart Mobility.”

Views are the author’s own.

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