How Smart Transportation Solves Urban Mobility Problems

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How Smart Transportation Solves Urban Mobility Problems

Cities around the world are implementing smart technologies to improve quality of life. One of the main concerns for smart cities is mobility, because traffic congestion and pollution are some of the biggest challenges they face. 

Achieving smart mobility in a city involves handling constraints such as population growth and inefficient transportation systems. Smart cities are using smart transport solutions to solve their transportation problems. These include Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), which collect data from across the city to centrally manage transportation and enhance communication between the city and residents. 

Moreover, citizens are opting to use multi-modal and micro-mobility transportation options, such as ride hailing, car-sharing or bike and scooter sharing. Smart mobility solutions are emerging to provide city residents with a seamless transportation experience by aggregating all available transportation options into one convenient interface.

In this article:

  • Problems of Urban Transportation

  • Smart Cities: The Future of Transportation

  • Smart Transportation Use Cases

Problems of Urban Transportation

Urban transport has been a transformational force in our cities, but it severely impacts the urban environment, bringing with it pollution and congestion. The following are some of the challenges presented by urban transportation.

Traffic movement and congestion

In our overpopulated cities, urban transport networks cannot accommodate the volume of commuters. Congestion problems result from overloading, increased private car use, inefficient traffic routes and roads, and intrinsic urban design problems, such as old city centers with small alleys and streets. Some cities have found solutions like making city centers car-free, or providing micro-mobility solutions such as bike and scooter rentals. 

Public transport crowding

In addition to traffic congestion, large cities often experience overcrowding in trains and buses at peak hours. At peak periods there can be lengthy queues at stops and crowding at train terminals. A famous example is Japan’s “packer” employees that force passengers inside the metro carriage to allow the automatic doors to close. 

Off-peak inadequacy of public transport

The problem doesn’t end with congestion at peak hours. There is still the issue of managing public transportation during off-peak hours. This presents an interesting paradox—if the public transport operator has a large enough fleet to cover peak demand, off-peak demand will not justify operations, meaning almost empty buses during “slow” times, leading to financial losses. On the other hand, if they adapt the fleet size to off-peak demand, there will not be enough vehicles for peak hours. 

This issue is at the core of the urban transport problem for public transport operators, which usually opt for reducing off-peak services. Unfortunately, this in turn encourages private car use.

Difficulties for pedestrians

Traditional attempts to increase pedestrian safety have not dealt with the root of the problem—that is, traffic speed and volume. Instead, policies often focus on restricting pedestrian movement, thus exacerbating the problem, limiting access to facilities and activities in the city. Smart cities, on the other hand, make a point of encouraging walking. London, for example, is encouraging residents to prefer walking to other forms of transport, aiming for a goal of one quarter of all journeys on foot by 2041. 

Environmental impact and energy consumption

One of the main goals of smart cities is to reduce pollution and environmental impact. The biggest culprit here is the use of motor vehicles, which cause air pollution and noise. Without reducing personal car ownership, cities will not be able to reduce their carbon footprint and transition to environmentally-sustainable transport.

Accidents and safety

The growing traffic in urban areas causes an increasing number of fatalities and accidents. While pedestrian fatalities are the most common, car crashes and even public transport accidents account for a significant share. Furthermore, the widespread adoption of smartphones and navigation apps, while making moving around a lot easier, also create distractions that may result in accidents. 

Smart Cities: The Future of Transportation

To solve these issues, smart cities adopt smart transport services. An Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) transforms the way city residents commute around the city and with surrounding communities. This system uses traffic and mobility management solutions to provide residents with access to a range of transportation modes and infrastructure.

Smart transportation features 

There are a number of features that makes a transportation system “smart”:

  • Public transportation management: A smart city encourages the use of public transportation by using route optimization technologies, powered by real-time data analysis of different routes. This information helps respond to delays and emergencies by rerouting busses, and keeps passengers informed through mobility apps and websites. 

  • Route information: This is perhaps one of the most disruptive aspects of a smart transportation system. Travelers can find the best route and transportation modes for their needs. Real-time information about traffic conditions and available transportation helps them reach their commute easily and on time. Drivers and non-drivers alike benefit from mobility solutions integrated to the smart transportation system. Users can check the trip duration and traffic flow, and provide recommendations for alternate routes and available transportation combinations.

  • Safety and vehicle control: This service monitors road conditions and vehicle performance, in some cases leveraging IoT warnings about any risk of front or rear-end collisions by tracking the position of other vehicles. Advanced sensors in vehicles assist drivers in poor visibility conditions, acting to reduce accidents.

Smart transport technologies

  • IoT sensor infrastructure: Intelligent sensors are placed both in vehicles and in road infrastructure, and are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). One such example is Radio Frequency Identification (RFI), ensuring the safety of drivers by using electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to vehicles.

  • Emergency e-call vehicle service: Sensors in vehicles can contact an emergency center during emergencies. Drivers can connect, via an e-call, with a trained operator to report the time, location, vehicle identification and direction of the vehicle.

  • Mobility marketplace: In recent years, a number of technologies have emerged to help passengers and businesses purchase mobility services, forming a mobility marketplace with solutions such as mobile apps, web widgets and self service kiosks. This trend is driving the expansion of mobility solutions to hotels, malls and restaurants, helping customers access available transportation options in real time.

Smart Transportation Use Cases

A number of cities around the world are employing smart transportation systems and technologies to respond to challenges. Here three examples:

  • Multimodal Detroit: The city is rebuilding its bus system into a multi-modal transportation model, adding more car and bike sharing, integrating with the private sector, to get as many transportation options as possible to citizens. 

  • Driverless cars in Helsinki: Finland was the first country to declare driverless cars legal, with Helsinki introducing driverless minibuses into the transportation environment. These robo-buses can transport up to nine people and navigate under normal traffic conditions. 

  • Smart streetcar corridor in Kansas City: The city opened a “smart streetcar corridor” that includes public WiFi, smart lighting, sensors and digital information kiosks. These sensors collect data from the lights, pavement, traffic signals and even water pipes to manage traffic and other services. 

Conclusion 

Smart cities have a variety of tools at their disposal to solve urban transportation problems. Hundreds of cities around the world are implementing these tools, with encouraging results. However, smart transportation requires heavy investments, a long-term commitment from city leadership, and must be supported by complex logistical projects. 

The road to efficient, sustainable transport is long. But cities are awaking to the realization that they will not be able solve transport problems by adding more roads; not even by adding more busses or trains. The biggest improvement to traffic woes can be gained from optimizing existing infrastructure, complementing it with sensors, data analysis and smart, automated decision making.

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