Navigating through traffic on congested roads or riding on a crowded public transport system on our daily commute demonstrates that little has changed in how we get from A to B over the past 30 years.
However, the transport industry is expected to catch up with other sectors in adopting innovation thanks to a combination of factors, including population growth, consumer expectations, fiscal constraints, increased environmental and social objectives, and business from other sectors pushing into the transportation market.
New transport-related technologies such as automated systems, self-driving vehicles or even hyperloop play a part in this transportation revolution. Still, ‘smart’ transportation has a much wider meaning and refers to how design, operation, commercials and policies – along with human behaviours and personal preferences – come together in an integrated mobility system.
Hence, mobility rather than transport is the dominant trend emerging in the world of transportation, giving rise to an increased focus on the customer service experience, or mobility as a service (MaaS).
Mobility is being seen as an all-embracing relationship with the entire journey, whether for professional or personal reasons, regular commutes or ad-hoc travel.
It entails meeting personal preferences, including a stress-free trip, linking various destinations or guaranteed journey times. It attempts to maximise the level of service for every individual, while also balancing network-wide demands and increasing overall transport efficiencies.
The journey will merge with other aspects of an individual’s life, causing a blurring of lines around action and mode of transport. For instance, working while in an autonomous vehicle (AV) or a daily change in the preferred mode of transport based on external circumstances, purpose of the trip and acceptable travel time – all managed by a smartphone application that determines the best option for an individual – while also considering the wider social and economic impact.
Applications for travel planning are now available in many metropolitan areas with multiple modes of transport offered. In Paris, an app named Vianavigo combines live train, metro, tram and bus data with options for shared bikes, wheelchairs and walking, as well as 17 carpooling companies.
In 2014, the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport launched Darb, which means ‘the way’ in Arabic, to provide real-time data, initially only on traffic and congestion, but now extended to include parking occupancy, public transport services and carpooling, among other functions.
In Dubai, the Enterprise Command & Control Centre (EC3) has short-term predictive traffic forecasting capabilities that could feed into an updated version of the existing Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) Wojhati travel planner.
Applications aimed at informing and continuously updating visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai are expected to be launched in time for the event.
There is also significant potential for improving coordination and management of travel and traffic around the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. Currently, management largely relies on tour operators’ knowledge of traffic conditions and local communication.
The success of both the Uber and Careem private car-booking apps across the kingdom demonstrates that the smart transport revolution is underway region-wide.
Whim, another app initially launched in Helsinki and now also available in Birmingham in the UK, offers one single system for payment of all public- and shared-transport systems.
Dubai’s RTA is implementing a similar system with its Nol card payments, which are accepted for metro, bus, taxi and marine transport, as well as at parking meters. A smartphone-based, near-field communication Nol service has also been launched as a trial for selected handsets and mobile phone contracts. Once fully implemented, Nol cards could be phased out.
New business models
Beyond software and mobile apps, mobility is bound by the emerging markets of connected, autonomous, electric and shared vehicles and reflects the need to consider new business models for both the supplier and user alike.
The US, and in particular San Francisco, has been a breeding ground for creating new business models and introducing new operators, including ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, commuter shuttle operator Chariot, and Leap Transit Service, which offers an enhanced bus ride experience.
While all this sounds somewhat futuristic, the reality is that a number of elements must be fully understood before wide-scale change is enabled. Emerging trends and technologies around mobility will generate high levels of data that need to be exploited.
Another challenge is to grasp the opportunity presented by disruptive technologies and look to do things differently. Rather than just replacing a driven vehicle with a driverless vehicle, we should understand how the overall system benefits from the introduction of new solutions.
The expected widespread adoption of privately owned AVs is a major concern for city governments, too. Policies and regulations are being put in place to avoid a scenario where congestion could actually increase due to a large number of privately owned AVs circulating on the network. The deputy mayor of Paris stated last year that “if you don’t design the rules of the game before 2020, it will be a mess”.
Dubai’s aim for 25 per cent of all trips to be autonomous by 2030 does not specify the mode, but the target will be more easily achieved through shared and multi-user AVs. The RTA is undertaking various projects to study and propose the deployment of AVs for last- and first-mile transport, shuttle services and longer distance self-driving bus services.
A holistic approach
The design, consideration and business value associated with mobility has to be linked with other services in order to fully extract optimum pricing models and user requirements. In the local context, multiple opportunities exist.
The open data law in Dubai offers a platform for the development and enhancement of mobility applications to improve the customer experience of public transport and to support the use of mobility as a service in general, as well as to identify new funding options.
This could include partnerships with data telecom companies such as Etisalat or Du to share and access data for the benefit of a variety of applications including transport, and to provide businesses with information about travel patterns and transit user profiles to allow them to adapt their offering.
Beeline, Singapore’s crowd-sourced bus service platform, taps into data analytics and community demand and is a concept that could be adopted in the Middle East, replacing privately operated companies and minibus services.
On the other hand, mechanisms that better link miles driven to the environmental impact and infrastructure cost could be developed.
In Oregon, US, the OReGO pilot project charges road users 1.5$cents for every mile driven, with an in-car USB tracking each journey. The scheme aims to generate funds for road maintenance while providing a fairer and more flexible charging option than fixed-toll locations or charges levied as part of vehicle registration.
A lot of places in the Middle East provide an ideal basis for designing, implementing and operating new forms of transportation to provide an advanced level of mobility. Wide road corridors with numerous lanes offer an opportunity for allocating dedicated lanes to AVs and thus promoting new technologies.
Alternatively, car-sharing, carpooling or the use of electric cars could be encouraged by assigning these vehicles dedicated lanes.
City-wide implementation clearly bears significant risk, but identifying certain areas or corridors for pilot studies is an attractive option. Dubai has paved the way in this regard by undertaking the first tests in a public environment.
About the authors
Joerg Tonndorf (pictured) is associate director of Arup Middle East and John McCarthy is leader of intelligent mobility, Arup Europe
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