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Smart cities
Smart cities

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3.1 Mobility on demand

A photograph of a driverless car in Milton Keynes
Figure 12

Transport has always been key to the survival of cities. But rapid urbanisation means significant congestion as large volumes of people and vehicles try to navigate the cities.

The Economic and Environmental Cost of Traffic Congestion report reveals that in 2013 traffic congestion drained the economies of the US, UK, Germany and France of more than $200 billion (INRIX, 2014). Not only is this a waste of time but it is also a waste of fuel, and air pollution is a major issue for cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died as a result of air pollution exposure – one in eight of total global deaths (WHO, 2014). This makes air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

Many city government strategies for improving public transport rely on big vehicles with fixed routes and timetables. Rather than a transport system designed to suit the needs of the people, current systems require people to arrange their lives around the design of a transport system. An example of this is the familiar system of bus routes meeting in the centre of the city. If you want to travel across the city you have to take several buses, which is time consuming and expensive.

Developments in ICT mean that new smart transport services are being created. There are real-time travel apps, such as Citymapper [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] which offers live departure information for all possible transport modes between two locations. Cities available in the app include Singapore, Toronto, Berlin and Sao Paulo. Smart travel cards such as the Oyster card facilitate easy payment across transport models. Sidecar is a ride app that connects people who need a lift with everyday drivers in their personal vehicles. In Jakarta residents use Twitter to organise shared car journeys to work: the Nebengers Twitter account has 83,000 followers and re-tweets 1,000 requests for ride shares each day.

Smart vehicles are also being developed. Examples include driverless vehicles, which are currently being piloted in four UK cities – Greenwich in south-east London, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. There’s also personal rapid transit, which consists of small, two- or three-passenger vehicles running on elevated guideways with no driver.

Helsinki in Finland has ambitious plans to transform its existing public transport network into a comprehensive mobility-on-demand system by 2025. The aim is to provide users with an array of options so cheap, flexible and co-ordinated that the system becomes competitive with private car ownership. A smartphone app will function as both a journey planner and one-stop payment platform, enabling users to purchase mobility in real time. Users will input a point of origin, a destination and preferences to receive a customised transport plan that combines buses, bikes, ferries and driverless cars. Find out more about the Helsinki plan if you’d like.

Technology can also help make cities more walkable and safer to navigate by bike. Beat the Street is a fun, free walking and cycling game for a whole community. It turns an area into a real-life game where players register their movement by tapping radio-frequency identification (RFID) cards on ‘beat boxes’ placed around the city, encouraging people to become more physically active and change the way they travel.

CycleEye is a driver’s aid that alerts busy drivers of buses and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to the presence of cyclists nearby who might otherwise be difficult to spot.

Further reading

Stephen Potter, Professor of Transport Strategy at The Open Univesity, discusses how autonomous vehicles could revolutionise approaches to urban and transport planning in the following article: Driverless public transport will change our approach to city planning – and living.