Smart cities are the certain part of the future dripping down in our present-day and shared mobility is one of the most essential parts of any smart city project. Numerous urban authorities are aiming to improve living conditions in their cities using latest technologies in various fields, by bringing them together, integrating data exchange systems, making them available to business and basing their decisions on city planning on data provided by the urban dwellers and companies serving them. Urban mobility is at the forefront of this innovation.
What is a smart city?
A smart city refers to an urban area that uses various technologies to improve the quality of life and work in cities. It is a continuation of the idea that our current cities are not designed or equipped to deal with increasing urbanization, as 60% of the world population is projected to live in cities by 2050. The current city infrastructures and particularly mobility methods currently utilized would not be able to deal with such an increased pressure. So cities around the world are using various IoT technologies to optimize various aspects of city life. Transportation and urban mobility are the first fields that offer the most innovation and change around Smart Cities, they are also the stepping stone to the other smart city ideas – without upgrading urban transportation rest of the smart city projects are not feasible or are much less impactful.
Smart City Projects
There are numerous smart city projects currently being implemented, most of them on a smaller scale than actual city limits, some of them in university towns. In Europe, the European Commission has a special project for supporting and encouraging smart cities – European innovation partnership on smart cities and communities (EIP-SCC). The partnership lists the following priorities: sustainable urban mobility, sustainable districts and built environment, integrated infrastructures and processes in energy, information and communication technologies and transport, citizen focus policy and regulation, integrated planning and management, knowledge sharing baselines, performance indicators and metrics, open data governance standards, business models, procurement and funding. Almost every European capital has a smart city project on various scales (Berlin, Helsinki, London, Lisbon, Amsterdam).
Copenhagen and Barcelona are at the forefront of smart city projects in Europe, with the biggest scale and most innovation. One of the main projects of Denmark’s capital is Copenhagen Connecting and it is focused around collecting sensory data, including from personal devices like cellphones, to predict congestions. Tracking devices also provide quick access to information about traffic, parking, transportation costs. The city will be using RFID tags to manage assets, including vehicles.
Barcelona is building its smart city project around an open-source platform called Sentilo, integrating data from urban sensors and making it available to various information systems in the city. This includes data from streetlights, parking spaces, smart transit services.
These are just two examples but they give a glimpse and provide a model for other smart city projects, most of which are trying to tackle the same issues.
Smart city and urban mobility
Urban mobility is the key to smart city projects and almost all of them try to deal with the issue using various methods.
The first task for such projects is mapping and integrating all available urban transportation modes and optimizing in a way that is most efficient, responds to rise and fall in demand in various areas of the city and allows for comfortable transportation in the city. This task is implemented in conjunction with modernizing the transportation infrastructure, making it more eco-friendly and less wasteful.
Several trends from transportation converge to make this happen, independently of the smart city projects. The first is the rise of shared mobility and servitization of transportation – ride-hailing, micro-mobility and carsharing all try to cover various types and modes of urban transportation in the most efficient way. Carsharing, generally speaking, tackles medium length urban transportation that requires some degree of personalization or customization of a trip – e.g. when a person has to run some errands in the city but the timing of transportation is dependent on those errands. Ride-hailing is more focused on fast transportation from point A to point B, with no complex side tasks that are connected to this movement. And micromobility tries to get the last-mile transportation over short distances, where using a car would actually be inefficient.
Along with what seems like fracturing of the transportation market, combining of these various methods that are efficient in different ways into one service – Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is happening. MaaS is a part of any smart city project, as cities try to understand various goals people use transportation for and try to integrate them in a way that is both, profitable to the business, comfortable for users and efficient for the city.
The next trend that seems most important in terms of mobility for smart cities is development of V2X technologies, that allows city administrations not only to monitor the vehicles and citizen interaction with the vehicles but to also to observe vehicle interaction with the urban infrastructure and solve numerous issues that arise from groups of cars interacting with the limited capacity infrastructure. Singapore is one of the leaders in this regard, by 2020 the city plans to connect all private cars to electronic road pricing systems, with drivers able to pay bills using GPS tracking and a payment method integrated into the car.
Development of V2X technology is one of the main parts of connected cars, another major trend affecting smart cities. Automakers are on a mission to enhance the connection between users and their vehicles, competing over the role of digital interface. Currently, a smartphone is the king of digital interfaces, including when it comes to transportation. Carmakers are trying to off-load some of those tasks from a phone into the car, as seamlessly as possible. This coupled with V2X technology would allow smart cities to get more information not only about a general vehicle but specific cars and preferences of their users.
Lastly, self-driving cars are seen as the panacea for all of the urban transportation issues and one key solution for smart cities. The self-driving cars are imagined as shared, electric vehicles that would respond to user demand instantly, solve traffic jam problems through their connection to the rest of the urban infrastructure, prevent accidents, and of course, will be electric. EVs are now universally believed to be the near future, its large scale implementation is just a matter of time and technological advancement of batteries. The cities are already working intensively on EV charging infrastructure. Helsinki Smart Region is already running an electric, driverless minivan project called SOHJOA project.
All these technological and behavioral changes enable the implementation of smart cities. The current conditions allow mobility providers, even the smaller ones, to have a significant impact on the transportation policies of their cities.
How a mobility business should prepare for smart cities
The vision for the future of urban transportation is clearly imagined by most government officials and businesses. It is electric, shared and connected. While this connected heaven certainly has some risks associated with the privacy of citizens, its benefits for the urban life quality is not debatable. Today’s mobility providers face intense pressure to respond to the trends as the market and the demand for the reformation of the cities keeps increasing almost day by day.
The first goal of mobility providers is to understand commuters, their trips, and their intentions. This requires connected vehicles – if not fully integrated vehicle operating system, at least integration that provides basic data on the location of vehicles, their usage patterns according to geographic area and analysis of big data related to the usage of transportation service not only from one business or transportation mode, but across the entire urban transportation infrastructure.
This allows mobility providers to prepare for the next stage – integration with the wider transportation system and general urban infrastructure. This is not only a requirement from most of the commuters but an essential step for businesses to decrease the cost of their operation, be more responsive to market demand change and acquire new customers from the urban transportation chain.
While private transportation businesses are not strangers to forming partnerships, strengthening cooperation with local city administrations and planners has never been so important. Every mobility mode now requires integration with the city infrastructure network and its public transportation system. Partnership with governments allows mobility businesses not only to be part of the future of the city but shape the policies related to mobility. One of the important goals for the mobility companies is to be part of the smart city projects, most of which run in a pilot or experimental mode. The costs associated with such projects are not so significant when compared to its benefits – most importantly there are often public funds available for sponsoring such smart city projects.
Urban mobility is the most crucial part of smart cities, without efficient and effective urban transportation smart cities are not possible. Mobility providers should aim to analyze the data they have related to their operations and use that analysis beyond optimizing micro-operations, by building hypotheses for testing of their ideas. This requires some level of connectedness from the vehicles and intense partnership and cooperation with the cities, infrastructure authorities and other providers of urban mobility.
If you have any questions about how your business can prepare for smart city projects, do not hesitate to contact us.