The Future of Urban Mobility

Chew Men Leong

Chief Marketing Officer, ST Engineering

Services will increasingly be user-centric while artificial intelligence (AI), automation and 5G networks will optimise road usage

Stepping into the buzz that is the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) World Congress 2019, one cannot help but be amazed at how mobility has transformed. Clearly, new technologies from AI, Internet of Things (IoT), automation to 5G and even satellite feed are turning the traditional notions of transportation and mobility on their heads, spurring the emergence of new services and transforming urban sprawls.

Even as alternative modes of transport such as autonomous vehicles may ply the streets in the foreseeable future –ultimately, what end-users want to have is a convenient, reliable and diverse menu of personal mobility choices from the first to the last mile. Ideally, one in which a commuter can step out of the house, take a neighbourhood shuttle or shared vehicle to catch a train before finally hopping on an e-scooter, rental bicycle or simply walking to the final destination. Evidence from various metropolises have shown a correlation between increases in public-transit usage if the ‘last mile’ from a station can be shortened.

In other words, urban mobility will have to be intermodal and demand-responsive. The successful delivery of flexible and seamless commuter experiences will require a higher degree of digital convergence in services that are able to read and match commuter habits and demand.

To cater to various subgroups of riders in the digital age where smartphone apps are pervasive, Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) platforms will need to be interactive, real-time, predictive and open to user-friendly permutations of routes and other supporting e-services. That means more cooperation, not only among disparate transport providers including intra-modal competitors, but also a diversity of e-service providers including quick payment platforms.

Increased rail automation and the use of advanced signalling systems can reduce space between trains, making it possible to achieve higher speeds and hence ferry more commuters. Service reliability is also a key performance for metro rail operators who can employ sensors, camera drones, big data analytics and AI to predict and identify potential faults. Pre-emptive maintenance works can then be carried out, reducing downtimes and delays from equipment failures. With data and insights widely available, planning will become a real-time activity rather than a long-term periodic task.

Maximising road capacity

With congested roads a constant bugbear for cities, a variety of technologically-driven traffic management measures is being explored.

I had the opportunity to speak at the ITS World Congress about how integrated and centralised intelligent traffic management systems are helping to manage urban congestion. Through AI, video and data analytics, and automation, these systems significantly improve the coverage and monitoring of major roadways and incident detection and response time, and are also capable of traffic flow forecasting and simulation for proactive traffic management. With sensors in infrastructure such as smart lamp posts, intelligent traffic management systems can also enable vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications, creating even more possibilities for traffic management.

Additionally, the synchronous linkage between vehicles via vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications can enable the platooning of future autonomous vehicles. This reduces the space between them with sufficient safe distances which leads to more efficient use of road space while improving fuel economy.

One city that is already pursuing some of these ways to achieve seamless mobility is Helsinki. It is looking at implementing an overarching digital platform that will provide a cashless, connected and point-to-point travel experience by 2025 by integrating an entire transport network whereby a ‘mobility’ ticket automatically plans the route for a commuter. The idea is that both public and private transport options will be seamlessly available.

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