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Smart City Expo World Congress: How Can Cities Manage Smart Mobility?

The Smart City Expo World Congress is a global meeting point for everyone with a stake in the future of urban living and development, from world leaders, to technologists to civil engineers. With more than 21.000 attendees from 700 cities, the Congress has cemented itself as the largest and most influential smart city event in the world. This year’s 8th edition of the event, held annually in Barcelona, had one core theme: Building Cities To Live In.

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Over 400 speakers delivered keynotes, panels and presentations around 5 key content tracks: Mobility, Digital Transformation, Urban Environment, Governance & Finance, and Inclusive & Sharing Cities. Among the events on offer was an eye-opening panel discussion on the need to develop flexible and integrated public transport systems that meet the needs of our citizens. The panel, hosted by Julio Gomez Pomar, Chairman of IE Business School, featured 4 diverse stakeholders in the smart city economy:

· Mohammad Asim Khan – Mayor of Peshawar, Pakistan
· Dr. Amit Gumar Jain (@railMinIndia)  – Head of India Railways, New Dehli, India
· Dr. Ignasi Vilajosana (@ivilajosana) – Founder & CEO of Worldsensing
· Alvaro Urech (@ureche) – Innovation Manager at Alstom

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Peshawar, Pakistan

Mohammad Asim Khan, the Mayor of Peshawar showcased how the state of transportation in the oldest living city in the region – over 5.000 years old – is faring in the age of urbanism. With 4.3 million residents, the city’s biggest challenge is how to accommodate daily commuters, whilst also stemming the effects of the pollution that they cause. To meet demand, Peshawar developed the Gold Standard System as the means of communication and smart mobility. With more than 1.200 buses already activated in the Smart Bus Transport System, the project is nearly 90% complete. However, as Khan illustrated, they’re still implementing an AI infrastructure that will continue to optimize operations for years to come.

New Delhi, India

Across the border, Dr. Jain from New Delhi explained how his city is facing similar challenges when it comes to developing their new railway system. Its public transport network squeezes more than 8 passengers per square meter on their trains during peak hours – that’s approximately 55.000 passengers per hour, per direction, every work day.

Rather than focusing on supply, which requires major capital investment, New Delhi prioritizes demand management. The first element of demand management is charging higher fares during peak hours to incentivize people to seek alternative transportation options such as carsharing or biking. A more controversial solution posed for high demand management was encouraging professionals to leverage remote work technologies and work from home, thus reducing the numbers of people making the commute to work each day. Whilst this concept may have potential on paper, persuading individuals to change daily routines and established human behaviors proves difficult in reality.

100 City Journey, Barcelona, Spain

Next, Ignasi Vilajosana, CEO of Worldsensing, took the stage to share key insights from his travels around the world and meetings with influential city leaders. The reality is that cities are being overwhelmed by the speed at which new technologies are hitting the market. First and last mile solutions, such as ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft, scooter sharing brands like Lime and Bird, and microbus services like FlixBus are in fact creating new challenges for cities, rather than solving old ones. This rapid pace of technological development is leaving cities flooded under a tidal wave of multimodal transportation options. With low prices driving a rate of consumption that’s much faster than municipal response rates, cities are struggling to engage with new technology and update solutions accordingly. Currently, the way many operate lacks oversight, control and visibility. This will need to be rectified in order for cities to meet the needs of modern urban citizens.

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Why are cities loosing control of their mobility systems?

Before we can develop solutions, we need to pinpoint the issues that led to the key challenges facing metropolitan centers all over the world. Primarily, many problems stem from the fact that cities work in silos. For many municipal authorities, full control over mobility services in their city simply isn’t a feasible reality. Data is stored within internal silos, and a lack of communication between departments means there’s little visibility on what’s actually happening on the streets. The recent explosion of third-party transportation providers can be compared to pouring gasoline on an already spreading wildfire. As an example, in the last few years, we’ve seen kids and executives alike traveling at 30mph down city sidewalks on unregistered electric scooters. Alternatively, in China, you can see mountains of stacked unused bicycles in areas where regulation failed to effectively match demand with supply.

All this is the state of affairs prior to the introduction of automated transportation services in the next 5-10 years. If we’re not prepared for this shift, with natural market forces driving us towards a pay-to-play model, automation could actually exacerbate existing problems. Without oversight and regulation, the technology waiting on the horizon to disrupt societies as we know them could possibly worsen complex urban issues such as deepening income inequality divides.

How can cities regain control of their mobility nightmare?

  1. Collect and manage data effectively across silos. This requires digitizing and monitoring all data from a single centralized location – including both city data and data from third-party providers.
  2. Regulate and incentivize third-party providers to share their data in exchange for subsidized licensing and access to data from the city and other providers.
  3. Understand the impact of these changes and act quickly to adapt services to the needs of your city.

With the launch of the OneMind IoT solution builder, Worldsensing is working to produce forward-thinking mobility applications and end-to-end solutions to these issues. The OneMind core aggregates city data from all available providers. This returns control to the hands of Directors of Operations and city officials, who have the visibility to make informed decisions. It empowers control room operators to predict and prepare for, rather than respond retroactively to, potential problems.

Conclusion

When it comes to the future of modern cities, the only thing we can be sure of is the constant pace of change. In order to engage with rapid evolution, we must understand that the answer isn’t technology itself, but the way we leverage it to manage complexity. Incoming tech and services are setting new rules and creating new forms of smart mobility. This next generation of products generates an exciting new set of opportunities for cities, as well as key challenges too.

Such challenges are augmented by our global culture of convenience that continues to raise customer expectations. Cities stand no chance of managing demand and influencing long-term citizen behavior without first managing the complexity of multimodal transportation in ways that continuously improve end-user experiences.

Smart Cities

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