Smart cities and Tech Evolution - XX Connectivity Infrastructure - Transporting People

Traffic nightmares are common to many cities all around the world. Here a snapshot taken at Lagos, Nigeria, with 18 million people needing to move around.

ICT is not a silver bullet to solve traffic jam but it can help a bit. Mobile app like TrafficButter can help to ease life of citizens in cities, Lagos included. Credit: TrafficButter

Public transportation has changed our cities. Without public transportation the industrial revolution would have collapsed, and probably would have not taken off. You needed transport to take people from their homes to the factory.

Private transportation has booed in the last 60 years clogging streets that were designed for pedestrians and carts pulled by horses. 
 Traffic in cities has become a mess, and it is a mess everywhere. The approach to solve the traffic jams is constrained by the topology of the city that is usually pretty hard to change (you can tear down the Colosseo in central Rome to make more space for the crazy Roman traffic).

The usual approaches are along provinding better public transportation to have people avoiding using their cars and convincing them by raising taxes. In a few Countries a culture of alternative transport is well established, like in the Netherlands where bikes are widely used.

ICT can help in the sharing of infrastructures by maximising the use of resources. Self driving cars can be more responsive than human driven cars, which means that more cars can fit on a given street. This has already been demonstrated in experiment in San Diego on the highway running across the city and Sand Diego is preparing its traffic management for when self driving cars will become more common.

The real turning point, but it is at least a decade away, is the transformation of cars from products into services, in other words the disappearance of (most) private cars. If we think about it, it makes sense. Our car spends most of its time parked somewhere, according to some analyses up to 95% of their time.

Car sharing and car pooling are today’s first attempt to address this issue. In the future cars will be scattered (as they are today) in a city and when we need one we just pick it up. ICT will be the instrument to make this possible.
 A study MIT made on actual data in the city of Singapore shows that 1/3 of the present car population in Singapore would be sufficient to accommodate all transport needs of its citizens.

The problem is finding a viable biz model. Uber, that is a (narrow) way to implement private car sharing is not profitable (it posted a profit in 2016 first quarter but is back in the red in the second half of 2016 with a total loss of 1.2B$.

In the long term the solution will rely on a combination of a public and sharing transport culture and an integrated way of managing the fleets of vehicles, the infrastructure and multimodal transportation. The IoT can play a significant role in this integration. As an example Cisco offers a Smart+Connected Traffic solution including IP cameras and road sensors whose data are analysed by a suite of applications providing alerts and detecting traffic patterns to provide drivers with early awareness and suggest alternative roads.

Smart signals can be integrated in the traffic monitoring, changing the red light duration, dynamically rearranging lanes and turning two ways street into one way street depending on traffic condition. This needs to be integrated with on-board navigation system so that the city topology remains up-to-date.

There are already plenty of applications havng the goal of helping citizens mobility, from alerting them on traffic condition to fining the best mix of public/private transportation. And these applications cover most cities in the world (different ones for different cities though). 
 A Municipality should work as an orchestrator making city data accessible and fostering data integration. More than that. Municipalities should team and look for application portability using an Open Data Framework as the common fabric.
 This is something that is being pursued at EIT Digital in a 2016/17 project using the European funded FIWare platform.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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