Opinion: Smart cities rely on smart transport

Urban mobility operators must innovate to meet the region's ambitions for interconnected, technologically integrated cities
An autonomous 10-seater car during a trial on Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard in 2016
By Laurence Batlle
Sun 08 Apr 2018 08:48 AM

We live in remarkable times, when technology offers new hope and potential for the future of the world’s cities and urban communities. Mobility lies at the heart of this urban transformation and the smart city of Dubai is a shining example.

The share of public transport in Dubai has risen from six percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2017 and the Roads and Transport Authority has set a target of 25 percent of all journeys to be driverless by 2030 in order to reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

The role of urban mobility companies is to enable cities to flourish economically, sustainably and safely – and help provide a high quality of life for all residents. This means that we need to enable ease of mobility in every sense – moving and connecting people and ideas, data and information. But technology is dramatically changing the way we communicate, where and how we work, and the way that people move around cities.

The challenges and opportunities of the sustainable smart city are driving the transformation of the mobility industry. There is a recognition that the future of urban public mobility innovation must be people-centric, technology-enabled, sustainable and inclusive for everyone.

So, in a visionary region that is pioneering ambitious smart cities on an unprecedented scale, the vision of the city planners here must be matched by urban mobility companies, which are today facing a double challenge. The first challenge is to maintain existing legacy urban transport infrastructure in order to optimise working lives. The second is to make exciting new urban mobility possibilities a reality in the smart city.

Transport innovation

Innovation in mobility should focus on four important areas to shape the future of urban transport. Firstly, leveraging technology: integrating innovation with technology is the route to pioneering new “smart” urban transportation solutions. Technical and engineering innovation is driven mainly by automation and driverless mobility systems, such as autonomous electric vehicles and driverless metro systems – leading to the prediction that, by 2020, 75 percent of all new metro systems will be driverless.

Automated systems really began in Paris in 1998 with Line 14 on its Metro, the world’s first high-capacity automated route that now has around 700,000 passengers per day. It offers greater punctuality, reliability and flexibility to instantaneously match supply with demand. This success prompted the automation of Line 1, the oldest and most heavily used route in Paris, completed in 2012 without any traffic interruption. Line 4 is now also being fully automated.

Secondly, innovating for a sustainable future means transitioning to zero emission vehicles, such as electric buses, along with the required support infrastructure.

It also demands a long-term strategy for AI and big data, which can help match the mobility service to customer demand.

The current state-of-the-art in AI is “Mobility as a Service” and DRT (Demand Responsive transport), which personalises the individual passenger journey and enhances the customer experience.

Thirdly, no one has a monopoly on innovation, so partnering with other firms and the start-up eco-system in a new collaborative approach is the way to develop genuine technological breakthrough projects. Our dedicated fund, RATP Capital Innovation, focuses on investing in start-ups, specifically new services and forms of mobility for the benefit of passengers and transport authorities.

Finally, this drive for mobility innovation is aimed at building sustainable communities of the future. The work of mobility companies should not just be measured only in terms of kilometres or passenger numbers and travel times, but on the much broader impact they make on a community in three important areas – skills transfer and employment opportunities, social inclusion for staff and passengers, and social responsibility.

One the move

“Mobility for all” is one of our credos. This culture of social inclusion applies to our teams as well as to our passengers across the world. The UAE, at the very highest levels of leadership, is championing the economic and social empowerment of women and helping them realise their potential across multiple fields. As a member of the United Nations Global Compact, RATP Dev is pleased to support the Women’s Empowerment Principles in the UAE.

At the end of the day, public transport must always be about people.


Getting there

Dubai is helping to develop several smart-city transport solutions

Autonomous pods

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) began testing the world’s first autonomous pods at the World Government Summit earlier this year. Launched in cooperation with Next Future Transportation, the pods will travel at two kilometres per hour and carry 10 riders. The pods are fitted with batteries that support three hours of operation.

Aerial taxis

Dubai wants to operate these within five years with trials supposedly beginning this year. The RTA has signed a partnership with Volocopter, a German manufacturer, and has asked them to incorporate additional safety measures before tests proceed.

Driverless cars

Dubai is building capabilities to support Tesla, Uber and Google once they begin testing driverless vehicles outside of the US. Tesla’s fleet of 50 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs, delivered to the RTA in September last year, are also equipped with the company’s “Autopilot” software. The emirate and has already signed an agreement for the operation of autonomous vehicles in the Sustainable City project in Dubailand.

Laurence Batlle, chairman, RATP Dev

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