Sunday 7th June 2020

Why improving mobility in the urban areas is crucial to the future of cities

Published on April 25th, 2019

Adrian Sussmann, president at COAST Autonomous, explains how, as global populations migrate to cities, new technologies can make public transport more attractive by making it faster and more frequent.

These smart city technologies transform everyday items such as lights, buildings, road signs and vehicles into intelligent, connected components that collect data and allow a more convenient and safer lifestyle for urban inhabitants.

Reports state that over 55% of the global population already lives in cities and this number will continue to rise to 70% by the year 2050. The UN’s latest report, World Urbanisation Prospects, states there has been a recent surge of megacities – defined as cities with 10 million inhabitants or more – and predicts that the number will grow from the 33 there are now to 43 by 2030. Most will be located in countries generally thought of as being less economically developed. As city centres become filled with younger people and fast-growth businesses, city authorities look for new solutions to improve the urban environment.

One of the most critical factors is gridlocked traffic. Congestion affects cities all over the world wasting time, causing air pollution and terrible accidents that can be fatal. Reducing traffic and improving mobility in city centres will be a key benefit of smart city technologies and crucial to the future of prosperous cities.

Saving urban environments

While the idea of introducing a new fleet of vehicles onto busy city streets seem to be counter-productive, if they are electric, shared and autonomous, they could be a game changer. Self-driving shuttles and pods that can operate in pedestrian areas will allow city governments to expand car-free zones and provide an on-demand mobility solution for those not wanting or able to walk. In other words, eradicating cars from city centres immediately solves traffic and air pollution and will instantly transform the urban environment.

As more and more inhabitants become conscious of climate change and harmful emissions, more cities are looking to curb pollution and provide environmentally friendly modes of transportation. In fact, London has just become the first city in the world to launch an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which will see additional fees, on top of the congestion charge, for diesel and older vehicles to enter the city centre.

However, there are still some civilians who would prefer to pay these extra fees and stay in the comfort of their private vehicle rather than take crowded public transportation, which can be an unpleasant experience, particularly during peak hours. So to be successful, cities must also provide convenient and comfortable transportation alternatives.

These alternatives will include on-demand, electric, shared autonomous vehicles such as four passenger pods or self-driving shuttles that can hold between ten and 20 passengers. Car parks or transit hubs, where buses and Uber-type services drop passengers could be located at the edge of the city centre’s car-free zone. The pods and shuttles could then provide a convenient and seamless transportation service from these hubs into the city centre.

Transforming public transport

Apart from providing a city centre mobility solution, autonomous pods and shuttles can also give the answer to public transport from the suburbs into the city centre.

Autonomous public transport can be the new backbone of mobility in cities. While popular, light railways are very expensive and take many years to build. Bus rapid transit (BRT), which involves running regular and longer bendy buses in segregated lanes are cheaper and can be introduced much more quickly. Autonomous rapid transport (ART) will prove like the new light railways, and is the natural evolution of BRT.

ART requires segregated roads like BRT, but as they are driverless, many smaller driverless vehicles that be operated more frequently. Traditionally, BRT would consist of one 40-person capacity bus arriving every six to eight minutes, while ART could run four ten-passenger shuttles every two minutes, say, which contains the same capacity but more efficient service to the customer.

ART also provides more flexibility: during peak hours the vehicles would operate along the fixed route. However, in off-peak hours, the vehicles can come off the line and provide an on-demand, Uber type service dropping passengers at the door.

As cities become more densely populated, the opportunity presents itself to improve urban mobility by harnessing the power of technology. By leveraging automated vehicles for shared occupancy, city planners and governments can significantly enhance the quality of life for city dwellers and help redefine transportation in urban environments.

For more information see COAST Autonomous

The author of this blog is Adrian Sussmann, president of COAST Autonomous

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