Cities today are home to over half of the world’s population and are becoming organs of a connected world, accelerating tech solutions to improve the quality, efficiency, and desirability of city living. Yet, COVID-19 has transformed the world we used to know. Report by Pierre-Adrien Hanania, Global offer leader – AI in the Public Sector, Capgemini.
Today’s urbanised, hyper-connected and densely populated cities have become hubs for potential virus spread. Looking to the future, technological innovation is critical to achieve resilience in modern metropolises. With many country and city planners defining new ways of operating, the question of what form this innovation will take remains. What is clear, however, is that with the COVID-19 pandemic there is also an increasing need to accelerate the adoption of innovative technologies, to improve the places we call “home”.
Just as humans can evolve with their environment, cities and societies must use technology to do the same. Cities that invest in smart initiatives can positively impact citizen health and quality of life. This can be achieved by reducing traffic and congestion in the urban environment, particularly as we define new ways of living.
Urban mobility is evolving
According to Urban Transport App, CityMapper, the number of journeys across London fell by more than 90% as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. Other major cities have also been heavily impacted by containment measures, with Milan, New York and Paris all experiencing less than 5% of their usual movement of people. Easing out of lockdown presents complex issues for city mobility systems as many people use public transport less and opt for personal transportation instead.
As seen with China’s restart, we can expect global citizens to be reluctant to get onto a crowded train or packed bus for some time. As of late March 2020, China’s transport trips had barely reached 50% of normal traffic, while auto traffic had ramped up to levels nearing post-COVID.
Research from Capgemini shows that many citizens are already unhappy with where they live, pointing to wellbeing issues, transport infrastructure complaints, a lack of professional growth and underwhelming sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, the disruption caused by COVID-19 has meant that city, state, and government entities need to find innovative solutions to mitigate new infections, manage contactless interactions and prevent future outbreaks.
Improved transportation and infrastructure are highly desired benefits of smart city living with over 60% of global citizens willing to use initiatives that optimise mobility and transport. Smart cities have the potential to save commuting time and effort for citizens, this is because smart transport and mobility solutions improve transport infrastructure and services – making transitions between different modes of transport more seamless. In Pittsburgh, USA, Carnegie Mellon University and city engineers have deployed an artificial intelligence-based system that enables traffic signals to communicate with each other, reducing average travel time by 25%.
People are adaptable by nature and as cities begin to reopen, new transportation trends are emerging. While many cities continue to discourage the use of public transport, it’s apparent that as more cars come onto the road emissions will increase. This represents a challenge for today’s modern city dwellers as traffic and greenhouse gas emissions often rank highly as the biggest pain points experienced in city life: 42% and 36% of citizens cite high levels of pollution and a lack of sustainability initiatives as reasons they might consider moving to another city. However, increases appear inevitable.
In April 2020, Paris announced a €300m investment in its cycling infrastructure to adapt the city to post-lockdown travelling. This involves the construction of temporary and permanent cycle lanes to encourage consumers unwilling to use public transport to opt for bikes instead of private cars. Meanwhile, the Mayor of London announced plans in May 2020 to ban cars and vans from large parts of the city and combined this with an expansion of its cycling infrastructure. Car use has been further discouraged by raising the congestion charge to a higher rate of £15.00 (EUR16.70) a day, alongside an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone and Low Emission Zone.
The road ahead
Although smart cities offer solutions to several issues, serious challenges to implementation remain – from sourcing funding to the need for citizens to trust how their data is used. According to the Capgemini report, only one in ten officials says their city is in the advanced stages of implementing a smart city vision (9%) and only 22% have started implementing a few smart city initiatives. There has never been a better time for officials to accelerate the implementation of smart city initiatives. From public transport to shared services, travel and the rise of micro-mobility, the impact of COVID-19 on the transport sector has been profound and far reaching.
One major reason for cities to not have a smart city strategy document or comprehensive transformation plan is lack of clarity on who city officials can approach externally to get help (68%). While large metropolitan cities may have the resources and in-house capabilities to create a strategic plan, many smaller cities need external help, and collaboration with external parties is key. Closer collaboration amongst all stakeholders can contribute to making urban mobility safer and cities more sustainable in the future ahead.
The author is Pierre-Adrien Hanania, Global offer leader – AI in the Public Sector, Capgemini.