The promise of smart mobility

April 20, 2017 | By Jerome Simpson

“Transport is undergoing a massive transformation which many say is comparable only to the invention of the steam engine," said Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport, in a recent speech. "Digital technologies are the main driver of this transformation, changing every aspect of mobility, including the way we book our journey, the value of transport assets, perceptions of travel time, employment conditions, and the management of traffic flows.”

The term "smart mobility" has emerged to a certain extent as a subset of the "smart city" concept, which itself has grown out of the notion of first digital then intelligent cities. I want to be clear, however, that smart mobility solutions are not restricted to cities, with initiatives afoot to develop intelligent trans-European transport networks and vehicles, smart multi-modal transport nodes, or freight hubs potentially served by drones etc.

To my mind, a smart city is one that is "wired" to its citizens for a better environment, economy and society. In theory, smart mobility promises improved transport efficiency, a cut in CO2 emissions, reduced congestion, raised levels of safety and security on our roads, better social integration and equity, and money saved, much of which is achieved through citizen interaction. Among the tools making this happen in cities are "Mobility as a Service" (MaaS) apps or websites that help travelers optimise routes, consolidate demand, and can even facilitate bespoke services (e.g. dial-a-ride). Essentially, it is the combination of these sharing services and enabling technologies that can help fill service gaps and provide real alternatives to our private vehicles, thereby contributing to sustainable urban mobility.

As a consumer, I look forward to reliable travel information, in other words, mobility services available on my mobile phone that detail multiple options to get from A to B seamlessly, efficiently, in a multi-modal, shared environment context with zero CO2 emissions. In other words, I can be at ease in town without my car! In years to come, mobile phones will replace car keys as one’s means to independent mobility. We’ve yet to see this become a reality in Central and South Eastern Europe, but as an advocate of sustainable mobility within my organisation, the REC is working on measures to offer the opportunity of such freedoms to its employees, including an online ride-sharing platform for staff to book rides home from work, as well as calculate the costs of that ride within the framework of its smart commuting initiative and workplace travel plan.

Commissioner Bulc continues by saying: “I want Europe to lead and shape -- not suffer -- this transformation,” and it is clear that a lot has already happened. The EU’s research and demonstration initiative, CIVITAS, has supported smart mobility solutions since 2002, including 139 specific measures in over 40 cities. These pertain to efficient freight, logistics and traffic management, innovative parking guidance, the enforcement of low-emission zones and access restrictions, ensuring safe public space, the provision of (e-)bike/car/freight/ride-share and rental schemes, and integrated payment and ticketing services. Among its results, in Donostia-San Sebastian in Spain, a public transport fleet management system optimised drivers’ time to 94.87 percent and reduced its operating expenses by 2.5 percent; in Craiova in Romania, on-board public transport surveillance saw crime fall by 50 percent, while electronic parking in Utrecht resulted in 11 fewer enforcement officers. A novel concept has been the offering of green credits in Las Palmas, Spain, for public transport use in exchange for products and services at shops, museums and theatres, aided by a website and app. Bremen, Germany, won the 2014 CIVITAS Award for relying on smart technologies to engage citizens in mobility plans, while the new project CIVITAS Destinations relies on smart solutions to manage tourists in hotspots like Limassol, Cyprus. CIVITAS aims to offer scalable solutions for take up and exploitation.

The EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK campaign, on the other hand, offers cities a chance to demonstrate, trial (especially on car-free day) and launch mobility measures or solutions and engage with citizens between September 16 and 22. This year it is getting behind smart cities in a big way, the annual theme being "Clean, Shared and Intelligent Mobility". The campaign puts the accent on shared, which is made so easy nowadays thanks to online platforms and mobile apps; it also encourages citizens towards mass transit alternatives to car use -- e.g. shared walks, rides, cars, bikes, cargo bikes, vans etc. Cities too are encouraged to link up with private sector developers and public and private providers of shared transport means. Thematic Guidelines, available in 22 EU languages, explain this year’s theme and provide examples such as cargo-bike sharing in Ghent, the success of journey planning apps in Lyon’s and Toulouse’s integrated ticket, and free-floating car-share schemes. Cities can participate by signing up, following it on Twitter, "liking" it on FaceBook, or talking to their national coordinators about getting involved.

The REC, which hosts the the CIVITAS Initiative Secretariat and co-hosts EUROPEANMOBILITYWEEK, is also organising the Smart Cities Information System conference "Empowering Smart Solutions for Better Cities", which will take place in Budapest in October and give visibility to many European Innovation Partnership smart mobility solutions. More information is here.

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TAGS: Smart cities | Sustainabile mobility | Public transport