New York City held its Smart City NYC conference earlier this month, and while it covered many topics, we at New York International honed in on smart urban transportation and what it means for the future. Alongside the smart city conference, we held our own FutureM conference—a series of targeted discussions and events to really understand what will be important to city transportation in five, ten, or twenty years.
Cities are growing, and let’s face it, they are only going to get larger. The UNFPA predicts that by 2030 approximately five billion people will live in urban areas. Increased population growth in urban environments makes it mandatory for cities to ensure there are economic opportunities in all parts of the city. Experts agree that efficient public transportation from suburbs to city centers ensures access to jobs and an increased GDP. To put it simply, good transportation equals economic growth.
At the same time as population centers are shifting toward cities, we also see the transportation sector experiencing rapid changes as electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and connected cars are becoming a more common reality. These are exciting times in transportation development and the innovations of today will allow cities to operate in new ways in the future.
Is mobility really changing that much?
“The integration of digital technology into physical places will help bring about a revolution in urban life.” – Dan Doctoroff
It’s not just the much-talked-about autonomous cars that will revolutionize cities—although there is much opportunity there. It is the fact that increasingly, both transport infrastructure (traffic lights, parking lots, toll booths, etc.) and transportation of all types are digitally connected and constantly gathering data and information about how, where, and why people and goods are moving throughout urban areas. This opens up a myriad of opportunities to increase the efficiency of urban mobility—if harnessed correctly. Companies like Citilabs are already collecting some of this passive data and using it to optimize bus fleets, help site EV charging stations, and project the effects new land developments will have on travel.
We’ve also heard over and over how cities are moving away from car-centricity toward a people-focused environment. According to a city planner we spoke to, the future is to “think of streets as public spaces, not just throughways.” Individual cars are unlikely to ever go away, but shared and public transportation are what city officials see as the future for efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective mobility in cities. Not forgetting, of course, that “in some urban areas, the best mobility vehicle might be shoes,” as one transportation consultant said.
This movement doesn’t dismiss autonomous cars; many see them driving some of the biggest changes in cities, for better or worse. These new cars could be key to safety (e.g. Mayor DeBlasio’s “Vision Zero” initiative) and shared autonomous vehicles could easily supplement public transportation or even become goods vehicles during off-peak times; but individual, customized transport could also completely disrupt the existing ecosystem if it pulls people away from using public transport. The key seems to be in finding a place for autonomous vehicles among other transport options without trying to completely replace any one mode of transport.
Where are the biggest opportunities?
Global consulting firm, McKinsey, forecasts that, “the traditional business model of car sales will be complemented by a range of diverse, on-demand mobility solutions, especially in dense urban environments that proactively discourage private-car use.” It is a $5 trillion opportunity for all, if harnessed correctly, and it’s not just automotive companies who are looking to leverage it—companies like Google and Apple are competing for a piece of the future, according to analysts.
While MaaS can take many forms, we see particular promise and potential impact in aggregation platforms. New technologies have the ability to assemble transportation options and offers for users, presenting them with the most convenient cost-effective methods for getting from point A to point B. Automotive company, Daimler, is already offering a transport aggregation platform, Moovel, which allows users to not only compare transport options but book and pay for journeys. Other MaaS solutions such as on-demand car sharing and crowd-powered travel (for example, bus-hiring solutions like Rally) are just beginning in the transportation sector and have already changed long-term thinking within transportation planning agencies.
The amount of city-related data is exploding. From sensors in street lights to smart parking meters, tech is generating large amounts of data like never before. According to McKinsey, “though about 90 percent of the digital data ever created in the world has been generated in just the past two years, only 1 percent of that data has been analyzed.” Gathering data alone is not enough to achieve results. Data must be stored in efficient ways and shared among cities and companies in order to be used to solve urban problems across a variety of sectors. Keeping data in silos will hinder progress. Openness will ensure innovation. Cities want to see open, non-proprietary, structured and indexed data systems on which solutions can be built. A World Bank project, OpenTraffic, is already creating a shared open-source data platform in several non-US cities while the National Association of City Transportation Officials is helping to standardize data by publishing a set of guidelines. There are tremendous opportunities for companies to collaborate on a data platform for the benefit of all.
Many are watching and trying to predict what will happen to real estate in relation to transportation innovation. Shared-use vehicles are already becoming a part of urban housing offers (the Solaire development in Lower Manhattan, for example). Residential and commercial parking spaces/decks may no longer be needed if on-demand autonomous vehicles come into mainstream use. Underground and airspace may become part of real-estate offerings. The possibilities are only just being explored, but one thing is clear: new ways of using land are on the horizon and companies would be wise to keep an eye on the potential opportunities.
Urban transportation is seeing exciting and unprecedented changes at a speed that is unlikely to decrease in the near future. Transportation is no longer just trains, planes, and automobiles but is now intersecting with data, technology, and new types of infrastructure. Companies that are open to collaboration and partnership as well as new ways of defining their offerings are the ones most likely to benefit from these changes while also contributing to solving urban transportation issues.
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