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Transforming the future of transport in Asia

Jonathan Spear | 26 Oct 2016 | Comments

TECHNOLOGY ENABLES NEW SOLUTIONS TO URBAN TRANSPORT CHALLENGES

With populations and economies growing in cities across the World, and public expectations for journeys that are safer, quicker, more reliable, sustainable and resilient, urban transport networks needs to better connected and integrated than ever before. They also need to utilise finite funding, land and other resources prudently and combine consumers, operators service providers and regulators within a coherent and inter-linked “ecosystem.” With digital technology advancing, increasingly connected and populated by the Internet of Things and Big Data, there has never been a better time to deploy transport solutions that can deliver better outcomes with smaller resource outlay and footprint.

Many current urban transport challenges stem from the inefficiencies of over a century of mass adoption of the private car, whilst conventional public transport systems have frequently been unable to offer a competitive alternative in terms of journey time, flexibility to user needs, price and ability to pay. Exploiting recent innovation in technology systems and processes to respond to and overcome these limitations, Intelligent Mobility is rapidly developing as the seamless ‘future of transport.’ Applications in Mobility as a Service, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, interactive Journey Planning and electric powertrains are already delivering, or offer prospects for, enhanced and optimised operational performance, environmental impact, commercial feasibility and consumer acceptance. Moreover, much of the progress being made is driven not by governments, but by the private sector, which is itself subject to creative disruption, new business models and start-ups coming from nowhere to challenge market incumbents. Increasingly, it is self-evident that the mobility problems and risks facing 21st Century cities cannot be tackled with outdated 20th Century planning and regulation. Fresh thinking is required and new ideas need to be turned from theory to reality on the ground.

Nowhere is this truer than in Asia where cities such as Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo are developing, testing and adopting new best-in-class smart urban mobility approaches ahead of the global curve. Emerging urban economies in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines are also seeking to gain traction in supporting basic urban transport infrastructure and services to serve young and growing populations in a cost-effective manner, and adopt leapfrog technology in tackling their acute operational, social and environmental challenges.

A GLOBAL AGENDA

Atkins believes that Intelligent Mobility, and the computing power, communications and data which support it, will enable more informed, multi-modal, personalised and flexible decisions to be made by network owners, service operators and providers and travellers themselves. In time, this will drive influence operator and end user needs and support sustainable economic growth and competitive advantage through knowledge creation and exploitation. However, this will only happen if policy makers and regulators within the public sector are clear about the objectives to be achieved, act proportionately in balancing unconstrained innovation with protecting individuals and society and support the early market for key products before commercial viability, bankability,supply chain and mass adoption can be demonstrated.

For this reason, this week, Atkins has been hosting its first global Intelligent Mobility Week. This brings together key experts from Atkins, clients and influential stakeholders in the UK, Middle East, North America and Asia Pacific to coordinate a programme to raise profile and stimulate engagement across industry, government, partners and academia. The focus is on the ‘big question’ – what is Intelligent Mobility, how, and where, is it developing, who is driving it and what does it mean for the supply chain of planners, technology providers, transport operators and, of course, ultimately for end users?

JOURNEYS FROM THE LION CITY

Here in Singapore, the Government has invested heavily to expand urban rail, bus and taxi services to make it much easier to get from one place to another without the need to use a private car. In addition, whilst the urban road network has been progressively expanded, the capacity and accessibility benefits of this investment have been locked in through Travel Demand Management measures, such as Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) which helps ensure smooth-flowing traffic. With car ownership kept at noticeably lower rates than other international cities, transportation planning has been closely integrated with land use, and investment directed into promoting first and last mile connections by active travel and personal mobility devices such as e-scooters. A range of technology trials of Automated Vehicles are also under way, linked potentially to shared mobility models such as Uber and Grab.

The strategy is working; Singapore has enviable transport outcomes for some key metrics such as congestion delay, mode share, air quality and accessibility and consistently features highly in global rankings of urban mobility, economic growth and quality of life.

The Land Transport Authority acknowledges that in order for this approach to work, the public want more information to manage their travel decisions and have confidence in the multi-modal choices which are available. Since 2011 it has developed an “E-Place for All” through the MyTransport.SG portal and smart application to provide real-time travel information, such as bus arrivals, directions to train stations or bus stops, traffic news updates, car park availability, ERP prices and cycling routes. MyTransport.SG continues to continuously improve with the recent addition of information on public transport fares, bus and train crowding, “snap and send” functionality to report road defects, and information on how to get to local events and places of interest. Future plans will add car sharing and public cycle hire once these public-private partnership schemes commence over the next few years,The success of MyTransport.SG, now downloaded over 1 million times and a host of third-party travel applications, including Uber, Grab, Waze and gothere.sg, is assisted by the fact that Singaporeans love their mobiles. In per capita terms, the Country is the world’s largest smartphone market, with mobile devices now outstripping desk top computer use to access the Internet. Consumers across Asia are mirroring this trend, with many countries now over the 50% adoption rate for smartphones, leapfrogging the desktop-based Internet to create a new and exciting mobile web landscape for a wide range of services and opportunities. This is a major disruptor and wake up call to any transport agency or business without a mobile-enabled or ­optimised website or app, and a chance for new business models, service bundles and value propositions to come forward, experiment and take hold.

THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING, BUT HOW?

As the race for technical standards for the systems and processes behind Intelligent Mobility progresses, levels of innovation in hardware, software and user interface can be expected to converge at some point. Singapore may have an impressive lead, but Japan, China, California and some countries in Europe are not far behind. Others will inevitably follow in time, even in developing economies where the combination of unmanned drones and super-fast 5G networks could in the future provide urban and rural accessibility where roads are rudimentary, impassable or absent altogether.

However, whilst core technologies may align, policy and regulatory responses from governments, as well as consumer needs and levels of acceptance are more likely to remain localised and distinct. Atkins’ approach to Intelligent Mobility campaign provides a positive platform to have conversations around these points of difference, asking questions such as:

  • What is the current State of the Art in Intelligent Mobility and against key uncertainties and risks which approaches look most likely to gain traction and acceptance in different parts of the World?
  • What are the economic, social and environmental benefits of harnessing emerging technologies and how do these align with government objectives as well as the interests of operators, service providers and consumers?
  • How will Intelligent Mobility, including key concepts such as AVs, influence the design, operation and management of road infrastructure, and inform a more people-centred approach to urban planning, public realm and the making of places?
  • What are the barriers and practical issues for early adoption and mainstream deployment of key technologies and innovative practices, and how can these be over-come?
  • How can the boundaries of technology and operational performance be expanded at the same time as protecting public safety and security, protecting personal privacy and data rights, providing certainty to all over key regulatory tools, such as traffic laws and rules of the road?
  • How can Intelligent Mobility be successfully funded, governed and managed across the public and private sectors, who will be the key players in driving innovation forward, and how will the digital disruption of existing stakeholders and business models, and emergence of new players evolve?
  • What are the likely Intelligent Mobility applications (and distribution of benefits) for emerging as well advanced economies and how can leapfrog technology and knowledge transfer be promoted so these countries go from zero to high capability in a generation?
  • How does Intelligent Mobility integrate with other planning and technology concepts, including Future Proofing and Smart Cities and integrate across different service propositions?

Atkins’ Intelligent Mobility campaign provides us with a great opportunity to debate some of these seminal questions across disciplines, and propose some solutions to provide towards coherent, structured and systematic way forward

Jonathan Spear is a Director with Atkins Acuity, based in Singapore. He has over 22 years’ experience in transport policy, strategy and regulation across Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific. He is increasingly focused on the policy, regulatory and public acceptance aspects of new technology, and is currently leading Atkins Intelligent Mobility activities in South East Asia and China. 

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