Exploring the ‘New Normal’ of Urban Mobility

The fusion of critical technologies and solutions is creating the opportunity to deliver urban transport networks that outstrip all predecessors in efficiency, safety and sustainability.

While much of the world may have ground to a standstill during these unprecedented times, technology keeps new ideas and innovations flowing, as we look to answer the pressing question of how to make truly smart urban transportation a reality. As we look ahead to the promised achievement of the smart city ideal, smarter mobility solutions are a fundamental part of improving lives and enabling the kind of sustainable progress that unlocks the full potential of our living environment. 

The conversation is advancing at pace

While isolation and social distancing have been a necessary precaution for many months, this hasn’t stopped innovators across the world from discussing ways to bring about this new normal in transport. Across the world, think tanks, innovation labs and high-level discussion forums have made use of the latest collaborative digital communication technologies to continue their work and share concepts with their domestic and international colleagues.

As a leading nation in the race to pioneer the smart cities of the future, the UAE has remained at the centre of this discussion. Last month Dubai’s RTA hosted its “first digital remote laboratory” where 80 of its leading members joined with international partners from companies like Gartner and RBPI to discuss how emerging smart technologies might be used to improve customer service and safety in public transport networks. Reportedly this first laboratory resulted in the generation of 131 actionable ideas, with many of the most promising ones focusing on the standardisation of applications.

Three critical technologies shaping the new normal of urban transport systems right now

Data capture: Transport solution designers have already known for years that making accurate sense and usage of vast swathes of actionable data is the key to forging better systems that more appropriately reflect the needs of the end user. However, greater public/private partnering in response to rapidly changing global situations and a general shift towards more open sharing of data means that we’re now in a much better position to capture, analyse and utilise mobility data on the transport habits of millions of commuters and urban inhabitants. By fully understanding not just the past and present transportation needs of those living and working in cities, but their future needs as well, we can determine optimal strategies for delivering transport networks that cater to those needs as effectively as possible. From preventing overcrowding, to offering cost-effective ‘last mile’ mobility services, data remains the key to unlocking better urban mobility strategies.

Scaled-up transport innovations: While the likes of the Hyperloop and flying taxis represent extremely exciting innovations that may yet change our the look and feel of urban transport forever, today’s new normal is already seeing the large-scale deployment of important technologies that are designed to improve our existing transportation networks. These include widespread integration of contactless payment systems on buses and metros, temperature-checking infrared cameras in stations, biofuel and solar-powered public transport vehicles, adaptive traffic light sensors and many more. The merging of innumerable technological improvements such as these is leading to a new normal of our existing urban transport networks becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

Automated vehicles and mobile robots: Accelerating automation adoption across the transport sector is the dream of many due to the unprecedented opportunities it offers. By taking human error out of the equation and networking our journeys, the prospect of far fewer accidents, traffic jams and wasted travelling time looks enticing to say the least. Against the backdrop of social distancing, the need for automating journeys and minimising human interactions becomes even more necessary. As such, the development of improved vehicle automaton technologies, such as driverless cars, trams, trains, ferries and more, alongside fully mobile robots tasked with deliveries etc, means that the realisation of automated mass transit is becoming a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Looking ahead to the future of urban mobility

Last year, McKinsey announced that they had accounted for $220 billion being spent by investors on new mobility ventures since 2010. While those investments ranged across 10 significant tech clusters, they broadly focused on the four main areas of autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, connected vehicles and smart mobility advances. As with advances being made today, we can see how the rapid development and heightened investment in these areas point towards a desire to create synergies in urban mobility. Investment in (and discussion about) smarter transport is not confined to a single innovation or system, but instead it continues to be spread across a widening range of them, with those offering the greatest potential to link up or otherwise improve other elements of the equation being seized upon for more rapid adoption.

In essence, the new normal of urban mobility is the trend of increasing collaboration. Collaboration between governments and private enterprise, between investors and start-ups, between solution providers and systems developers, between stakeholders in every part of the value chain. As these tis of collaboration grow stronger, so does the synergistic potential of the emerging technologies that are shaping the way we travel through our most densely populated environments.