Mobility- a driver of smart cities

In all cities, every day, people need to travel from their homes to their places of work and back. This is called mobility. The ease and convenience of this travel is one of the objectives of a smart city.

Increasing population density in cities is a major obstacle to mobility. We need to apply more sustainable solutions to move people to their various destinations while overcoming the critical problems of traffic congestion and air pollution.

Governments, private organizations, big and small business houses are putting their heads together to find long term solutions to overcome these problems/issues.

Traffic problems in India are complex primarily because of population density, vehicular density, limited amount of land for development and inadequate transport infrastructure. This problem is compounded by narrow streets, unlawful expansion of shops leading to encroachment on the roads, wayside vendors and hutments/slums.

To ensure smooth and comfortable mobility for all, cities need to develop a comprehensive urban transport strategy. Urban mobility or the ease of being able to move from one place to another is at the core of a smart city.

In this context the government of India has set up a Comprehensive Mobility Plan (CMP) with a vision for desirable accessibility and mobility pattern for people and goods in the urban cluster. It promotes better use of existing infrastructure (i.e. improvement of public transport, pedestrian and non-motorized transport (NMT) facilities) which leads to unification of transport and land use and is vital to building smart cities.

This is achievable, with the combined efforts of key stakeholders of the city. The main players being the Development Authority, Municipal Corporation, RTO, and ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) etc.

Some of the alternative modes of transport are mentioned below.

Metro-systems, trams, trains

In March this year, The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) laid the groundwork to roll out India’s first personal rapid transit (PRT) network. The pilot project will connect Delhi to Gurgaon. (Inputs from TOI)

A PRT is a pod taxi network made up of small automated vehicles running at close intervals on a guideway with docking stations for passengers to get on the cars and disembark.

Metrino-PRT is a new and different form of public transport system. These small, fully automatic, driverless vehicles called pods travel independently. The pods are suspended from an overhead rail and can carry upto 5 passengers. The average speed of the pod is 60 around kilometres per hour.

Estimated cost of building a kilometre of Metro costs at least rupees 250 crore and of monorail rupees 200 crore. While a Metrino system can be built with rupees 70 crore.

The carriages are light and powered by electric motors and therefore require less energy to run.

The financial advantage of having such a system translates into drastic reduction in energy requirement, maintenance and staffing, less expensive infrastructure as compared to metro or tramways. It is much quicker to build and install than any other transport infrastructure making it an ideal option to solve the problems inherent in current city transport system.

The system is fully controlled and automated by a distributed computer network ensuring safety and security of vehicle movement and the passengers in the vehicle.

Electric and other automobiles

The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 (NEMMP) – With fast depletion of traditional energy sources, rising energy cost and the impact of mobility on the environment, it is essential that we adopt hybrid and electric vehicles. Various technologies are available today- Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV), Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (ER-EV) and Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV). These are collectively referred to as xEVs.

Two-wheelers/bicycles

Commuters are turning increasingly to two-wheelers, scooters, motorbikes and bicycles due to rising fund cost and traffic congestion. Now e-scooters and e-motorbikes are also becoming common. This trend is particularly seen in China but is set to spread to other regions such as Europe and North America as more advanced machines are introduced to these markets.

Self-Driving Cars

Advocates of self-driving cars say the vehicle could help everyone to get around easily and safely regardless of their ability to drive. What powers these driverless vehicles are the cameras, radars sensors, ultrasonic sensors, altimeters, gyroscopes, tachymeters etc. All the data gathered by sensors is interpreted by the car’s CPU making it a safer driving proposition. But it is yet at the conceptual stage and requires rigorous testing before it can be put in the market.  Humans cannot be completely taken out of the driving seat as yet. However, when these vehicles do hit the road they will help free up space in cities. These cars could be used through on-demand car services.

Walking infrastructure/ Walk-ways

The point emphasized here once again is population density and its effect on a city. Cities are spreading to the suburbs at a fast pace. People choose to move away from the main cities in search of affordable/cheaper accommodation. However they have to commute from home to the main city, to their respective work places. It is therefore very important to have short distance communication facilities to enable people reach the closest public transport facility.

Alternatively, provisions for well-planned and connected shortcuts to the closest public transport facility (special walkways) could encourage people to walk. These walkways/paths must be lined by trees thus making walking a pleasurable experience. Most parts of India are blessed with a hot sunny climate. It has been proved that maximum number of anger related accidents are caused due to extreme heat conditions. It has also been proved that nature has a calming effect on human beings thus signifying the importance of trees. Trees act as an important sink for carbon, the main component of air pollution. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help clean out the air. Planning and implementation of pathways/walkways must go hand in hand with planting trees. This will encourage people to walk. After all, pedestrians are the indicators of a healthy and environmentally friendly city.

When properly implemented, transportation mobility will play a vital role in the growth and development of smart cities. A city would only be considered smart if mobility problems are tackled smartly.

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