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Embracing urban mobility to move with the times

Nurdianah Md Nur | July 29, 2014
Charbel Auon of Schneider Electric talks about the requirements of urban mobility and how to overcome the challenges to implement it.

What is the role of data in enabling smart urban mobility services?
Data can come from various sources, including public and private transport providers, citizens, government agencies and more. The data can be used to develop new information services that further enhance urban mobility. One of the best examples of the use of this data in action is GrabTaxi in Singapore which leverages GPS data collected from smartphones to match demand with supply. Another example is Uber, which leverages the same data but applies a different concept. Clearly, data streams from multiple sources are required to build these smart mobility services. This emphasises the importance of collaboration between various stakeholders including the government, businesses and citizens.

The development of such information services based on these data points relies on a sequence of actions, from the installation of intelligent infrastructure to the collection and processing of data and final development of information services.

With so many sources of data, value chains will emerge, messily or explicitly, depending on the available raw data and information components. There may also be gaps in terms of technology or infrastructure in some areas, as the value chains start to piece themselves together. Identifying where to intervene will require expertise from the government in navigating this new technology space, but equally in managing relationships with third parties such as citizens, app developers and the private sector, with an interest or control over any part of the chain.

Tell me more about the challenges of implementing urban mobility in Asia.
Asia is the most populous continent and has some of the world's most populated cities, including Shanghai, Karachi, Tokyo, Beijing and Mumbai, to name a few. As populations increase in the wake of urbanisation, Asia's cities face the challenge of meeting rising demands for efficient mobility within limited physical infrastructure capacity. The combined influence of population growth, demographic change and changing urban form leads to increasing demand for travel, not only within cities but between them, and converges with an inadequate supply of physical transport capacity in many cities, which can result in crowding, congestion, and an unpleasant travelling experience.

However, the problem with urban mobility is also the fact that demand waxes and wanes throughout the course of the day, usually peaking during rush hour when people go to or return from work. Another period where demand peaks may be during holiday season, as travellers enter the city for leisure, or when there are major events and conferences - as Asia increasingly becomes a business hub. As a result, an urgent challenge in the delivery of mobility is addressing and adapting to this cyclical demand.

But demand for mobility cannot be simply addressed by throwing more resources at it, as physical limitations mean that there is a cap on the effect of putting more trains / buses or building more roads. Unfortunately, many growing cities still respond to increasing peak travel demand by building new physical infrastructure (roads, rails, bike paths, etc.). Ironically, the new capacity may serve to perpetuate growth in peak demand.


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