Urban mobility. 5 sustainable trends of smart cities

Urban mobility is one of the most relevant factors when the subject is sustainability. Learn the main tendencies of smart cities.

At the beginning of the XX century, Man resorted to animal traction to move around. From then to the invention of the car and space travel, a century has (merely) passed. The United Nations estimates that around 70% of the worldwide population will be living in cities by 2050.

In a world that faces, currently, huge challenges regarding climate change, caused by global warming, while time travel doesn’t yet allow us to go back and correct mistakes made, it’s urgent to rethink the way we move.

The way we usually move around in cities (one vehicle, one passenger) is one of the great causes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Data divulged by the European Environmental Agency show that, in Europe alone, transportation is responsible for 30% of CO2 emissions, where 72% of those emissions come from road transport.

On top of this adds the growing traffic jams and the resulting pollution. The future of mobility goes, inevitably, through greener, cleaner, more accessible sustainable means of transport and infrastructures.

5 Sustainable mobility trends of smart cities

1. Micro Mobility

This urban mobility trend is sustainable at an environmental, economical, and social level. Vehicles, like scooters or bicycles, moved by energy generated by their users or by electric energy, don’t issue greenhouse effect gases.

Cooltra was born in 2006, in Barcelona, with the commitment to transforming cities into more sustainable, safe, and efficient places. The leader in sustainable mobility on two wheels in Europe is present in over 50 cities, spread through eight countries, and offers 18.000 vehicles, between motorcycles and bicycles, 75% of which are electric.

The auto industry has also been adapting and investing in micro-mobility platforms. Seat, for example, launched the brand MO, which has already released three models of electric scooters. According to the brand director, one of the impulses for this bet was born from the fact of, in some countries, the percentage of people that take their driver’s license has dropped by nearly 50%. From this moment, it’s assumed that, while youngsters don’t take their driver’s license they also won’t buy a car. Viewing the growing use of scooters, electric motorcycles, and other mobility services, Seat has decided that they needed to place a bet. In the market, there are already other brands placing the same bet, like Renault, with Mobilize, and Toyota, with Kinto.

In mobility services, like Uber and Bolt, shared bicycles and scooters should generate a business volume of around 600 billion euros in 2030 - more than double the amount of 260 billion euros, generated in 2020. The conclusion is in a recently released study by Oliver Wyman Forum and for the Institute of Transportation from the University of California, Berkeley, divulged by Bloomberg.

2. Mobility as a Service - MaaS

This model is centered on the user and makes urban mobility into an integrated, efficient and accessible, allowing the passengers to plan, pay, and make travel reservations, all through an app.

MaaS has been revealed to be an important trend for urban mobility, because it grows farther from a model of a personal vehicle, to a model of shared transportation, allowing the combination of cost and reduced carbon footprint from public transportation with the users’ individual needs.

For all of this, MaaS has guaranteed its place in the future of urban mobility and the future of sustainability. Volkswagen, for example, has been integrating MaaS in their NEW AUTO strategy, of autonomous urban transportation, and plans on having the software functioning by 2030.

3. Autonomous vehicles

These are nothing other than transportation devices using GPS sensors, among others, to navigate and ensure the safety of other vehicles and pedestrians. They bear the potential to contribute to the reduction of traffic jams, which means less pollution, and because they’re usually electric, they also contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.

4. The future is electric

The future is electric”. The people who also defend it is the Fastned’s President, a Dutch startup, which manages a network of charging stations for electric vehicles throughout Europe, having solar and wind energies as a basis.

Michael Phelan, the CEO of Grid Beyond, an Irish company acting for over a decade in the smart grids market, defends that by resorting to Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions can be created that can predict when these vehicles need recharging, which charging stations are available, and which are the moments where energy is more expensive.

Resorting to this information, it’s possible to optimize consumption and minimize the charging costs of vehicles. This type of solution can become particularly interesting for companies with fleets of trucks, for example.

5. New infrastructures

The adoption of micro-mobility vehicles, electric urban transportation, and other forms of sustainable mobility, requires that cities implement new infrastructures. Micro mobility and urban electric transportation, for example, imply the existence of new circulation lanes, parking spaces, and recharging stations.

Urban mobility and smart cities

According to Professor Lee Jung Hoon, the general coordinator of the development project in the Smart Cities Index, the Covid-19 pandemic induced significant changes in the daily lives of Humankind, prompting a speedy development of several innovative technologies, such as the Artificial Intelligence (AI).

China is a pioneer in the adoption of technological solutions. Hangzhou leans on City Brain, a giant technology system Ali Baba, that runs 128 intersections, whose traffic lights receive data from the vehicles through sensors and adjust the time lights are on, in the sense of ensuring the ideal traffic cadence. The system also ensures the quick reversion of the red lights into green whenever there’s an ambulance in an emergency. Something that also has been equally possible is the detection of accidents in real time, allowing for the police to arrive at the scene under five minutes. With the monitoring of every vehicle in the city, traffic jams were reduced in 15%.

Shanghai uses City Brain to optimize the bus routes. The users may indicate, through AliPay, which departure and arriving points there are, receiving subsequently informations on the closest bus stops and which are the most indicated buses (trips are bought digitally). In the meanwhile, with their eyes set on the sky, companies like EmbraerX, Boeing, and Bell, among others, already have flying cars prototypes under development.

Seul, the capital of Korea, holds a special place on the list of the most innovative urban mobility solutions there are. According to the Smart Planet site, one of the most inovating strategies is the Baes on data project, which consists in the gathering and analysis of urban patterns, keeping in mind the definition of adequate infrastructures and services. The urban monitoring in real time is one of the most effective forms to obtain that data. The installed sensors (over 50.000), include CCTV cameras and detectors that measure the traffic flow, speed of circulation, and air quality. Seoul’s Open Data allows access to more than 5.000 databases, including information gathered through these sensors in real-time.

By 2020, three billion records of mobile phone calls had been analyzed, to identify telephone calls, made, during the night, to taxi companies, in the sense of planning routes and frequency of Owl Bus, that resort to people that go out at night and the ones that work in nocturnal shifts.

The Big Data platform was also used to create an “AI Detective”, that allows marking potential crime patterns, when incidents are recorded, drastically reducing response time. Furthermore, it’s important to point out that the city has a bus and subway system (with 287 kilometers of extension and 293 stops), known by the United Nations (UN) as a reference in terms of punctuality. Currently, nearly 70% of daily trips from Seul’s residents are made by resorting to the bus and subway.

In Barcelona, over 350.000 vehicles use, daily, the 21 streets of the Eixample districts, which intends on reducing traffic by 40% and, consequently, nitrogen oxide (NO2) concentration and suspended particles - that derive from the use of fossil fuels. By the first trimester of 2023, the roads that concentrate the highest levels of pollution in the region will give place to public squares filled with trees, commerce, bike paths, gardens, children’s playgrounds, terraces, and public art. The objective, in the long term, will be to condition traffic in 500 district streets.

In Lublin, Poland, an innovative system was designed and implemented, which included the modernization of infrastructures of urban transportation and the fleet of buses in the city. The project involved the installation of GSM and GPRS equipment in the vehicles: electronic displays in bus stops and the creation of a site that offers updated information for passengers. With its innovation in the solutions for public transportation management, Lublin was elected the Smart City of the Year, in 2015, among the cities with a population between 100.000 and 350.000 residents.

In July 2020, Paris announced the creation of “15-minute districts”, where every service necessary to the citizens is at a 15-minute distance, on foot or by bicycle. The “Program of Mobility Innovation”, where this project is integrated, intends to improve the quality of the air and everyday life of the Parisian. In 2024, diesel vehicles will not be allowed in Paris and there is a plan to prohibit gas-powered vehicles by 2030. Paris Transport Corporation began the 100% electric service “Autonomous Driving Artificial Intelligence (AI) Shuttle Bus", which is expanding, and the main roads are concentrated on micro-mobility.

Worldwide recognized as a model of urban mobility, the Hong Kong transportation system throughout the last decades, has reached its peak by balancing environmental sustainability with economical and social sustainability. The subway and train networks, Mass Transit Railway, is the “backbone” of the transportation model, covering every main connection in the region and ensuring 5.6 million trips every day.

London is the pioneer city of urban mobility: implemented the first submarine tunnel, the first international airport, and the first underground network - the London Underground, known as The Tube. Today, the transportation system of the city is a world reference because it included the subway (the network has over 400 kilometers of extension and transports around 1,1 billion passengers per year), trains, buses, bicycles, and taxis. In 2010, London has launched its rental system of public bicycles, which now counts more than 600 bicycles. Another initiative adopted by the city was the restriction of vehicle traffic in the center, in light of the promotion of using public transportation and subsequent reduction of carbon emissions.

In Portugal, Aveiro has, at this moment, the first electric ferry boat and its respective charging station, which will represent an annual reduction in CO2 emissions of nearly 300 tons. In Viseu, project MUV - Viseu’s Urban Mobility, has come into fruition, among others, in Viriato, the first unmanned electric public transportation in Portugal, and an app with a ticket box, schedules, and real-time information, which also includes Tele Bus, a transportation service on demand, and MUV Park, which provides surface level parking management.

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