Smart Cities and Urban Mobility: What Are The Main Challenges?

Smart Cities and Urban Mobility: What Are The Main Challenges?

Cities around the globe are growing at an unprecedented rate as more people relocate to urban areas in search of opportunities and a better quality of life. This has created a series of challenges for governments and urban planners as they struggle to grapple with the effects of urbanization along with the need for additional infrastructure, living space, improvements of health services, and better management of available resources such as energy. Experts agree that new strategies and solutions are critical to maintaining a good quality of life in cities, especially regarding transportation – a key component of any developing Smart City.

Luckily technology has evolved to provide much-needed leverage, particularly in the context of Smart Cities and mobility. Through the development of Information and Communication Technologies, it’s now possible for cities to move away from traditional, outdated systems and practices and implement newer system models and initiatives that better support and manage these societies. Let’s dive into the world of Smart Cities and what are some of the challenges they face when it comes to mobility.

What is a Smart City?

Smart Cities are built on a model consisting of sustainable urban development along with the utilization of advanced technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Among the main objectives of a Smart City is the better management of resources, improved efficiency in various sectors, reduced environmental impact through the reduction of CO2 emissions, and the improvement of the well-being of citizens along with economic gain. It’s no surprise that the Smart City market is now among the fastest-expanding industries in the world. The global market for intelligent cities is expected to grow from US$121 billion in annual revenue in 2023 to US$301 billion by 2032, according to a report published by Guidehouse.

Smart Cities and Mobility

The idea behind the concept of Smart Mobility is to limit the use or replace entirely, privately owned gas-powered vehicles by providing easily accessible alternatives that are affordable and sustainable. Through the implementation of advanced technologies and digitalization such as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), for the collection, processing, and spreading of information, mobility in cities can be managed more efficiently.

Smart Mobility aims to solve various transportation problems in cities such as congestion, pollution as well as minimize the environmental impact of the transport sector. Other objectives of Smart Mobility include an increase in safety, improved transfer speed, and reduced costs between different modes of transportation. Advanced technologies used in Smart Mobility can make a significant impact through emerging trends such as automation, machine learning, and Internet of Things devices which can help with traffic regulation, incident prevention, the management of parking spaces, real-time travel information, emergency response, and increased efficiency across all transport networks and modes.

To give an idea of just how big the issue of congestion is, let’s look at some statistics. INRIX has reported that a typical U.S. driver spends over 51 hours of their time sitting in traffic every year. On a national scale, this amounts to around 4.8 billion hours of congestion, costing drivers a total of $81 billion for the year 2022 alone. Furthermore, financial losses from road incidents and fatalities along with maintenance of expensive infrastructure and repairs put a great deal of pressure on the economy and the healthcare system.

What are the challenges Smart Cities are facing?

Several factors can hinder the development of Smart Cities such as inadequate levels of operational efficiency as well as a lack of awareness of costs associated with maintenance and management of various initiatives. Other reasons revolve around lack of public knowledge when it comes to new and advanced technologies as is the case with autonomous driving. A recent survey revealed that around 30% of the public had little to no knowledge of AV, while about half of the municipalities and smart service providers remain widely unsure of how these projects will scale.

Smart Cities must aim to deliver effective mobility solutions that promote innovation in the sector, ensuring that sustainability goals are met and that a collaborative ecosystem is established between all participants, entities, and organizations involved. The challenges each city faces can vary, however, strategies must be put in place to ensure authorities in charge can adequately meet any arising difficulties and hurdles along the way. Let’s briefly go over some present challenges most Smart Cities are facing right now:

  • Adapting to rapidly changing technologies in the field of vehicle innovation (autonomous, connected, electric, shared, dockless).
  • Designing public transportation systems that are effective, safe, secure, and equitable while being able to be integrated with other platforms along with mobility-as-a-service (MaaS).
  • Creating policies that effectively adhere to air quality standards strategies whilst establishing quality-of-life measures and improvements in those areas.
  • Building sustainable infrastructure, both physical and digital, that supports innovations in mobility solutions from the public and private sectors.
  • Developing lasting public-private partnerships (PPPs) and collaborating with appropriate institutions in addressing air quality, traffic congestion, and potential sustainability issues.

Engaging the Community

For a Smart City to truly thrive, it requires active participation from its citizens who are essentially the ones taking advantage of and utilizing these technologies. With any Smart City project, educating the public and having them involved is crucial for its success and ensuring that a community gets the most out of it. This can be achieved through a variety of in-person meetings, projects, initiatives, campaigns, and transparency, every step of the way. Further information and education should be provided through online platforms and channels.

Infrastructure

Smart Cities utilize technology that consists of sensors as means of improving the quality of life of residents. One way that this is achieved is through the collection of data – from traffic statuses to city crime and even the quality of air. This, however, comes with costly and complicated infrastructure that needs to be installed and maintained for the sensors to work. But there stands the question of how they will be powered. Will it be through solar energy, hard wiring, or battery operation? What will happen in the case of power failure, for example?

Large metropolitan areas are already facing the challenges of replacing old infrastructure that is decades old, such as the wiring of underground networks, transportation tunnels, as well as the installment of high-speed internet. Broadband wireless services are increasing, but access to some areas remains limited. Funding required for new infrastructure projects is also limited and approvals can take years in some cases. Developers will need to keep these things in mind as simplifying some technical and operational processes for municipalities will make the transition much easier for cities and their residents.

Privacy

The issue of privacy is not something new as the balance between quality of life and invasion of privacy has long been discussed, especially in larger cities. Technologies in the form of CCTV have helped keep citizens safe, along with helping solve and prevent crime, however, they have also made some of the population anxious, feeling as if they are always watched. Developers can help alleviate some of the stress the public is experiencing by adding transparency to their solutions and providing education about this new technology. By working with the community in mind and how they respond and react to these initiatives, it will be easier for companies to gain their trust and show them that these solutions are here to help.

Security & Hackers

Since Smart Mobility relies on the collection and use of data to feed Intelligent Transport Systems, it is understandable why there are raised concerns as to security and privacy. These systems must be properly secured and managed to avoid potential data breaches as any event of this matter could cause severe disruption to entire cities and services, not to mention the leakage of sensitive, private data. Recent discussions around privacy and security of Smart Technology have been a hot topic in the sector, particularly regarding possible cyber-terror threats.

Smart Cities are heavily investing more money and resources into security measures and protocols, while tech companies are working on solutions with new built-in mechanisms that will protect against hacking and cyber-crimes. With blockchain technology currently offering promising results, developers are actively looking for ways to incorporate these encryption techniques to increase security in various new applications and systems.

The Deployment of 5G Networks

Furthermore, the increased automation required for smart mobility solutions depends on the widespread deployment of wireless mobile telecommunication systems, particularly the recently deployed 5G systems, capable of supporting incredibly high levels of interconnections and uninterrupted data exchanges. Deployment of 5G networks, however, is not possible within all territories and local networks also need to be properly secured.

Accessibility and Equity

Being socially inclusive is going to be yet another challenge that Smart Cities will need to address as not all groups of society are tech-savvy users or can afford the appropriate devices to gain access to services included in Smart Mobility platforms. The increase in digitization of the mobility sector might exclude and impact primarily the elderly, disabled people, and those who lack the resources to be part of these smart initiatives.

Developers and city planners will need to take into consideration accessibility, keeping user demand in mind when constructing new urban plans and innovations. What if a person doesn’t know how, or simply can not obtain the needed devices or tech to use an app for planning their journey or booking multimodal tickets? If accessibility is not of high priority when it comes to urban planning, Smart City projects stand at risk of not being widely deployed and adopted by the population, limiting the potential benefits for everyone.

The Way Forward

Intelligent mobility solutions and services can revolutionize the entire mobility sector and what the future promises when it comes to tech advancements is truly remarkable. While some are still being tested and in development, others are already making cities better, smarter, and more efficient than ever. An example of this could very well be the systems for connected parking, autonomous cars, electromobility, and multimodal transport. Car drivers will no longer need to waste time searching for parking spaces due to Community-based-Parking (CbP).

Air pollution poses a serious problem in cities with more densely populated areas as it greatly affects the health of the public. Engineers have developed advanced systems that monitor the climate and can counteract pollution by analyzing data regarding pollutant content, levels of humidity, and the concentration of pollen. This can be used to improve the quality of the air as well as adjust traffic flows. Another example is boosting energy efficiency through smart city technologies such as the so-called ‘virtual power plant’ – a software solution that enables energy from a series of predominantly regenerative, sources which is then merged and centrally controlled. This helps cities reduce their CO2 emission levels.

The Future Of Smart Cities

Although technology can take us into a realm of new possibilities by changing the way we live and do things, it’s worth noting that the human factor should not be undermined every step of the way. Implementing these new technologies must be done in a carefully planned and secure manner that also educates the public on how to be part of this highly interactive and intelligent ecosystem. Instead of just focusing on the solutions technology provides, developers, tech companies and authorities must take into consideration how it will affect the people that come into contact with it. Experts conclude that for a city to be truly ‘’Smart’’ technology, city governance, and communities must come together and work as a whole to improve the quality of life for everyone involved.