Smart Cities, Multimodality In Transportation, And The Shift To Contactless & AI: Is This The Way To Sustainability?

Smart Cities, Multimodality In Transportation, And The Shift To Contactless & AI: Is This The Way To Sustainability?

The concept of a “Smart City” has become far more than just a buzzword in recent years. Government officials and urban planners across the globe are making strategic and proactive efforts to create sustainable and interconnected cities where people and businesses can thrive – all with the help of innovative and advanced technologies. In this interview, we explore the smart city model with Borislav Gorov, Modeshift’s VP of Sales in Europe, where he shares what it takes to build truly resilient cities and communities in which smart technologies and solutions work in conjunction to bring forth tangible results that enhance urban environments by improving the lives of residents along with addressing other pressing issues such as climate change.

Borislav, can you paint us a picture of what a “Smart City” is and what it incorporates?

A smart city can be defined as several things, depending on who you ask, and we could say it’s a model that is continuously developing and growing. For me, a smart city incorporates informational technologies, along with data gathering, and advanced analytics as a way of enhancing the delivery of public services along with improving the quality of life for citizens of those environments. Among its main objectives is a strong emphasis on sustainability through the optimization of various systems, and practices. A smart city aims to increase efficiency in all sectors, minimizing the wastage of resources, and reducing costs and harmful emissions. A smart city can improve every aspect of living for societies, benefiting the economy and the environment. 

So how is this achieved? For starters, a smart city relies on a network of IoT sensors that are used to monitor different aspects of an urban environment, ranging from traffic systems, parking spaces, lighting, air quality, and temperature. This network provides invaluable information to city officials who then use it to make informed decisions in real-time regarding a particular issue or any aspect of managing the city. For instance, by looking at traffic data, city planners can leverage this information to help reduce congestion, especially in densely-populated regions along with freeing up parking spaces and improving air quality/noise pollution in the area. 

Data sharing in the smart city

The development and implementation of a centralized analytical platform through the integration of multiple solutions will help shift the way a city’s assets are managed. Technology has served as a key enabler for the successful development and sustenance of smart cities, with the Internet of Things (IoT) helping connect different physical assets including street lights, parking lots, road monitors, security cameras, and mobility systems. The collected data from these assets will be used to improve quality of life, enhance public safety, and promote tourism, along with the preservation of the environment and the delivery of efficient services. Vital systems will be unified into a single ecosystem that applies data for constant optimization. This interconnectedness creates possibilities for achieving a higher quality of life and sustainability, particularly due to the advent of 5G communication infrastructure which opens up a range of opportunities that weren’t previously available.

What are some multimodal and innovative solutions that could connect smart metropolises and medium-sized cities to less populated urban regions?

In the past, low-density areas and urban centers presented a significant mobility gap when it came to providing efficient transit services between large to medium-sized cities and less-populated regions. While bigger cities use various transportation options to cater to diverse user groups, adapting these solutions to rural areas can be challenging. Micromobility solutions such as electric scooters are only sometimes suitable for covering long distances in sparsely populated regions, which can limit their impact and usage.

Demand-responsive transport (DRT) systems provide a promising alternative that combines the efficiency of mass transit with the convenience of private transportation to provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional fixed-route transit. The technology used in these systems can analyze passengers’ real-time needs, optimize routes, and merge the flexibility of taxis while also functioning like public transit. DTR can use buses, taxis, minibusses, and shared cars, tailored to the needs of each area and region. Various “hopping points” throughout cities and rural areas will facilitate the transition between modes of transportation and enhance sustainability as well as overall mobility and travel experience.

Furthermore, with the help of emerging MaaS models, multimodal options are set to become more dominant in rural areas such as carpooling which can benefit rural and suburban regions by connecting passengers with private drivers making similar trips. Integrating and prioritizing public transportation with personalized and shared mobility services could significantly address any deficits and gaps in services.

What is the role of public transit in a smart city and what issues can a smart transit system resolve?

Transportation systems are the backbone of any smart city. They play a vital role in facilitating mobility for citizens and ensuring they have access to important locations within communities needed to sustain a good quality of life. Smart transportation offers tangible results in addressing current issues in transit by minimizing traffic congestion, decreasing travel times for commuters, limiting fuel consumption and costs, and improving air quality. On their end, city dwellers are growing more expectant towards a better customer experience, more efficient and eco-friendly modes of transit, diverse payment options, and access to real-time information about their journeys.

This is one of the reasons why government officials have begun putting a great emphasis on upgrading public transportation networks as a means of delivering better mobility services to residents, meeting sustainability goals, and improving overall efficiency in the sector. By incorporating emerging technologies with innovative mobility solutions, cities are well on their way to creating smart transit networks that offer integrated ticketing systems, real-time information for passengers, and smart fare collection, encouraging more residents to actively choose public transit (or other eco-friendly modes) over private vehicles.

The future of mobility in cities is set to be driven by advanced technologies such as intelligent traffic management systems, powered by real-time data and intelligent algorithms, that enable efficient traffic signal coordination, adaptive routing, and dynamic traffic management. Smart infrastructure will be equipped with devices and sensors that enhance connectivity to provide real-time information on traffic conditions, road quality, and other parameters meaning that transit authorities can leverage this data to enhance services and optimize mobility systems.

How can multimodality in transportation help with the last-mile problem in cities?

A healthy mobility ecosystem is made possible when different modes of transportation work together to meet the demand for mobility within a community along with the diverse and individual needs of its residents. These modes typically range from fixed-route buses and trains to shorter-distance shuttles and micromobility options such as bikeshares and dockless scooters. Multimodal transit has the potential to solve several challenges for public transit providers, one of them being the issue of first-mile/last-mile connections. Rather than acting as competition, multimodal mobility could help expand a transit agency’s reach, complimenting services and increasing accessibility without over-stretching existing fixed-route services. By solving the first/last mile problem, we can also reduce the number of travelers who prefer their vehicles, making mass transit more attractive and sustainable by reducing congestion on roads along with harmful emissions.

Facilitating first-mile/last-mile options through the integration of multimodal services could connect more people with the places they need to go by removing the barriers of traditional mass transit. Combining multiple modes of transit, such as rail, bus, microtransit, and cycling networks, allows for efficient and convenient interconnectivity. MaaS models are set to play a fundamental role in integrating these different transport services into a single and unified platform where travelers can seamlessly gain access to these services, conveniently and on demand. By designing smart transport hubs that encourage transfers and make switching between modes easy and hassle-free, transportation engineers can contribute to creating truly well-connected transportation systems.

There is a major shift to contactless transport globally – how do you think it’s bringing us closer to a more sustainable living?

Implementing a contactless ticketing system can yield many long-term benefits for agencies, from creating more satisfied customers to safeguarding revenue and improving sustainability in the sector. In the context of COVID-19, contactless payments served as an added layer of safety by reducing contact with ticketing infrastructure. For agencies, that meant less reliance on the hardware used for issuing tickets which in turn promotes sustainable use of resources by eliminating single-use and plastic tickets and travel cards.

Passengers on their end are growing more aware of their carbon footprint and know that contactless is the way forward. They are actively seeking more eco-friendly ways of traveling and are already accustomed to paying for things through their smartphones or contactless bank cards. The ease, convenience, and sustainability of contactless ticketing solutions give them just that and more by contributing to the efficiency of public transit networks. Contactless ticketing allows for flexible and convenient customer experiences that are likely to encourage more people to travel and use public transport. This will have a positive impact on the reduction of emissions by removing cars from the road and improving air quality in cities.

AI is currently trending in every industry. Can you speak a little bit about the role of AI in route optimization, and in what ways is this emerging technology going to revolutionize transit?

There is a growing interest in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning as cities look for ways to automate procedures and increase efficiency. The benefits of AI can be leveraged to detect a variety of anomalies on city roads meaning that transit providers could gain real-time awareness about potential situations unfolding, detect accidents or other obstacles, and respond to complex situations in near real-time. Advanced analytics and machine learning can be further applied across every aspect of infrastructure to make systems truly ‘smart’ by looking at data in changing situations.

AI has shown great potential when it comes to optimizing routes and improving the efficiency of transit vehicles. AI algorithms leverage historical data to predict demand for specific routes, allowing transit authorities to tailor their offerings based on demand, offering passengers the best possible routes while at the same time being efficient with time and resources. The provision of constant services to riders, especially in unexpected events such as road blockages or maintenance, is critical to retaining customer satisfaction.

The improved energy efficiency that comes from integrating AI in transit will also reduce fuel consumption in everyday operations, saving money and benefiting the environment through the reduction in CO2 emissions. In the future, AI-powered predictive maintenance will further drive efficiency for transit providers by continuously monitoring the performance of vehicles and infrastructure. Algorithms will be used to detect issues before they become disruptions to services, something that will extend the life of the agency’s assets and increase the reliability of all operations and services.

What are the latest trends in smart cities on a global scale and what are your predictions for the next 10 years?

Smart cities are bound to go through many developments in the years to come, with some trends happening faster than others. It’s expected that green urban planning is on top of that list to make cities smart, sustainable, and resilient. Driven by decarbonization goals, a green urban design will include sustainable neighborhood approaches with the model centering around a 15-minute city where most daily necessities are easily reachable by walking or cycling. Future urban mobility is likely to revolve around enhanced infrastructure, mobility-as-a-service, micromobility, logistics solutions, and zero-emission transportation. Interconnected IoT solutions will enhance the management of energy by delivering data-backed decisions for better energy storage and distribution. Smart grids will aid in real-time tracking, while deep learning solutions will forecast energy consumption and any potential system breakdowns.

The digital citizen trend will focus on enhancing citizen engagement, creating collaboration within communities, and improving access to healthcare and education. Public safety and security will also play a big role in the future of smart cities. Through Big data and AI, we would be able to facilitate the deployment of critical city solutions such as advanced surveillance systems, real-time crime mapping, smart street lights, and predictive policing. It’s widely estimated that these strategies will prevent crimes, enhance citizen safety, and even predict accidents before they happen. Additionally, as smart cities become more interconnected and vulnerable, cybersecurity and digital ethics will become of great importance.

Current issues regarding data-sharing might be hindering the scaling of various projects and innovations as many cities still do not have the proper tools to manage systems that collect data and use it collectively. In the future, it’s estimated that data sharing will be key to making better and more informed decisions. For a city to become truly smart, it needs to eliminate the existing silos which are often present between different city departments, as well as those in public and private entities. The same goes for data. To get the most out of it, we should be aiming to create a data-friendly ecosystem, with unified standards and cross-platform sharing.