The Road Ahead for Urban Mobility

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Mobility

The world’s population today is becoming increasingly urban, a trend that looks set to continue into the future. A report by the United Nations projects that by 2050, two thirds of our population will live in cities. While urbanization has the potential to usher in a new era of economic growth for countries, it also has grave implications on the environment, and quality of life of the urban population. Cities across the globe are characterized by increasing levels of congestion, high levels of pollution, chronic traffic jams and road fatalities. As more people inhabit cities, the discussion around ‘sustainable people mobility solutions’ becomes central to urban development. The existing urban infrastructure cannot support an ever increasing number of vehicles on the road, which means that future approaches to mobility must eliminate the dependence on individual or private ownership of vehicles through solutions that facilitate shared transport, and are environment-friendly, safe, widely accessible and within the reach of people at various income levels. In this post, we consider some of the emerging trends that can address the mobility challenge of today, while also making it easier to get around the cities of tomorrow.

Advances in digital and mobile communication technologies in recent years have enabled new business models that make possible the shared use of vehicles among commuters – a concept termed ‘shared mobility’. This allows individuals to gain on-demand access to transportation facilities, reducing the need for private vehicle ownership. Services in the shared mobility space include taxi rentals, chauffeur-driven car rentals, bike rentals, ridesharing (carpooling and vanpooling) and drive-it-yourself which allows users to enjoy all the luxuries of having a car without the costs and responsibilities associated with private ownership. Shared mobility contributes to increased utilization of vehicles and eases traffic and congestion in cities. Technologies that facilitate real-time vehicle traceability, and access to data like driver history ensure that shared mobility also caters to safety requirements. By offering consumers a wide variety of choices to match their lifestyles, this trend is emerging as a viable alternative to private vehicle ownership. Shared mobility can also simplify access to public transportation systems by providing first mile/last mile connectivity to users through car and bike rental services. The seamless integration of multiple modes of transport – such as public and shared transport services, is an essential component of any urban mobility solution, and technology will play a key role in achieving this.

Another emerging trend that is set to change the urban mobility landscape is the rise of electric vehicles (EVs). In contrast to their conventional counterparts powered by fossil fuels, these battery-powered vehicles present an opportunity for city commute that is environment-friendly. Greenhouse emissions from petroleum and biodiesel vehicles pose a significant threat to air quality and our ecosystems. A report published in the Lancet journal in October 2017 indicated that pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 alone. Emissions from vehicles powered by fossil fuels contribute to a significant proportion of this pollution. EVs do away with such harmful emissions and reduce health risks associated with air pollution. Fueled by battery technology advancements and falling costs of batteries, it comes as no surprise that one in every six new cars in the world will be electric by 2025, a study by Swiss global financial services company UBS indicated.

In the wake of rapid urbanization, improvement in public transport networks is another factor that can address the mobility challenge. Services in this space include public and private buses that offer attractive tariffs, frequent service, and easy access. Public transport reduces the need for individual commute in private vehicles, keeping traffic congestion low and consequently reducing air pollution. In the recent years, eco-friendly CNG buses have been integrated into public transport fleet as a viable alternative to diesel-run buses that cause harmful emissions. Additionally, this mode of commute is less stressful than driving in congested areas, and has the potential to improve safety of commuters. According to a report by The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH), India recorded 150,785 deaths due to road accidents in 2016 alone – owing to a high motorization growth rate. The International Association of Public Transport (UITP) in India says that an increase in the share of public transport will help reduce the number of road accidents and accidental deaths.

Concepts of urban mobility need to be rethought in a manner that ensure citizens have access to viable options of commute, despite the fact that we are at the midst of an unprecedented urban sprawl. The objective of driving sustainable mobility can be addressed in a more efficient manner by engaging the whole ecosystem of mobility, and its various stakeholders – from technology providers to fleet owners, energy companies, insurance agencies, healthcare providers and the government, among others. Collaboration among the various stakeholders, who presently operate in silos, will be critical in solving the mobility challenge in an integrated and inclusive manner that benefits all stakeholders within the ecosystem, and makes our cities more liveable.

References:

  1. Urban mobility at a tipping point, McKinsey&Company, September 2015
  2. An Integrated Perspective on the Future of Mobility, McKinsey&Company, October 2016
  3. How will we move around our cities of tomorrow? World Economic Forum, April 2016

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