• IPC 2017

Status & Prospects Of Urban Transportation Vis-a-Vis Disruptive Technologies

By GovernanceToday
In Cover Story
August 20, 2017


The demand for mobility is getting increasingly dynamic and heterogeneous, riding on a wave of the changing demographic and socio-economic profile of urbanites. As economic prosperity manifests in higher consumer power, the demand for accessible and reliable transport facilities is also getting pushed up. Past studies conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Government of India (GoI) on mobility characteristics across different types of cities have indicated growing transport demand levels and declining public transport and non-motorised transport shares in the total demand, especially for medium- to large-size cities. The supply for fast-paced growth in transport demand, assisted by growing motorisation levels and socio-economic developments, has been hampered by the absence of a corresponding transport network and systems capacity expansion in urban areas. It may be noted that the gaps in supply have been both quantitative and qualitative.

Irritants in Transportation

Other worrisome areas include sub-optimal utilisation of available resources in the form of transportation networks, transport vehicles and systems, and manpower. The intensity of utilisation-per-Vehicle-Kilometer travelled in urban areas can be gauged from Passenger Kilometer travelled per Vehicle Kilometer travelled in a city. The bigger the value of this utilisation ratio, the higher the economic, environmental and social sustainability, as more passenger kilometers are served per vehicle kilometer operated. Passenger kilometer served can be identified with mobility demand satisfied, while Vehicle kilometer travelled denotes transport service supply. Consequently, the congestion levels have been on the rise, with average speeds coming down, resulting in longer delays and therefore, losses of productivity and higher fuel consumption. Transport networks play an important role in overall logistics of meeting the transport demand and supply. The fl aws of transport network performance affect effi cient throughput and constrains the overall efficiency of logistics to meet perpetual gaps between demand and supply. Despite continuous process of transport sector advancements and public support, the demand and supply gaps for safer, economical and environmentally sustainable urban transport system still persist and an ideal system (even closer) remains elusive. The problem worsens due to the presence of multiple players and stakeholders (transport sector decisions generally have significant impacts, as transport industry is one of the major employment generator and contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP)) as well as due to long gestation period of cost intensive transport investments Under these circumstances, the current policy focus of how much faster we can move people and goods in urban areas needs to be replaced with a new one: how effi ciently these can be moved. The mantra therefore has to be: Increase passenger/ tonnage throughput per vehicle kilometer (km) operated and if possible,simultaneously, reduces vehicle kms of travel. Transport demand management measures offer means of maximising the utilisation of transport. With the formulation of National Urban Transport Policy by Government of India, the policy and planning focus had shifted towards increasing the attractiveness of public and non-motorised transport modes with the objective to move people out of personal motor vehicles. The underlying philosophy was to reduce vehicular traffi c in the process of meeting ever increasing transport demand. Substantial investments have been made in the development of good public transport infrastructure. The efforts have seen fast rising patronage levels for comfortable and safe public transport systems such as the Delhi Metro. Similarly, the recent Delhi experiment in car usage restrictions on a particular day, depending upon Odd-Even registration number, was found surprisingly acceptable and did manage to reduce traffi c congestion and vehicle km travelled as people then used public transport, or else carpooled and managed their transport demand, during the implementation period. These initiatives show immense potential and system acceptability towards the need for good public transport as well as demand managementbased initiatives in the urban transport sector. With past experiences of abysmal security (be it public transport, contracted school or offi ce transport services, hired taxi services, and even those offered by demand aggregators in recent times), safety and universal accessibility have become one of the major concerns of transport regulators and managers. The fear of security in transport systems has not deterred vulnerable users from participating in economic activities but it has certainly infl uenced travel choices to meet mobility needs. In most cases, such choices culminate in the use of a private car, which has become the epitome of personal mobility and safety in a city where public transport means are facing severe challenges. The above issues need considerations in transport planning and solutions development, not only from the regional and national perspectives but also from that of global policy framework. Rapid urbanisation, changing demographic and socio-economic profi le, the threats of climate change and fossil fuel extinction are all driving next-generation global policy and strategy framework of urban transportation. Such a policy should encourage and direct for (1) enhancement of transport system performance, and (2) development of people-centric attitude. The policy framework will need to be interdisciplinary, integrated, dynamic, fl exible, and sustainable. The transport demand management and minimisation of vehicle km should be at the forefront of such policy. Further, such a transport system will need to be accessed from the remotest of locations and must prove economical for the poorest, considering the diversity and magnitude of users across Indian cities. From the user perspective, the bigger the vehicle, the cheaper, sustainable and less accessible it is; and the smaller the vehicle, the costlier, less sustainable and more accessible it will be. Moreover, heavy dependence for high accessibility on smaller vehicles can worsen already congested transport network, alongside ever rising demand for parking spaces, circulation areas, and depleting fossil fuel. A transportation system combining the utilities of bigger to smaller modes could be the key towards resolving seemingly intractable transportation problem of Indian cities. The integration of bigger to smaller vehicle transport systems could be a potential model of a seamless, integrated and sustainable transport solution of urban mobility. The public transport services can be brought closer to convenience and comfort of private transport, and vice versa, where private modes can be utilised for public service. A case of integration and sharing of modes across users or owners, makes sense to satisfy overall mobility needs and maximise utilisation of resources. This integration will have to be driven and guided by emerging technology advancements, among various other measures

Digitalisation of Transport and Logistics

Digitalisation is cutting across all layers of society. We have an expectation that virtually every action we take now has a digital approach and transport and logistics has not escaped this. Digitalising transport services, if done well, can improve the effi ciency, create better experiences for customers and ultimately increase profi tability of an integrated transport infrastructure. The transportation industry, like many others, is under pressure to improve cost effi ciency. A recent report by transport and logistics, analysts say that in a ten-year study, the companies’ involved showed increased revenue, yet reduced profi ts. As analysts suggesting that to improve the situation logistics and transport companies should focus on, “standardising and streamlining structures and processes, developing industry oriented and innovative solutions, thinking and acting in terms of networks” And digitization is also being driven by consumer needs. Consumers are pushing the boundaries using ‘collaborative consumption’ to envision new models of transport, including app initiated car sharing and personal car rental. So, in transport, digitalisation can signifi cantly improve traffi c and transport management through more accurate information on traffi c and infrastructure conditions and on the location of vehicles and/or goods. Better access to and sharing of digital transport (traffi c, travel, vehicle, cargo etc.) data for both public and private stakeholders along the supply chain can foster seamless information fl ows, and open up a wide range of new business opportunities: Shippers would benefi t from better information on available transport services. Factories would have information on goods arrival time to optimise their inventory management and production. Logistics service providers would be able to optimise transport operations in real-time and to react to unexpected events. Public authorities could benefi t from more accurate and reliable information on infrastructure use and cargo, thereby contributing to better effi ciency and operational safety of networks. The development of information pipelines along the TEN-T Corridors would enable continuity and integration of services as well as facilitate administrative requirements through one stop shops and easy access and sharing of data.

The Potential of Disruptive Technology

In recent times, web-based banking, commerce and shopping applications have gained tremendous popularity with the expansion of their user base, riding on the wave of internet and mobile-based technological revolution of the last decade. Taking cues from these, other technological interventions utilising smartphones, mobile networking, cloud computing, and GPS, have enabled user-centric application developments in the arena of urban mobility. These applications have predominantly focused on the online hiring of cab services, route guidance, travel guidance, real-time vehicle location and arrival prediction, incident management, and real-time traffi c signal synchronisation. Riding on such technology wave, a number of transport demand aggregators have recently sprung up, whereby demand aggregation and its commoditisation is taken up which can then be ordered by the user and managed by the service provider. Such mobility services belong to the area of Shared Mobility originating from shifting worldwide focus towards Shared Economy where the basic mantra is: Access not Ownership. This new philosophy and way of dealing with urban transportation may require grassroots level changes in the way supply of transport services is presently planned. Disruptive technologies are the root enabler of shared economy business, whereby the usual means of supply and consumption of transport commodity have slated to undergo changes. The disruptive technologies typically offer benefi ts for being simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less-demanding customers. Once the disruptive product gains a foothold in new or low-end markets, the improvement cycle begins. And because the pace of technological progress outstrips customers’ abilities to use it, the previously not good-enough technology eventually improves enough to intersect with the needs of more demanding customers. When that happens, the disruptive practices are on a path that will ultimately crush the incumbent practices. The prevalent vehicle-based mobility has been guided by automobile and oil and gas industries and is increasingly considered unsustainable for future urban mobility solutions. This new mobility paradigm is being pushed by the real estate sector, along with IT and telecommunications and tourism industries on one hand, and climate change restraint goals and new fuel technology agents, on the other. The impact of technology driven, shared economy in transport sector has been the subject of extensive research in many developed countries. These studies have shown a decline in car usage, purchase of cars, and increased usage of public transport and non motorised transport modes. There has also been space for the growth of different car sharing models, varying from traditional to new-age models: P2P sharing (shared use of private vehicle typically managed by third party), and Fractional Ownership Car sharing (individuals sublease or subscribe to a vehicle owned by a third party). Recently, real-time bikesharing and ride-sharing services have also come up as alternate means of shared mobility, shaping up the growth of the ‘shared car market. Behind the real-time ride-sharing or carpool service design, a set of grinding logistical and management procedures are laid out to maximise the feeling of convenience and safety during travel. Adding to above applications, the emergence of Autonomous, Fuel cell, Electric and Connected vehicles; tremendous opportunities and choices for urban mobility could be made available to a large section of society. These evidence of emerging technology interventions on urban mobility choices and consumption, signify a growing market for demand responsive transport. Such demand responsive services, when integrated with public and mass transport services (road-and rail-based), could potentially fill in the current void of last-mile connectivity, while providing alternative travel choices for less accessible locations. The landscape of urban transportation could get further transformed through the integration of shared mobility systems with various traffic operations based applications such as Real time traffic management, Travel planning and Guidance, Road user charging, Incentives/penalties, and Real time travel information, with Integrated fares and Multimodal transport solutions. This integration across different sub-systems of urban transportation will not only provide seamless and sustainable urban transport solutions but can also generate a wealth of knowledge base for planners, policymakers, managers and executives. The information, thus generated and systematically recorded over time, can assist in formulating daily (and even hourly) action plans under an overall transportation strategy, guided by the global, national and local policies. The above will be a truly integrated and managed door-to-door transport service that can (1) satisfy demand for reliable, accessible, safe and flexible transport system for a user; (2) offer large operational efficiencies and opportunity for targeting products and services, to where they best add value and generate revenue for the service provider; and (3) enable efficient utilisation of resources with reduced emissions and improved safety. India can potentially take up a large part of this shared economy business simply on account of numbers and an ongoing, fast penetration of e-literacy. The shared mobility is already experienced in India through various formal and informal ways such as contract carriage bus services (for school and office transport), hailing a taxi/auto rickshaw/cycle rickshaw; and fixed route and schedule bus services. However, these have yet to be supported by technology, and their full potential therefore has not been realised. It may also be noted that many of the systemic and user centric applications have already entered the transport space of Indian cities. The online carpool market has recently seen startup ventures in metropolitan cities of India. For example, MeBuddie, RidingO, PoolCircle, and CarPoolAdda, have come up in this space. The entry of global players like Brazilian Tripda and French BlaBlaCar is also seen as a validation that the Indian market is ready for carpooling. Tripda is even looking at acquiring smaller carpooling companies to scale up their business in India. Other innovative and localised mobility solutions of motorbike hiring and auto rickshaw hiring by Ola have been launched and user response has been encouraging. Uber, as a taxi aggregator service provider, is working on shaping up the Peer to Peer car sharing option to utilise existing car space availability in cities. This could potentially reduce growth in vehicle registration and vehicle mileage provided safety 6 and security of both drivers and riders from untoward incidents are ensured. Another innovative map-based application has been developed, named Safetipin, for informing the users on the safety index of an unfamiliar route. Bus aggregator is one of the innovative mobility solutions being developed, under Smart Cities Mission of the Government of India. With advancements of emerging technology applications in designing urban mobility solutions, serious security concerns have been taken care of, albeit partly, whereby every rider can link a security profi le, like LinkedIn or Facebook, with verifi cations using company employee IDs, for instance. Adding into the user friendliness attributes, Google Inc. now plans to integrate taxi or car aggregator services on Google maps to inform and guide the traveler for alternatives beyond car, bus and metro service operations. Even with the above advancement show ever signifi cant and encouraging nowhere has there been a systematic attempt to forge an integrated application of emerging technologies to fi ll and manage transport demand and supply gaps in India. The absence of integration among technologydriven solutions into classifi ed data platforms, could negatively affect reliability and dependability of information generated, and ultimately, their utilisation across stakeholders and knowledge seekers over time as each of the systems scale up. This is unfortunate, given that there is immense potential of developing a policy framework now supported by technology given the awareness and acceptability of government, users, service providers, policymakers and regulators, on one hand, and this intersecting with a signifi cant degree of readiness and maturity in the technology sector

Way Forward

The disruption to present mobility management scenario, through emerging technology interventions, is proposed by way of potential personalisation of public transport services. This new mobility scenario one of seamless integration cannot be successful unless these digital age transportation systems are massively networked, User centered, Integrated, Dynamically priced and Reliant on newer 8 models of public-private partnership. A comprehensive and strong planning support is needed to understand how this interaction will develop and thereby control the process for (1) extracting their maximum potential, and (2) minimising the solutions being developed, under Smart Cities Mission of the Government of India. With advancements of emerging technology applications in designing ultimately, their utilisation across stakeholders and knowledge seekers over time as each of the systems scale up. This is unfortunate, given that support is needed to understand how this interaction will develop and thereby control the process for (1) extracting their maximum potential, and (2) minimising the negative outcomes that may arise. As research is presently underway in the West along similar lines, there is an imperative to develop a clearer understanding based on India’s peculiar experiences and local needs. With Government of India’s ambitious plans of taking long strides in areas of renewable energy, universal electricity access, and internet penetration alongside globally growing market of smartphones and connected vehicle technology, data mining capabilities, and other innovations the impact of new technologies on urban transport could be substantive. However, it will be necessary to understand how this transformation can affect existing systems in India’s context, as is also being researched globally. For example, research on car-sharing systems has indicated that sharing services are popular among the young, well educated, upwardly mobile, urbanites. Consequently, more understanding is envisioned to understand how to scale shared mobility models to other populations and land use. More extensive research will lead to better understanding and enable a thorough assessment of the magnitude of new-age urban mobility scenario as driven by disruptive or emerging technology innovations. The research will then support the development of strategies and measures to satisfy the same in a most sustainable manner. It may not take long before these technologies change the very way people think, order, and experience transportation as a user, provider, regulator and manager. The Indian government’s ‘Smart Cities’ mission has a number of smart mobility and accessibility initiatives adopted for various cities. The proposed multi-modal integration solution would ensure pulling smaller and bigger vehicles together to enable provisioning a privatised public transport service accessible to the poorest and remotest of locations of an urban area. Safety, Security, Regulation and Private sector participation will be important areas of integration in the service and product design of new-age mobility and digital transportation solutions. The regulation of transport service providers would need to focus on the nature of service provided, for example, to differentiate between asset generator and asset aggregator, while ensuring accountability and traceability for all. Mechanisms like carpooling, taxi sharing, as well as demand aggregator services, can prove to be sustainable options from both safety and mobility perspectives, provided adequate regulations are mandated. Under present context global as well as national climate change goals, the future of urban transportation will become more inter-disciplinary with urban planning, social and environmental sciences, engineering, technology, user behaviour and fi nancing and economics play respective roles in preparing a framework of overall new-age urban transport system. The challenge for policymakers is to make sure they fully understand all sides of the technologies coming forward and make their own assessments based on hard evidence and structured analyses. Consequently, more understanding is envisioned to understand how to scale shared mobility models to other populations and land use. More extensive research will and Private sector participation will be important areas of integration in the service and product design of new-age mobility and digital transportation solutions. The all sides of the technologies coming forward and make their own assessments based on hard evidence and structured analyses


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