The topic of Smart Cities cannot be properly addressed without considering the important sub-topic of smart transportation. After all, the ways that citizens move within a city - both on public transportation or with their own vehicles - are crucial to the way that city functions. According to the US Department of Transportation, “Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) apply a variety of technologies to monitor, evaluate, and manage transportation systems to enhance efficiency and safety.” Essentially, the goal of smart transportation is to make movement within a city “more convenient, more cost effective (for both the city and the individual), and safer.” We are already familiar with many smart transportation systems, such as speed cameras, traffic control systems, car navigation , and automatic number plate recognition. These and many more systems all work together to make urban transportation more efficient, budget-friendly, and safer. Let’s break down these elements to take a close look, and then we can explore some examples of smart transportation at work in our cities across the globe.
In terms of efficiency, we see the benefits of having cutting-edge technology for traffic lights to optimize traffic flow and thus cut down on vehicle congestion while also improving on emissions. Better traffic flow means fewer cars on the road for shorter periods of time. This also helps with maintaining road conditions and helps mitigate the need for road repair – a large disrupter of traffic flow. Data is also important for efficiency. Quality data can help to pinpoint areas where efficiency can be improved: “A slight adjustment in train schedules would provide for better fill rates, [and] bus routes would better serve the community if stops were allocated differently.” The management of traffic also becomes more efficient with smart technology. City administrators can, using data from smart transportation systems, identify problem areas with maintenance, traffic flow, and general commuter habits to inform them on decisions that can be made to improve public and private transportation.
Budgets can also improve greatly using ITS through elements such as preventative maintenance, lower energy consumption, and fewer resources used towards accidents. The cutbacks in maintenance allow a city to save money on manpower. Also, less energy means more money freed up to divert resources to more pressing rural issues such as healthcare and education. And fewer accidents mean less officers needed to deal with traffic incidents, both on the scene and with administration after the fact. The public can also save money by using public transportation as an alternative to their private vehicle and have a larger incentive to do so when the technology makes public transportation more efficient than driving.
Safety is perhaps the biggest incentive for a city to implement and upgrade ITS. The lack of “human factor” is a key element here. Machines do not get distracted, fatigued, or frustrated. This is very important when it comes to accidents in particular. Remember when intersections had a traffic cop directing vehicles? Much confusion could ensue at such intersections, as the human error factor was significant. A simple mistake in waving could result in a collision. While admittedly we have long moved on from such methods of traffic control, it is an example of how graduating to an automated traffic light system has greatly improved the great imperfection of the human brain and its varying degrees of efficiency and accuracy. As for the city driver, the city pedestrian also benefits from ITS. As cities become smarter, public transport becomes more reliable and cities add more pedestrian and cycle paths. The way people move of foot and among public transportation portals is greatly improved by advancements in city infrastructure such as sidewalks, crossings, and platforms for entering and exiting buses and trains.
Let’s now look at 8 examples of ITS in various cities around the world:
Oslo: City planners are currently building 27 miles of cycling road and banning cars from the city centre. The goal is to improve safety, reduce emissions, and improve traffic congestion.
Barcelona: The city has introduced a smart cycling initiative called ‘Bicing’ which allows passengers to access over 400 bike stations through an annual system or phone payments.
San Francisco: The city is using smart ticketing to streamline public transport processes and smart parking, which allows authorities to adjust parking prices in areas based on the number of available spaces.
Portland, Oregon: The local authority is working to avoid pedestrian accidents with an AI-powered system that automatically optimises traffic conditions. This system will be able to communicate with neighbouring intersections and any connected smart vehicles nearby.
Wyoming: The state is using V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) technologies to help cars and trucks pass congested and hazardous areas safely. They are using V2I technology to send safety-related weather and road alerts to drivers who enrol for the innovative program.
Paris: The city launched an electric-car sharing program called Autolib in 2011 that uses sensors inside the connected vehicles to track them by GPS. The car's dashboard is enabled with technology to reserve public parking spaces in the city.
London’s Oyster card, Hong Kong’s Octopus card & Sydney’s Opal Card: These smart cards are pre-loaded with funds, and credit is deducted each time the user scans it at a portal. This makes public transport passage easier and more efficient.
Atlanta: A free app from the police has been introduced in Atlanta, designed for public transport passengers to report suspicious activity they may witness or experience. It’s specially designed for areas that have a poor cell phone signal, such as the subway. It provides direct communication with law enforcement.
The above examples highlight a mix of ITS benefits that focus on efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness. They show that smart transportation is making a true difference in the world of Smart Cities technology. Pedestrians, public transport users, and drivers deserve to have their safety needs taken into consideration, and efficiency is greatly helpful for people’s schedules and productivity. A safe, efficient, budget-friendly city is a win-win for both the citizen and the municipality.