Amid challenges galore, collaboration will be key to realizing a single, integrated platform for efficient control over transportation systems

Welcome to our personal Hunger Games…the battle for space on metros and buses, for a parking spot, through road traffic that looks more congested than a pub on Friday evening. This everyday dystopia is only going to get worse as exploding populations and surging demand for mobility outstrip the overburdened transport networks of our cities.

As urban mobility woes mount, I’ve had a ringside view of a promising solution – integrated transport command and control – that is easing the way I live, work and move around Dubai.  The EC3, the Enterprise Command & Control Center is used by the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to coordinate the operation of various transport systems—metro, buses, taxis, trams, marine (water taxis), traffic, ride-hailing services, and many more—across the city.

A Big Picture Approach

Previous efforts to solve the problem – and there have been several – have failed due to their myopic approach focused on individual transport systems and services rather than the big picture.  The point here being, of course, that urban mobility is much more than the sum of its parts: cities have a dizzying profusion of transport alternatives ranging from public to private, shared to individually owned, motorized to non-motorized. Commuting patterns themselves are dynamic, with commuters cherry-picking from a whole host of different travel options to complete a single journey in the most efficient way possible.

So what is needed are solutions that take an inclusive and integrated approach to urban mobility. In this vision, diverse transport modes combine seamlessly into a cohesive, networked, highly efficient whole. And the enabler? Integrated transport command and control solutions that provide cities with comprehensive, real-time views of discrete transport and traffic systems on a single platform.

Why You Don’t Need To Sell Your City Apartment Just Yet

As it stands, the need for integrated transport command and control solutions is gaining ever greater urgency.

By 2050, not only is more than 70% of the world’s population likely to live in cities but demand for passenger mobility is also expected to double, aggravating the strain on our urban mobility networks. Transport inefficiencies, traffic congestion, and extended travel times are already implicated in tremendous losses of time, productivity, and revenues. Increasing vehicular emissions are, meanwhile generating a massive public healthcare crisis.

Don’t sell up your city apartment and move to the country just yet. Technologies are already changing the way people navigate around cities. Connected, mobile technologies have exploded the number of transport options available to us. Several cities are running mobility as a service (MaaS) pilots, others have demand responsive transit (DRT) fleets where vehicle routes/timetables change flexibly in response to transport demand. Digital technologies are creating smart travel options such as online multimodal journey planners and smart ticketing options such as smart cards, contactless payments or online payments. Smart parking solutions are saving us the hassle of circling around endlessly looking for an empty slot.

What It Will Take To Succeed

The concept of integrated command and control centers isn’t new. Spotlighted as the nerve center of a smart city, they have been used to improve the management of energy and waste, air quality, events, governance and, traffic and transport.

They have proven particularly beneficial in the urban mobility domain. These centers collate complex data from multiple stakeholders across multiple transport/traffic domains and systems, process this data, and distill it – all in real-time – on a single platform.   What this does is provide the city’s transport authorities with the intelligence they need to streamline the functioning of various modes of transport, respond decisively to real-time events, plan more effectively for long-term mobility needs and, make decisions that support intelligent, integrated, and efficient mobility management.

Despite the growing demand for integrated transport command and control centers, however, only a handful of companies have developed the competencies to seamlessly integrate all public and private transportation systems onto a single platform. Companies like Thales, IBM, Siemens, and Transcore, among others, have been instrumental in integrating the transport systems of major cities like London, New York, Singapore, Beijing, Hong Kong, Dubai, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro.

Collaborating for Success

This begs the question about why such integrated platforms have not been more widely implemented? Part of the answer lies with operational challenges in terms of ensuring data consistency, scalability in terms of adding new modes, and modularity in terms of improving functionality.

Also, command and control centers for transportation and traffic management systems in most cities tend to be self-limiting since they continue to function in silos. However, as the market matures, companies are working on solutions that support a single, integrated platform for efficient control over transportation systems. Among the key applications of integrated systems on which companies are now working include video analytics, cloud analytics, and real-time information.

The market is very nascent, with business/revenue models still undefined. To fully realize the potential of these platforms, all stakeholders—public transport/traffic authorities, private transport providers, policymakers, urban planners and communities—will need to work in unison. Much like in the Hunger Games, collaboration will be the key to success.

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