Smart transportation checklist: Experts suggest 4 targets cities should put in high gear

Wed, 2013-11-27 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

Transportation networks in cities around the world struggle with serious problems. Congestion, of course, is a big one. Congestion interferes with public safety, takes a toll on public health, stymies commerce and people's livelihoods and can put a city at a competitive disadvantage.

A recent study calculated that traffic congestion in 2011 wasted $121 billion in the United States alone in time, fuel and money. And of course it's not a problem the U.S. faces alone. A Congestion Index comparing 2011 to 2012 ranked the top three most congested cities in the world – with Moscow as No. 1 followed by Istanbul and Warsaw.

Smarter transportation networks that incorporate information and communications technologies (ICT) can help cities solve many of their congestion problems. Advanced analytics and instrumentation can provide cities with the information they need to minimize congestion. For example:

  •  Traffic lights can be synchronized and adjusted for optimal traffic flow
  •  In-vehicle collision-avoidance systems can take action to prevent congestion-causing accidents
  •  Incident detention and notification systems can analyze information from cameras and vehicles to detect traffic problems, alert drivers and suggest alternative routes
  •  Parking can be made more efficient through instrumentation and mobile apps.

In the Smart Cities Readiness Guide released by the Smart Cities Council last week, transportation experts outline four targets that cities serious about implementing smarter transportation networks should have on their to-do lists.

1. Implement smart devices for all transportation modes: Deploying the right devices in the right places -- covering all modes of transport -- provides the data smart cities use to analyze traffic in real time. In some cases, optimal instrumentation may mean a smart device for every vehicle, for instance, a GPS tracker for every bus. In other cases it may mean a smart device “every so often.” For example, a roadway sensor placed every so often as needed to provide a picture of traffic on city highways and byways. Gathering and analyzing data from all modes of transportation within a city enables multimodal optimization.

2. Enable multi-channel access to an integrated customer transportation account. One goal of a smart transportation system is to encourage people to use it – so making it incredibly convenient will be a big factor. A couple ways smart cities can do that is to enable people to:

  •   Pay for all city transportation services with a single account
  •   Enable access to this account through multiple channels – integrated fare cards, cell phones, websites, on-vehicle transponders, etc.

A single account covering multiple modes of transportation and offering multiple channels of access lowers barriers to mass use. Increased usage boosts efficiency and revenue and decreases road congestion. Although it is unlikely a city can integrate all modes of transport at once, it’s a goal worth working toward.

3. Optimize transportation operations. The goal here is to make sure the optimization takes place

across all modes, in or near real time depending on circumstances. Cities that optimize transport modes individually limit the returns on their technology investments, since a change or incident in one mode will likely impact another. An example is a problem that shuts down a subway line, sending a big influx of riders to the closest bus. As you can read in detail in the Readiness Guide, there are many ways that multi-modal optimization improves transit operations – improved mobility, cost savings and flexibility among them.

4. Enable dynamic, demand-based pricing. Smart cities have systems in place to usedynamic, demand-based pricing as a tool toinfluence customer behavior. As cities betterunderstand people’s transportation behaviorthrough instrumentation and analytics, theycan influence that behavior by changing pricesthroughout the day to accomplish theirtransportation goals. For example, a city with high road congestion can toll the road with variable pricing and/or alter its bus and subway pricing in targeted areas to reduce traffic.

The Readiness Guide is loaded with details on what cities can do to implement a smart transportation infrastructure, including case studies from pioneering cities around the world. But transportation is just one part of a smart city and the Readiness Guide is a comprehensive manual that addresses all of a city's major responsibility areas – the built environment, energy, water and wastewater, public safety, telecommunications, payments and health and human services among them.

The Smart Cities Readiness Guide is available at no charge for members of the Smart Cities Council. To become a member and download a copy simply complete a one-time registration.