As urban populations swell, the cities have to invest in solutions that can cater to the demands of urban mobility. The solutions need to be innovative and must be in line with recent trends. Helsinki, for one, is doing just that.
Future Urban Mobility: digital, efficient and convenient
The problem in numbers
Countries all over the world experience, in many shades and forms, urban migration. People move into urban geographies in search of better lives and or economic opportunities. This naturally increases pressure onto the city’s infrastructure. Most visible are how the influx effects the access and workings of urban mobility- horizontal and vertical- which can lead to problems of congestion, an increased carbon footprint and a variety of other environmental problems.
By 2030, 60% of the world population will live in cities, and the number of megacities will continue to increase. As per the trends, car sales are expected to cumulate into a global car fleet of 2.4 billion by 2030. According to statistics available on the European Commission website, over 60% of Europe’s urban population already lives in densely populated areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants. As these cities expand horizontally, longer road networks are required to keep them connected. These, in turn, increase the demand for transportation. The congestion in urban mobility alone costs EU nearly €100 billion annually and accounts for ‘40 % of all CO2 emissions from road transport and up to 70 % of other pollutants from transport’.
While taking measures to curb the flow of urban migration is an option, governments also need to focus on enhancing the cities’ ability to sustain the increasing population. One such measure is to introduce efficient and innovative solutions to problems that come with increased urban mobility. Taking a cue from cities like Amsterdam, Singapore, and Stockholm, governments can model an efficient mass-transit infrastructure while simultaneously encouraging cycling and walking. However, that alone will not suffice. The urban consumer of the future would require efficient, low cost, environmentally friendly solutions with absolute ease of access. Based on the latest technology available, the solutions will have to be digital and in the form of ‘one-solution-for-all’.
public transport on demand?
Bloomberg News Energy Finance and McKinsey highlight vehicle electrification,shared mobility and autonomous driving as core mobility trends for urban mobility solutions. Sales for electrical vehicles have risen quickly in the last five years due to ‘generous purchase subsidies, falling battery costs (decreased 65% from 2010 to 2015), fuel economy regulations, growing commitments from car companies and rising interests from consumers’. Car sharing services are already popular in the developed economies and have found a healthy market in developing countries as well. Finally, some of the biggest technological giants such as Microsoft, Tesla, Google, and Apple are working towards an artificial intelligence that could help decrease human errors and increase the efficiency of workflow. Uber, for example, is already heading towards a driverless future. However, would the future be one with driverless private cars replacing public transport? Or, would the public infrastructure evolve into something that integrates the private car fleet making mobility solutions that are shared, efficient and safe from human errors? Helsinki, for one, plans to do just that.
Helsinki aims to transform its transportation network by 2025 making public access to mass-transit so cheap and easily accessible that owning private cars would become unattractive. The ‘mobility on demand’ system would see people purchase mobility in real time through their smartphones using an application which will work both as a journey planner and a universal payment platform. Everything would be paid for with one simple step making the journey hassle-free and convenient.
The city is also experimenting with driverless buses with Sohjoa, a collaboration with some local universities. On November 15, 2016, the Helsinki Regional Transport joined hands with the MaaS Global to offer public transport to subscribers of the ‘Whim’ app. With a monthly fee of €249, the subscriber can now use public transport, taxis, bikes, etc. Once given the destination, the application forms journey options for the user. Being interactive, it syncs with the calendar and remembers favorite places. The application is still in trial mode now with a beta version available to some selected customers.
With denser populations, the fabric of city’s ecosystem is changing. An obvious solution to dealing with the problems that come with horizontal expansion is to change the approach. One potential solution is expanding vertically.
Encompassing large populations in tall tower systems or vertical cities seems an attractive idea. It would save space, make running errands easier, reduce the carbon footprint of automotive industry and be potentially self-sustaining. These vertical cities can be structured to include all the needs of their inhabitant. The saved ground area can be used for better uses such as food production and energy generation.
Kenneth King, coauthor of "Vertical City: A Solution for Sustainable Living" insists, the push towards growing vertically has been limited due to lagging mobility innovations. Today’s elevators reach a maximum height of 120 stories. However, self-propelled elevators as envisioned by ThyssenKrupp offer some respite. These elevators can travel both horizontally and vertically without the restriction of a rope system.
However, city planners need to look further than simply solving the problem of height. The complex network of elevators of the future will have to be reliable, efficient and safer. Kone offers a solution by introducing connected elevators which would be ‘intelligent’. Connected to servers, they would automatically report any issues to the company workers who will solve them before they lead to anything dangerous.
Urban cities must ensure efficient transportation to their dwellers while keeping the carbon footprint in check. The future of urban mobility will be digital, combining public and private stakeholders into one convenient solution. Be it driverless cars, one-for-all payment methods, intelligent elevators the cities will have to be innovative, financially generous and ready to take risks.