Integrating city travel can ease congestion and earn money

As the populations of the world flock in increasing numbers to the convenience and opportunities presented by city living, urban mobility has become one of the hottest issues facing the modern town planner.

And only an integrated data-led strategy can help that town planner achieve seamless mobility solutions, according to Karthikeyan Natarajan, head of automotive at Tech Mahindra.

Speaking to TU-Automotive, Natarajan said his organisation are hoping to learn many of the lessons needed to construct strategic mobility models from its 18-month technology trials in the UK’s Milton Keynes, appropriately named after John Maynard Keynes possibly the greatest macroeconomic innovators of the last century.

Tech Mahindra is running a Smart City initiative in the town experimenting with smart parking solutions, including installing physical sensors on individual parking spaces to enable real-time updates about parking capacity in the city and an app which allows users to flag on their mobiles when they vacate a parking space.

But the trials are still in the data gathering stage, explained Natarajan. “In Milton Keynes we are trying to create four or five specific pilots and it is to do with smart energy and smart transportation and these, at the moment, are works in progress.

“We are still in the early days in terms of reaching our conclusions. These have to take a lot into account including public services and we are hoping to reach some meaningful conclusions by the end of this year.”

Nonetheless, Natarajan admitted there are several big challenges facing planners of urban mobility solutions that can achieve efficient use of a city’s resources.

“There are several key points,” Natarajan said. “Firstly, there has to be set up a command centre, whether on a city or county level, and that centre will be the hub for all the services, whether public services or civilian elected support. These centres can then start channelling all the inputs that need to be attached, whether in terms of utilities or public health, and all the other services the local citizens would like to have. So I don’t think this is about making a big investment but more about creating a road map to combine several existing systems that local authorities are providing today into just one.”

Natarajan also conceded the city authorities will have to work out a strategy of investment that can, ultimately, be self-funding.

He said: “Secondly, it’s about decongesting the city, whether with smart parking or smart transportation, to really start managing pollution and the carbon footprint and understanding the infrastructure needs of the city.

“In this way you will be able to plan a strategy for five to 10 years down the line when you can consider how parking fees or city pollution taxes can be set to pay for the technology employed by the local authority. We currently don’t have this sort of data in many cities, data that can help authorities establish a benchmark to plan with.

“Paying for this will have to come from the taxpayers’ money but with charging for certain services that the public would be willing to pay for. So the model will be funded from the city government with the intention of recovering some of the money from the services being offered.”

Naturally, any integrated strategy will rely on technology that communicates with all the elements used to provide the solutions, said Natarajan.

“And the third important thing is to realise how multiple services and multiple risk factors can impact on communication to really get better integration of all the available services.

“We are seeing how to keep the smart city as a broad theme and the need to improve the services response to public services and trying to establish an integration of activities.

“For example, a one click on an app would access all the mobility needs a person would need in a city without the need for multiple interfacing with all the different services available.

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