Don’t get left behind! Can we make smart city mobility solutions work for all?

Josh Gilbert

Dense urban environments throughout the world are booming, with populations soaring as opportunities attract people to cities. Today, more than half of all humans live in urban areas. Further, this growth is set to continue over the coming years, with the number expected to hit 66% by 2050. This influx of people and goods trying to get into and around our cities is a difficult but potentially lucrative issue to resolve.

Here at CTG, we’ve brought together leading startups in this space, as well as public sector municipal planning professionals, to more fully understand ways in which we can negotiate this new emerging urban environment. In this blog, we will give a brief outline of our recent Executive Summit on Next Generation Mobility, as well as outline some of the emerging public-private partnerships that are occurring between corporates and cities.

Next Generation Mobility Summit

At our Cleantech Forum San Francisco in January, we hosted a diverse group of players in the transportation and mobility ecosystem during a half-day Summit. The objective was to bring together representatives from cities with different mobility challenges and approaches, and members of the private sector world of investors, startups and corporates to create an awareness of shared challenges, and opportunities to address them.

One of the core issues to negotiate is the tension between the public and private sector, effectively stemming from the very different end-goals of each. The public sector is focused upon providing equitable transportation for all, trying to balance day-to-day firefighting and short-termism caused by relatively short governmental electoral cycles, with emerging innovation trends and long-term infrastructure development.

In contrast, the private sector is driven by a model of growth and profit, which doesn’t necessarily take into account the wider challenges of city management. These companies will tend to favor early adopters and technologists, with some of the services provided directly clashing with existing public-sector transportation infrastructure. Further, the data which these companies acquire can often be a core part of the company’s business model, so is made proprietary IP – meaning that sharing this data with a wider audience is ill-advised. Therefore, a massive array of data is unavailable for public sector workers, despite its obvious utility in this municipal planning environment.

Emerging Innovators and Public-Partnerships

One of the core parts of addressing the problems at the emerging smart city/mobility/transportation nexus will be enabling integration across the public and private sectors, modes of transportation, and data platforms. Although a dauntingly large task, we have seen a wave of innovators emerge to help solve these issues. Startups, as well as corporates, are appearing to be increasingly willing to engage more fully with the public sector to ensure a smooth smart city transition. These companies are also leveraging their significant resource bases to develop smart city infrastructure.

For example, this week Nokia launched its smart city platform, focusing on services, networking, connectivity, and IoT sensor data management. This set of tools will work as part of a modular integrated framework within the urban environment that can scale as necessary.

Source: Nokia

Nokia’s recent initiative is one of several from leading technology vendors, including Cisco’s $1 billion smart cities program and Ericsson’s traffic management systems, trialing in Dallas and soon in Las Vegas.

Beyond these Western companies, there are integrated smart city offerings coming from large Chinese corporates. For example, in November, Huawei announced it is developing what they describe as an Intelligent Operation Center, which will be targeting roll-out in over 140 cities. The system of distributed cloud data-centers will act as a “brain” for smart cities that can collect, monitor and analyze data, helping the city make smarter decisions across its infrastructure.

Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing startup-cum-global behemoth, is also making significant overtures in providing smart city solutions. The company has acquired bike-sharing startup Bluegogo with the aim of better integrating first mile/last mile mobility solutions into its existing urban ride-hailing platform. Didi is also developing a Smart Transport Brain system, focused on smart traffic signalling technologies. The platform has been piloted in the Shandong Province in China with positive initial results – more than 30,000 hours of travel time have been saved to date, with an estimated 11.5 million hours saved annually. Average traffic delays have also been reduced by around 10-20%, with the net result of more efficient cities, and an increased utility optimization for individuals. To integrate these separate plays, the company has also launched the GAIA initiative, which is a global research service which provides access to aggregated, anonymized route data from Didi.

These public-private partnerships highlight the important role of cooperation in bridging the gap between the equitable transportation aspirations of the public sector, and the inherent focus on the bottom line in the private sector. Negotiating the integration of smart mobility solutions as well as various data inputs is crucial for the urban mobility ecosystem to find a model that works for everybody, not just those who can afford it!