It is often said that “two (heads) are better than one”. It is also said that “less is more”. So, which of these is more applicable when it comes to the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in our cities to aid SMARTER mobility? These decisions have an impact on how transport authorities around the world deliver the right solutions and services to its citizens while ensuring value for money. There is typically no right answer, and the local authorities have to strike a balance between exploiting the most appropriate technology available today to deliver a service to its citizens while ensuring that they are not missing out on new technologies as and when they become available, especially from the rapidly developing world of Internet of Things (IoT), Internet of Everything (IoE) and Big Data Science. As surprising as it may sound, the key to this conundrum is this – technology comes last!
Taking into account our experience in the Middle Eastern market (the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates) over the last 5-6 years, we will focus on specific challenges that we observed in this regard in this market. These lessons learned from these challenges are generic in nature and are applicable to planning Smart City Mobility in the global context.
It is conceivable that in order to provide efficient and effective mobility for residents, visitors and for goods and service delivery professionals, a greater penetration of technology within the city will result in improved services. But more technological services and infrastructure means that cities will need more system operators, maintenance engineers and managers focused on running these technology assets. Such operational teams are required not only to make sure that the deployed systems are running properly (e.g. system availability), but also to ensure that the technology assets are utilised in a proper manner to achieve required outcomes. This is a key challenge – achieving the best outcome or results.
In the future, ITS technology in Smart Cities will be more pervasive with a large number of touch points with the end user. The public will be able to plan multi-modal journeys across multiple modes such as private car, taxi, bus, tram, metro, boats and water taxis, cycling and walking. Such services will give information about inter-modal exchanges, disruption information and information about planned events and activities that effect the level of service in any of these modes, thus ensuring that system users are well information and have up-to-date information both pre-trip and on-trip. However, such services need to use real-time and predicted network conditions in order to make accurate recommendations. The predictive element of such services should also be able to forecast the impact of disruptions on the multi-modal transport network and enable the managers to take appropriate mitigation actions that alleviate the impact of incidents.
Hence, the key to offering such Smart City mobility services is not the technology nor the data produced, but how intelligence is derived from data to benefit the end user and transport network manager. Such intelligence should be derived at speed in near-real-time that is relevant, accurate and trusted so that the users act on it. Fundamentals in traffic engineering and data science is the key to achieving this, in addition to utilising the latest available tools and methods in technology.
Having seen the expanded use and deployment of ITS within the Middle East, firstly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through the ATVAM project for Enforcement and Traffic Management/ Security Systems, then in the planning and design of multi-modal ITS for the State of Qatar and its preparation for meetings its 2020 Vision needs and specific events such as the FIFA 2022 World Cup and also within the UAE for the future needs of meetings Dubai’s development and needs for EXPO2020, the Middle East we find that not shy to exploit the very best technology has to offer. This rapid deployment of the technology has not always reaped the envisaged rewards expected and there are a number of contributory factors as to why this is the case. However, it is easy to start looking at how this can be improved, and the investment already made can be made to work to deliver the expected benefits.
This issue is not about a lack of technology, but about the need. The user needs have to be established clearly, and the technology will deliver through a detailed specification based on applicable standards for the region. Not defining the need (required outcome) or what success means will always (nearly) result in not achieving the desired outcome/result. Even with a clearly defined outcome, not having standards and specifications, together with strategic and tactical deployment plans will almost always result in the wrong result.
Lessons have been learnt and now this is less an issue across the Middle East and history has provided a learning curve to ensure that continuous improvement is achieved. Today in the Middle East, there is a focus on the supporting mechanisms that exploit what technology has to offer to achieve desired outcomes. Today, People and Process are being seen as the key to success for ensuring that ITS delivers.
SMART organisations, such as the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai and Sharjah and Ashghal in the State of Qatar know they can no longer afford to see maintenance as just an expense. Used wisely, it provides essential support to sustained City transport productivity, improved reliability and longer life and at the same time, driving down unneeded and unforeseen overall expenses. Effective Smarter Asset Management, involving People, Process and Technology (PPT) together ensures that the technology is available (maximise uptime) in the event of disruption and when it is required to meet the need/outcome.
To summarise, Smart City planners in India can take away the following lessons from the Middle Eastern experience. Firstly, People’s needs have to be taken into consideration when planning for Smart Mobility: this applies to both the end user (the public) as well as transport network operators in a multi-modal context. Secondly, the outcomes need to be clearly defined based on user needs. Technology standards and a clear ITS road-map and ITS deployment strategy will go a long way in achieving this. Thirdly, put in place people and processes to maintain and operate the system to ensure that the system is available and capable of delivering the desired outcome when it is needed. A mix of core transportation engineering skills and technology skills is needed to achieve this outcome, and preferably some people who understand both.
There are also some additional lessons gleaned from the Middle East experience that may be relevant to India. Don’t ignore open standards. Systems that are conform to industry standards in information technology and ITS standards will be easier and cheaper to maintain, extend and reconfigure in the future. The organisational complexity in operating in a multi-modal, multi-agency environment should be recognised and managed, and not let bureaucracy come in the way of achieving the desired outcomes – technology is often not the bottle-neck, the processes are. Lastly, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step; put in place a phased implementation plan rather than go for a big-bang approach and choose the first components very carefully in order to gain trust and support of all stakeholders.