March 28, 2018 / 10:21 AM / 25 days ago

Faster Cities


Our world is in gridlock. According to the United Nations there are 7.3 billion of us, and counting. With a burgeoning global population comes centralisation of urban areas. And our city’s roads are, unsurprisingly, grinding to a halt. Not only that, the overwhelming traffic is causing suffocating air pollution that’s damaging the environment.

Mexico City has kept its title of the ‘Most Traffic Congested City in the World’ this year with 66% congestion levels, according to the 2017 traffic index from European navigation company TomTom. However, Bangkok (61%) and Jakarta (58%) are not far behind. Transportation expert and Senior Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, Gopinath Menon, says Asian cities are suffering for various reasons.

“Growing affluence has resulted in exponential increases in car population. While a car carrying a full occupancy of four passengers can be considered efficient, the average occupancy of a car in most cities is less than two, as most people treat the car as an extension of their home. At the same time, the less well-off have resorted to buying motorcycles. And the improvement in public transportation has not kept pace with the growing economic activity which necessitates travel,” says Mr Menon.

Congested cities therefore need to be unlocked. And there is a solution that’s gathering pace: advanced ICT-based traffic infrastructure. It may not sound exciting on paper, but the next generation of ICT is already revolutionising roads worldwide. They combine higher cost efficiency with a lower environmental burden. And for urban residents, they offer smoother and safer travel.

For example, dedicated bus lanes and ‘Bus Rapid Transits’ (BRTs) can free up the roads and speed up commuter travel, as has been seen in Indonesia. This concept is gaining momentum in Asia, and in other regions of the world. The ICT solutions behind the scenes give this service the edge, for commuters and operators alike - from real-time information for passengers, making their travel as punctual and convenient as possible, to vehicle location data that helps iron out any delays en route.

Another way of reducing traffic at peak times is congestion charging, which simultaneously creates revenue that can be spent on transport infrastructure. Telework is also an attractive choice for commuters, where people are encouraged to work at an office close to their home. And better ‘personal mobility’ may be possible with compact one or two-seater cars.

The thread that weaves all these powerful solutions together is Information and Communications Technology; from the real-time information commuters or bus drivers receive about a journey, to automated fares and mobile ticketing systems (with the use of electronic IC transport cards), ICT is the driving force that is making these concepts a reality.

“One of the main causes of congestion is incidents and accidents on high speed roads. If such incidents are spotted by surveillance (ICT), immediate assistance can be rendered to the vehicle in distress which can be towed away from the high speed road to restore traffic flow to normal. Data gathered from the road network by a variety of methods such as detector loops, CCTV cameras or GPS receivers, can be processed and given as information (ICT) on such things as prevailing traffic speeds, congestion areas, bus and train arrivals and availability of parking spaces. Travellers can make better choices,” says Mr Menon.

And with the United Nations estimating that the world population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050, better choices will no longer be preferable, they’ll be a necessity. A world with no traffic may not be just around the corner, but with the help of ICT-based transport infrastructure, it is on the horizon.

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