India is not just the most populous nation after China but is also behind it as the fastest growing economy globally.
India is expected to challenge China for the top spot on both these counts. These facts making Indians proud. But as champions of this dream, the focus must shift to statistics—India is the second largest two-wheeler and third largest small car market. With over 160 million vehicles and a growing population, the 11% vehicular growth of the past decade will only increase. What is alarming is that in the country with the fastest private vehicle adoption rate, infrastructure growth is reportedly a shade under 5%.
From a commuter’s point of view, public transport services are overcrowded, undependable, inconvenient, uncoordinated, and in some cases, dangerous. Thanks to the state of public transport, many commuters opt for personal transport leading to many key roads becoming parking lots during peak hours. The need is not a spurt in infrastructure investment, but technological insight to convert existing and future infrastructure into smart solutions.
Designing a smart transportation ecosystem: Smart is the flavour of the season. With homes, industries and cities becoming smart, it is time to get transportation smarter. Smart transportation is about smartening the streets. It entails providing real-time, data-driven capability for designing and implementing policies and operational strategies for traffic, public transport, and urban planning. India has leapfrogged technologies due to the efforts of organizations such as Bosch, Siemens, Schneider Electric and IBM. A new generation of solutions and services addressing modern/smart transportation needs abound.
To achieve a comprehensive and scalable smart transportation architecture, the system must be designed for open innovation—a platform for collaboration, shared data, knowledge and resources, co-creation of customizable services, multiple info-sources, multiple delivery models supporting publish-subscribe policies, and dynamic management. Enforcing these principles ensures context sensitive solutions and collaborative growth. To achieve this, a coalition of major players should take lead in ensuring development of a sustainable ecosystem.
Next is to overlay an integrated framework to enforce smart transportation—an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) which consists of three layers:
Vehicular Level: Technologies deployed within vehicles, including sensors, data crunching systems, displays which provide information and entertainment.
Infrastructural Level: Sensors embedded along roads collecting important traffic data. Analytic algorithms provide drivers pertinent information to manage traffic better.
Cooperative Level: Communication between vehicles, as well as between infrastructure and vehicles involving a synergistic combination of vehicle and infrastructure level technologies. ITS forms the basis for functional modules
Traveller Information Systems provide real-time travel related information to users of public transport.
Traffic Management Systems integrate numerous sub-systems to provide a single coherent interface for dynamic traffic management.
Intelligent Transportation Systems unify vehicular tracking, dynamic routing, intelligent toll management, parking management to create a fast and cost-effective method of optimizing transport.
Vehicle control systems bring state of the art automotive technology like automatic cruise control, driverless cars, lane detection to ensure a clean and safe option to the increased traffic.
Smart by design should be smart in implementation: The real success of any smart transportation system lies in providing a viable transit solution for the majority of commuters, transcending economic status. To paraphrase the former mayor of Bogota, “A developed country is not where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation”. Today’s generation is demanding—they want real time information in multiple formats, on a variety of devices; they also want easy payment methods, reliable and timely services, and value for money. While this is challenging, it opens up avenues for innovation. This is where leveraging the power of IT can create radical and affordable changes.
Clearly, a well-thought-out infrastructure backbone overlaid with latest technology is the future of public transport.
While these two work in tandem, we have to adopt a 4-spoke approach to bring the masses to public transit.
Speed is key—getting from point A to B in the shortest possible time is definitely a crowd-puller. But “fast” is more than speed. Fast is about predictability, so that an office-goer who ditches his car for public transport knows when and from where he may get his ride. Fast is also about reliability—a guarantee that contingencies are planned and he is kept abreast of latest information with guided alternatives. A well planned infrastructure is the basis of such a system; Mobile apps like Moovit, Offi, Bosch City App, which bring this info in real-time to our smartphones, create user experience; Intelligent traffic routing, route/passenger optimizing algorithms, big data analytics etc. provide unparalleled power in the hands of traffic management teams. This is a perfect marriage of infrastructure and IT.
Safety is where public transport can pip personal rides. GPS enabled buses/trams, stations and depots with video surveillance, E-Call systems integrated with paramedical services, insurance systems etc. provide a web of security protocols which makes a working mother, feel it's safe to travel alone, even at night. One major aspect here is the last mile integration through networked services of cabs/rickshaws so that security extends from the public stations till the moment the person is dropped at her doorstep.
Ditching a full capacity car for public bus reduces CO2 emitted per passenger to 50%-20% and congestion to 20%-10% per instance. These statistics are enormous for developing countries. The challenge is to educate commuters on collateral gains of using public transit.
The biggest reason, after economics, stated for adoption of public transit is comfort—“avoiding rush hour traffic”, “having some me-time”, “just sitting back and relaxing” are major motivators. This is where IT can create unparalleled user-experience—IT can create a personal zone of entertainment within a public transit space.
The Push Forward
The vision of the Ministry of Urban Development is to set up 100 smart cities, with 6 of the world’s 41 megacities in India by 2025. Investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars is planned for this. However, a more insightful approach would reveal that the core of these investments should not be technology, but people. As IT changes to IOT, as streets and vehicles become smart, we are looking at a paradigm shift in the way we look at transportation.
As we take a holistic approach of improving infrastructure on the ground, enabling components with intelligence and finally taking the ecosystem digital, the future of mass transportation is bright and smart.
The author is vice-president, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions