Traffic congestion is a problem in cities all over the world. The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs states that 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities over the coming decades up from 55 percent today.1 As cities grow, congestion will get worse.
In Moscow, Russia, the average driver spends 210 hours a year waiting in traffic, while in Mexico City, Mexico, the average driver spends 218 a year in traffic. In Chicago, Illinois, the average driver is relatively lucky as they only spend 138 hours a year in traffic.2
One solution to traffic congestion is smart mobility. Smart mobility is the concept of connecting the elements of a city’s transportation system to the cloud. Data from each element—vehicles, traffic signals, people, roads, and maps—is collected, combined, and analyzed to optimize the flow of vehicles in the city.
If we drill down on how cities are using smart mobility to reduce traffic congestion today, we see best practices emerge. Let’s look at six key items that cities should embrace to enable smart mobility solutions.
One criterion required to enable smart mobility to reduce traffic congestion is connected infrastructure. The different parts of a city’s transportation system need to be connected to the cloud: traffic lights, cars, buses, trains, bikes, people, maps, and even roads. This Internet of Things (IoT) approach allows location, speed, capacity, and other data to be collected, stored, and analyzed. Wilson Parking recently invested in connected infrastructure to decrease congestion for drivers using the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. The city of Taipai has launched an initiative to connect 150,000 streetlights.
Access to data
Another criterion is access to data. Cities continuously collect and produce large quantities of data for planning, production, and decision-making. Sharing this data with the private sector can help accelerate smart mobility solutions. The City of Denver creates a holistic data environment that brings together data from multiple siloed sources to meet its smart mobility goals. Helsinki, Finland, opened access to city GIS transportation data.
A third criterion is offering compelling options to the “one car, one driver” model. For smart mobility, alternative options would need to be connected to the cloud:
- Bicycle commuting: ideal for commutes of a few miles
- Carsharing: rent cars by the minute or by the hour
- Ridesharing (carpooling): make use of the empty seats already in the system
- On-demand ride services: use personal vehicles to offer transportation services
- Buses and trains: reimagining existing transportation by integrating them into end-to-end trip plans, including how to travel the last mile home
A fourth criterion required to enable smart mobility to reduce traffic congestion is the evolution of autonomous vehicles. While still in development, autonomous vehicles are cars or trucks in which human drivers are not required. These vehicles use sensors and software to control, navigate, and drive the vehicle. The use of autonomous vehicles to reduce traffic congestion depends on public policy. For example, self-driving cars could connect transit hubs, provide public transit services to communities not currently served, and be used to improve public transportation.3
Traffic management is ultimately at the heart of reducing congestion. The new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is a modern-day marvel that has forever changed traffic patterns across one of Asia’s fast-growing areas. Recent estimates say daily volume on the world’s longest sea bridge will reach 29,100 vehicles by 2030 and 42,000 vehicles by 2037. Wilson Parking enables drivers to pre-book spaces on the bridge, resulting in smoother traffic flows. The City of Denver uses its capabilities to take a proactive approach to transportation optimizations, for example, by enabling real-time adjustments to traffic flows in the case of accidents or other disruptions.
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) Applications
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) applications complete the smart mobility picture. The vision of MaaS is to make it easier and less expensive for car drivers and passengers to travel via alternative forms of transportation. MaaS applications enable travelers to plan trips based on their priorities and preferences. Microsoft is working with companies like Moovit and TomTom to offer critical real-time data to MaaS application providers, enabling them to deliver compelling applications.
By connecting traffic lights, vehicles, people, and roads to the cloud, sharing data, embracing alternative modes of transportation, and building traffic management systems, cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, and Denver are experiencing success and leading the way for other cities. As travelers adopt MaaS applications, they will increasingly choose mass transit options over driving on their own. The advent of autonomous vehicles will eventually help reduce traffic congestion even further.