Mobility is undergoing a seismic shift, with a number of trends converging to transform the way that people commute to work and travel for leisure and entertainment, writes Ivan Reutener, Smart Mobility and Intelligent Transport Systems specialist at Royal HaskoningDHV.
There’s an increased demand for mobility fed by population growth, increased goods consumption, and economic developments. This growth is impacted by shifts in societal dynamics, increased awareness of climate change, and a focus on the liveability of our built environments.
Public and private sector players must collaborate to respond to South Africa’s unique position and requirements, embracing technology to resolve our various challenges, including budgetary constraints, ageing infrastructure, and high unemployment levels. They can keep cities moving by providing transparent usage information across open platforms, accelerating innovation and facilitating mobility. Doing so can achieve multiple results, including making transport more accessible to more people, reducing the cost of transport, and limiting traffic congestion and the pollution it causes.
There are several innovations that South Africa could implement to resolve many of the challenges highlighted during the South African Government-sponsored annual October Transport Month initiative, including:
Embrace electric taxis
The soaring fuel price is the most important reason to convert the taxi industry into one powered by electric vehicles (EVs), making public transport more affordable for the poor, stimulating economic growth, and reducing our country’s environmental footprint.
Electric vehicles are cheaper to run and maintain, and they don’t emit carbon monoxide, which means they don’t add to greenhouse gases and pollution.
Set cities up for cycling
Achieving a cycling culture through supportive non-motorised infrastructure is not a nice-to-have; it’s crucial if we want to empower those who can’t afford cars or to use public transport. Cycling is an essential part of an inclusive society and, by working together to make our roads ‘smart spaces’, we could make Joburg the most bike-friendly city in Africa, for example.
The City of Johannesburg has already drafted a ‘Complete Streets’ strategy, which when implemented, will make the city more friendly for commuting cyclists. The strategy includes elements of job creation, infrastructure development, and education, and the city could be a shining example for other South African and African urban environments.
Mobility as a service
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) has gained tremendous attention since it was introduced in 2014, made real in South Africa by ride-hailing services like Bolt and Uber.
MaaS has the ability to connect infrastructure and transport fleets with customers. With the large amount of data available from the Gauteng eToll gantries in combination of other data sources, MaaS can provide a better choice for every traveller, and a satisfied user will pay per use rather than have their own car. Furthermore, MaaS can assist government build an integrated open data bank from resources such as the Gautrain data and eTolls stimulating the development of apps that make moving around cities easier.
This data could also be used to create solutions like bike sharing schemes, giving people the means to move seamlessly from one mode of shared transport to another – such as cycling to the Gautrain station, taking the train, and then calling a driver via ride-hailing to get to the end destination.
Rethinking infrastructure monitoring and management
South Africa doesn’t have the luxury of time or money to invest in massive new roads and infrastructure projects, but we can use new technologies to reverse-engineer what we’ve already got, to make smarter maintenance and planning decisions. Creating a ‘digital twin’ of our roads infrastructure and sharing data between the virtual and physical environments means that municipalities, city planners and roads agencies can pre-empt issues through proactive maintenance.
This not only extends the life of the infrastructure, it also prevents downtime and traffic congestion, as well as unexpected costs when a road is damaged. Digital twinning also creates jobs, as it is only made possible if people scan and capture data about the various infrastructure elements, gathered from a network of sensors and devices installed by specialist teams
Use tech to optimise traffic
Traffic that flows smoothly benefits road users, but it also reduces pollution. Not only does it increase accessibility to cities, but cloud-based Flowtack uses data from traffic sensors, apps and cars to drive traffic efficiency by managing intersections in response to traffic flow, reducing congestion and the amount of carbon emissions created by cars idling at traffic lights.
The system can provide absolute or conditional prioritisation for certain types of traffic under certain conditions, for example diverting traffic flows around an accident site to improve the flow of vehicles.
Stop building, start 3D printing
New technology is making it possible to rethink the form and function of transport infrastructure. Recyclable 3D printed bridges are not a figment of the future’s imagination – a prototype of a 3D printed bridge, made using a glass-filled thermoplastic PET was recently produced in the Netherlands, offering high strength with extreme versatility and sustainability. Digital sensors can be built into the bridge, allowing for monitoring vital environmental aspects such as pollution and traffic, and the technology makes the maintenance and inspection of the bridge more efficient. Furthermore, 3D printing uses a precise amount of material, avoiding wastage during ‘construction’, are much quicker to build, and yields an improved mechanical performance.
October Transport Month is a great opportunity to challenge the way we’ve always thought about transport and mobility, and to find new solutions to age-old problems. Embracing fourth industrial revolution technology will make South Africa’s transport systems and road networks much more accessible to many more people – all while creating new jobs in emerging industries and stimulating the economy.