As Indian cities are growing and expanding, so is the need for efficient urban transportation systems. The provision of smart transport infrastructure is important for a city from both an economic and sustainability perspective. Increasing traffic and congestion leads to a waste of commuter time and valuable fuel, thereby impacting the environment. Therefore, there is a need to switch from conventional transportation systems towards shared, electric and connected mobility solutions, and these will result in significant energy savings. To this end, the government has launched numerous schemes and taken several initiatives, such as the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles, the National Green Urban Mobility Fund, and the high speed rail programme which will provide the necessary impetus. Further, the government is also developing the National Transport Master Plan to ensure the seamless movement of freight and passengers across multiple modes of transport.
Today, most of the cities shortlisted under the Smart Cities Mission are adopting information and communication technology (ICT)-driven solutions for providing smart urban mobility. These technologies include global positioning system (GPS)-enabled automatic vehicle location systems (AVLS), passenger information systems, revenue management systems, automatic fare collection systems, e-wallets and digital payment options. The Bhopal bus rapid transit (BRT) and the Pune BRT are two such projects where these technologies have been deployed. With features for data collection, data processing and information dissemination, these technologies enable optimum planning and management of public transport. Further, AVLS enables the monitoring of the current location of vehicles such as buses on a real-time basis, thereby avoiding delays.
The government is also making efforts to promote non-motorised transport systems such as bicycle sharing for efficient traffic management. Here, rental cycles are not fixed to a particular docking station and enable riders to take a cycle from one docking station as a feeder to a mass transit mode or for short trips and deposit it at any other docking station once they are done. This improves last-mile connectivity. A number of cities are proposing deploying this system. For instance, in June 2017, Bhopal City link Limited rolled out a city-wide bike sharing programme with 500 fully automated bicycles. More recently, Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited in association with Zoomcar’s PEDL also launched a pilot trial of public bicycle sharing. PEDL is a smart, affordable and environment-friendly cycle sharing service for short trips around the city, and has been launched in Bengaluru, Kolkata and Chennai.
Meanwhile, under the smart city plan, Raipur has proposed another smart mobility element, that is, smart parking zones. Under this, commuters will be allowed to park their vehicles in certain parking lots free of cost or at subsidised rates and will be provided with real-time information on the availability of parking slots. There will also be monitoring of entry and exit points, card-based payment options and a mobile application-based parking guidance system, thereby ensuring ease to commuters.
Other key measures to promote smart mobility are the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrid vehicles, energy storage systems, fuel cells, intelligent transport systems and advanced driver-assisted systems. EVs are environment-friendly and their batteries can be charged through renewable energy sources, thereby offering new opportunities for the renewable energy segment. Further, easy charging options such as home charging, public charging, solar-to-vehicle charging and grid- to-vehicle charging enable greater acceptance. Further, e-mobility plans of cities are setting considerable targets for the adoption of EVs as an alternative mode of public transport. For instance, Bhubaneswar Puri Transport Services Limited has recently submitted an e-mobility plan worth Rs 2.2 billion to the government. Some states such as Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh have already started deploying electric buses. Pune city is also planning to procure 60 electric buses.
The inevitable process of urbanisation offers huge opportunities for developing smart mobility systems. Both the public and private sectors need to work together to capitalise on this opportunity and develop India-specific mobility solutions. Further, given the high levels of pollution, e-vehicles and vehicles that run on bio-fuels are the need of the hour. For faster uptake, incentives in the form of exemption of registration charge and road tax will be useful. Lessons from the global experience and the willingness of authorities to ensure timely and effective implementation will be essential to ensuring that smart mobility does not merely remain a concept.