Smart mobility is a defining feature of the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), which aims to create and develop an efficient urban mobility and public transport infrastructure that provides multiple modes of transportation, including mass rapid transit (MRT) systems, on-demand mobility solutions, electric vehicles (EVs), and improved traffic flow, thereby reducing passengers’ travel time. India’s demand for mobility is being fuelled by rapid urbanisation, resulting in problems such as inadequate parking spaces, lack of last-mile connectivity, poor road safety and rising pollution. Smart transport solutions can address these challenges, where traditional solutions fall short. From the deployment of information and communications technology (ICT)-enabled solutions for integration, monitoring and effective management of various modes of transportation, to the development of physical infrastructure such as roads, flyovers, MRT, EV infrastructure, parking spaces, etc., the segment of smart mobility forms an important pillar for the realisation of the SCM.
Smart technology solutions
A number of innovative technology solutions are being witnessed in the transportation segment across the world and many of them are making fast inroads in India. An intelligent transportation system integrates ICT, which ensures efficient management of transport. Passengers using public transportation can get real-time updates from passenger information systems. The expected time of arrival (ETA) is shown on the electric signboards at airports, bus stops, railway stations and MRT platforms. These systems also send intimations to mobile devices of passengers travelling by Indian Railways and airways, minimising uncertainty regarding ETA. Further, a real-time parking system provides information about available parking lots on a publicly displayed electric signboards. With minimal land usage, quick entry and exit sensors, and safety equipment, smart parking systems incur low operations and maintenance costs. Take, for example, the smart parking system located at Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. “Smart parking assist” is a recent advancement in automobile technology that involves the use of sensors. This technology improves safety, efficiency and convenience in driving and parking, making it a valuable technology for inexperienced drivers.
Smart cards are already being used in India, especially within the MRT network. Delhi and other state governments are considering smart integrated cards. In 2020, Indore Smart City Development Limited proposed to launch smart mobility cards under the central government’s flagship “One Nation One Card” scheme. Additionally, Smart City Thiruvananthapuram Limited announced “My Smart Trivandrum,” a smart card scheme, in January 2021.
A major component of smart mobility is smart infrastructure, which involves the development of physical infrastructure including airports, bus rapid transport, expressways, highways, MRT and seaports. To this end, the government has approved several major projects in the area of urban infrastructure development, predominantly in road transportation, with a total of 599 highway projects, covering approximately 12,903 km of the national highways, approved in the past five years. The government intends to develop 200 low-cost airports in Tier II and Tier III cities throughout the country. With the objective of lowering freight rates, plans are also in place to construct 111 river streams for coastal shipping.
Rapid urbanisation has led to a surge in greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to an increase in the carbon footprint and necessitating the adoption of sustainable technology for public transport, coupled with clean fuels. As a result, EVs, hybrid EVs and solar-powered vehicles seem to be the future of vehicle technology in India. Compressed natural gas, as an alternative fuel, is already gaining popularity owing to its low cost. However, it requires infrastructure investments in the form of more fuelling stations, with improved accessibility.
Smart mobility is a major cornerstone of the SCM, as 150 projects worth over Rs 23 billion have been completed in the smart mobility segment, including projects such as smart roads. However, a comprehensive road-map for mobility across the entire city is missing, leading to many gaps in the transport segment. Lack of financing capacity and delays in fund release are other concerns that often ward off some of the potential interest from private players. The integration of a strong regulatory framework, public and private sector investments, smart technology solutions relating to artificial intelligence, data, drones, sensors, etc., and effective implementation of urban mass mobility schemes will make India progress towards a smart transportation age. Smart mobility can be ushered in through improvements in intelligent transport systems, smart automobiles, sustainable fuels and smart infrastructure.