One of the key components of a smart city is smart transport/mobility solutions. For almost all the cities that have been selected under the Smart Cities Mission, smart mobility projects form a significant part of their plans. From the development of physical infrastructure (such as roads, flyovers and metro/ bus corridors) to the deployment of ICT solutions for management and monitoring purposes, the segment is an important pillar for the realisation of the overall mission.
Indian Infrastructure takes a look at some of the notable initiatives, challenges faced and key learnings in the smart mobility space…
A number of innovative technology solutions are being deployed in the transportation segment across the world, and many are making fast inroads in India. In one of the most notable developments, Ahmedabad deployed India’s first automatic fare collection (AFC) system, based on an indigenously developed payment system. The card, based on the One Nation One Card model, draws on the National Common Mobility Card (NCMC) model. In order to showcase the NCMC ecosystem for digital fare collection, the complete AFC system has been deployed in the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation across a few stations for field trial purposes. These cards are issued by various banks on the debit/credit/prepaid cards platform and the user may use this single card for payments across all segments including metro, bus, suburban railways, toll, parking, smart city and retail. The value on card supports offline transactions across all travel needs. The service area feature of this card also supports operator-specific applications.
Another praiseworthy project is the smart parking system in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. The e-parking system has proved quite beneficial to the city that was struggling with traffic snarls. The user is required to download the “Park in Slot” app from the Google Play Store to avail of the service. Vehicle drivers can search for parking slots available near their stoppage in the city (with the aid of inbuilt maps). The parking place can be selected using the same app. For availing of the service, a fee can be paid through a debit card, credit card, or an online payment system. The local administration registered better fee collection after the project was rolled out. The smart parking system provided an opportunity to prevent lapses. The system was introduced with the cooperation of Smart Parking India Private Limited.
The adaptive traffic signal system (ATSC) deployed in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, has improved the travel time reliability by progressively moving vehicles through otherwise congested intersections. The ATSC has been installed at 50 junctions in Bhubaneswar, after the system was implemented on a pilot basis at five locations and showed desirable results. Besides, the intelligent traffic system in Nagpur, Maharashtra, by Videonetics Technology Private Limited deploys artificial intelligence-powered solutions such as automatic number plate recognition and red light violation detection to track and record the licence plate of any type of vehicle, as well as detect red light or stop line violation at intersections. In conjunction, nearly 1,300 cameras have been deployed, to monitor vehicle movement and detect suspect vehicles simultaneously. For catching violations, integrated e-challan/e-ticket management software has been assimilated with the RTO’s database, to fetch details of the (violating) vehicle, after which an e-challan can be issued. The e-challan also maintains a record of all payments, both received and pending. The solution provides the police a bird’s eye view of the traffic junctions and the city’s roads from the command and control centre.
Earlier, in April 2020, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs embarked on the Integrated Sustainable Urban Transport Systems for Smart Cities (SMART-SUT) project, in collaboration with GIZ, in three cities – Bhubaneswar, Kochi and Coimbatore. Under the project, a technical document on standard operating procedures for resuming/carrying out bus transport services after lockdown has been prepared. Along with local-level interventions, countrywide impacts are also being sought through exchange formats. The project combines ideas of Germany’s Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative and Mobilise Your City and contributes to the realisation of the New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement. Providing a transport-oriented and methodological advisory service, the project team promotes climate-friendly and sustainable mobility in India’s urban areas.
Despite the success stories, the smart mobility segment continues to be marred by a plethora of issues. There is a general incoherence with regard to the overall planning of a city’s transport segment. An overarching vision/roadmap for mobility across the entire city is missing, leading to many gaps in the transport segment. This also hampers the extent to which the benefits of technology solutions can be reaped. Difficulties in the project land availability is another pressing concern for transportation/mobility projects. From right-of-way issues to land parcels to setting up charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs), the on-ground situation is discouraging for any player, be it public or private.
The multiplicity of stakeholders is another pain point. Lack of financing capacity and delays in fund release is another concern, which often wards off some of the potential interest from private players. Transport projects have long gestation periods and also require heavy upfront costs. Delays in fund release from the authorities is a major dampener. Kochi is a prime example of this.
Human resource challenges are also common. Lack of technocracy or expertise often leads to the adoption of a one-size-fits-all approach, leading to a blind replication of projects that have worked in other cities. There is a need for research and development-oriented personnel, giving due regard to proper planning and project design and structuring. Meanwhile, problems due to the lack of data cannot be undermined. The absence of standardised, reliable and systemic data as well as scientific analysis of urban transport statistics is a major missing link in the current scheme of affairs. This does not bode well for smart projects that would be taken up in the future. The problem has been faced by Faridabad Smart City Limited.
Key learnings and the way forward
One of the key learnings is that an integrated approach for smart urban transportation is missing. It is understood that some of the planning for the transport segment has been done without taking into account the state of the existing infrastructure and the way to integrate it with planned facilities. Second, it is also important to publicise and create awareness about a project, as much as it is to implement it. Many projects have been implemented as per their timelines and plans but have failed to make a difference. Third, netizens are only a segment of the population, rendering some projects non-inclusive. Not everyone has smartphones and digital payment modes, which makes access to certain mobile apps and other ICT-backed solutions unavailable for many. This also renders the elderly and kids dependent for availing of such facilities.
Last, a lack of lateral thinking in project planning is a key lesson for future projects. Small mistakes in project design can lead to its failure. In Vizag, for instance, the walkway pavements developed (as a smart city project) are so broad that the roads have become narrow and this is resulting in traffic congestion. Another example is the absence of information in the local language (in a transit app), which can hold back a project from leveraging its full potential – as witnessed in the Chennai bike-sharing initiative.
Net, net, smart transport and mobility are the cornerstone of smart city project plans. As per India Infrastructure Research, there are over 545 projects worth around Rs 265 billion in the smart transport/mobility segment that are yet to be taken up for implementation, thus offering significant opportunities in this space. Opportunities can be expected in cities such as Pune, Thane, Indore, Faridabad, Panaji, Jhansi, Rajkot and Raipur.