The mobility ecosystem has transformed to become a technology-driven business. Many of the companies that provide transportation services are today looking at different smart solution models, ranging from the individual level to trip, vehicle and city levels. The initiatives by public and private entities to aggregate data at all these levels and make it accessible are indispensable for generating efficient services. The shift towards smart mobility is triggered by the disruptive trends of rapid urbanisation, environmental changes, a shared economy and changing consumer needs, among others. It is supported by the application of technologies such as automatic train supervision (ATS), signalling and train control systems, and the use of electric vehicles (EVs), smart bus stops and renewable energy. To further strengthen this, integrated digital platforms across all modes of transportation, public or private, are also being adopted through mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) by different metro corporations in India.
In Indian cities, consumer demand has been shifting from provider-driven options to a consumer-driven market and new service delivery models and providers are emerging. This shift in trend is from a single provider to agglomerations, to an unlimited providers’ base, while meeting the transportation frequency based on a fixed time schedule to on-demand delivery. MaaS has rendered its utility in end-to-end trip planning, booking, electronic ticketing and payment services. It is mainly guided by three business models – innovation and ecosystem development, platform models and data-driven services with different smart solutions attributed to them. It uses trip patterns, details and data analysis tools to optimise capacity utilisation of different transportation modes. Its application has the potential to increase the use of public transportation with an enhanced customer experience by processing real-time passenger information.
Some of the ongoing initiatives for MaaS include the collaboration of MYBYK, a bike-sharing service, with the Nagpur Metro Corporation and Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) for providing first- and last-mile connectivity to metro stations in October 2022. Since cycling has grown as a public preference in Nagpur in recent years, MYBYK has provided more than 400 bicycles at over 40 locations, which include metro stations. It is also in discussion with NMC to launch electric bicycles in the coming time. Rapido and Motovolt Mobility are other companies that have also entered this space. Rapido, a mobile-based application for booking two-wheelers, offers last-mile connectivity services to Hyderabad metro commuters. Motovolt Mobility, which had previously launched its first fleet of smart e-cycles, plans to expand across India with an omnichannel go-to-market plan. This involves the enhancement of its online presence by opening exclusive stores, multi-brand outlets, etc., to promote its products.
Similarly, the modernisation of Indian Railways (IR) is being undertaken by means of smart solutions. Hitachi Rail, being one of the key stakeholders in IR, has recently bagged a contract for the supply of signalling, train control and video management systems for Corridor 3 of the Chennai Metro Rail Project, Phase 2. It has previously partnered with the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation in West Bengal to launch the Kolkata East-West Metro, which would be the nation’s first underwater metro project. It will also introduce unattended train operation, which is equipped with advanced technology and safety measures. In December 2021, Hitachi Energy also automated power distribution for the city’s new line of North-South Metro from Noapara to Dakshineswar in Kolkata.
In another development, Delhi Metro has issued 300 permits for electric cars driven by women to provide last-mile connectivity for commuters. Permits have been awarded to ETO Motors, a provider of electric mobility solutions and services, as part of the first phase. Thunderbox, ETO’s EV charging solution, would be installed throughout Delhi at various metro stations along with residential societies and malls to facilitate women drivers’ access to charging stations.
Other smart solutions
Technologies such as internet of things and big data have found their application in metro rail transportation, with the introduction of devices and sensors along tracks and inside stations. These technologies are increasingly helping metro rail companies in managing and monitoring video surveillance data feeds, turnstile entrance access, X-ray baggage scanners, door metal frame detectors and handheld metal detector systems efficiently. To this end, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) inaugurated the first ever indigenously developed signalling technology in March 2022. iATS, which is a computer-based system that manages train operations, has been jointly developed by DMRC and Bharat Electronics Limited. As a step towards the development of a communication-based train control system, this technology would also reduce the dependence of Indian metros on foreign vendors.
Furthermore, smart bus stops and depots are also enlarging their footprint in mobility services. Kolkata’s New Town area has set milestones in this respect. Being Wi-Fienabled, it is further adding to its present smart bus stop locations. The New Town Kolkata Development Authority plans to set up four more smart bus stops near the St Xavier’s University campus and other spots of New Town Action Area III. The temporary bus stops are being utilised to be converted into smart ones with modern looks that offer commuter-friendly amenities, such as electronic display boards of bus timings, a map with directions to nearby important locations and seating spaces that have solar panel rooftops. Warangal will soon receive 121 smart bus shelters, similar to those in Hyderabad, as part of the Smart Cities Mission. These modern shelters will also feature digital displays with information on routes, bus numbers, schedules, QR codes, surveillance cameras, mobile charging stations, trash cans and buses, among other facility announcements.
Renewable energy-based solutions
Metro rail corporations in almost all cities are adopting renewable energy on a large scale for the purpose of reducing their operational costs, while harnessing sustainability. In this regard, the Sahibabad Regional Rapid Transport System station, which is part of India’s fastest urban rail track, will be powered by 1,100 solar panels and is being constructed to promote cross-modal connectivity. Similarly, the DMRC, which currently satisfies its energy needs using solar panels on its rooftops, will soon install vertical solar panels along its elevated corridors. About 100 kW peak of bifacial vertical photovoltaic modules would be installed as part of a pilot project on its Magenta Line between Jamia Millia Islamia and Okhla Vihar.
In another development, the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) intends to utilise solar energy to operate its trains. By March 2023, BMRCL plans to install solar panels in all Phase 2, 2A and 2B metro stations. Solar panels are installed at five stations at present and each of them is designed to make use of natural light, while being equipped with LED lighting. BMRCL will further install platform screen doors at Phase 2 underground stations in order to reduce the air-conditioning load per station from 900 tonnes to 400 tonnes. The metro corporations of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are also working on similar projects, with peak solar power generation on rooftops of metro stations and depots, with Pune metro stations designed as platinum-rated Indian Green Building Council buildings. This would allow a reduction in water and energy consumption from the beginning of its occupancy.
Smart mobility has grown in different stages, from level one consisting of ride hailing, ride sharing and car sharing to level two with multimodal integration, full mobility ecosystems and integrated business models, which further lead to fractional ownership models, autonomous vehicles and blockchain integration. By leveraging technology, data analytics skills and transport management models, smart solutions have the potential to bring efficient and sustainable mobility to the mainstream.
With inputs from a presentation by Vivek Ogra, Partner, Transport Consulting, Ernst & Young, at a recent India Infrastructure conference