October 2023

Urban environments require efficient mass transportation. India, as one of the most rapidly urbanising nations, has to ensure that it can evolve a mix of urban mobility solutions that are environmentally sustainable and scalable, as well as cost efficient. Moreover, these solutions need to be smart, integrated across multiple modes and capable of rapid upgrades of technology as and when a new technology is available. There are many elements that are key to smart urban mobility models. Such a system should involve clean propulsion, minimising emissions and carbon impacts. It should be able to maximise ridership and optimise the speed of travel. It should allow for digital traffic management and integrate different modes as seamlessly as possible. It should also have smart ticketing systems that minimise costs for transport services and maximise convenience for millions of users.

The concept of delivering mobility as a service (MAAS) by using IT to improve and optimise the use of public transport can lead to an enhanced customer experience by processing real-time passenger information. Smart solutions that leverage technology, data analytics skills and transport management models to deliver MaaS can help create efficient and sustainable mobility.

Metro systems and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are among the most efficient options when it comes to moving large numbers quickly across crowded urban landscapes.  Many Indian cities are investing in one or both of these options. However, metros and BRT systems are capital intensive and there is a need to ensure they minimise environmental impacts. Indian Railways’ newly established Environmental Directorate shows commitment to this task.

Smart sustainable systems require new technologies. MetroNeo and MetroLite rail systems can reduce the initial capital investments required. BRTs and metros are also focused on mitigating the carbon impact and alleviating the strain on the environment. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has already transitioned to being certified as the “World’s First Green Metro”.  Chennai Metro Rail Limited has also received the International Green World Award for eco-friendly initiatives aimed at cutting carbon emissions and utilising solar energy.

Apart from inducting renewables to meet energy needs, various metro authorities are introducing water conservation measures such as rainwater harvesting, as well as afforestation, waste management, regenerative braking systems, tree plantation in and around stations and depots, energy-efficient electric equipment, and solar roofing measures. It helps that solar power is cost-effective as well as sustainable. Better tunnelling methods and geotextile usage can also reduce the environmental impact of construction.

In BRT systems, CNG is already a common option, cutting emissions. Municipalities are considering electric bus options, and there is also experimentation with hydrogen-fuelled buses, although this technology is not yet fully commercialised. Building a charging ecosystem is part of the challenge, of course, but this is proceeding apace. Smart ticketing using cards, QR codes on mobiles, etc. can also considerably cut costs for service providers as well as reduce the necessity for paper.

Municipalities need to work on creating holistic plans for multimodal integration and also to cater for the inevitable induction of autonomous vehicles, including drones, as passenger options. Such full mobility and environmentally sustainable transport systems will be essential to the urban environments of the future.