Smart choices drive smart cities

Connected society 2 November 2017 Jukka-Pekka Pitkänen

To improve mobility in cities without increasing air pollution and CO2 emissions, transport systems need to be holistic and integrated.

6 min

Movement is the lifeblood of a city. People walk or bike; cars, trucks and buses roll along the roads; and trains try to keep up with their schedule over- or underground. However, as many of us who live in cities know only too well, that movement can be far from smooth. 

Road congestion and unreliable public transport are the hallmarks of many cities and can cause damage to health, wellbeing, productivity and the climate. And according to forecasts from the UN, among others, things
are set to get worse. The world’s cities are facing an urgent set of challenges when it comes to ensuring that fundamental rite of urban living: getting around. 

Businesses, residents and cities all suffer, with the economic costs estimated to be as much as 2-4% of a city’s GDP in the form of lost time, wasted fuel and higher costs of doing business.

Decarbonise transport

For William Powrie, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Southampton, the key to improving mobility is more sustainable transport. “The most important thing is to decarbonise, depollute and decongest transport in cities,” he says. “We should make more space for cycling and walking, both of which have huge health benefits as well as being non-polluting.” 

He believes that with better long-term planning and design, it is possible to reduce the need for transport – especially transport that cannot be decarbonised. An important part of the answer is smart mobility where technology and a holistic approach can create a better transport flow in cities while reducing climate impact and air pollution. 

“We should not fall into the trap of replacing private cars with driverless electric pods – we need to reduce the number of, and dependence on, vehicles,” he says. “That would create space for people, make our cities more pleasant spaces to be, clean the air, reduce CO2 emissions and reduce noise.” 

Making mobility truly smarter

As cities and their infrastructure become more connected, the ability to make transport systems more responsive to demand and adaptive to supply is increasing. Combining intelligent transport systems, which involve utilising sensing technologies like cameras, radar and traffic counters, with the use of data from the internet and smartphones is leading to smarter mobility. 

This concept of smart mobility is a central focus of Ramboll’s approach to making cities more liveable and sustainable. It takes a holistic view of transport, from maximising the use of precious public space to more sustainable infrastructure such as bike paths, smart parking, car sharing and better traffic information. But smart mobility is not just about technology, emphasises Jukka-Pekka Pitkänen, Director for Smart Mobility at Ramboll. 

“Technology is, of course, at the core of this. But mobility in cities does not become smarter just because the technology is smart,” he says. 

“There are also plenty of more immediate ways of increasing mobility and making it more sustainable. This can be everything from more efficient traffic flow to better use of existing transport infrastructure and increasing the sharing of modes of transport.” 

Mobility as a service

A successful example is MaaS, or Mobility as a Service, which aims to optimise existing transport networks. Already launched throughout several cities in Finland, it is a user-friendly platform that integrates different modes of transport, both public and private. 

“It is based on consumers’ buying the precise mobility services they need instead of the means of mobility,” says Jukka-Pekka Pitkänen. “Users can access an app that seamlessly combines transport and payment options. It’s a simple but effective idea that combines the use of technology with existing transport and infrastructure so it’s easy for cities and, more importantly, the people who live there, to adapt.” 

Ramboll prepared the business plan for MaaS, and it already plays a key role in Finland’s transport policy. 

“Ramboll has been a contributor of expert knowledge from the get-go and continues to be a valuable partner in the MaaS ecosystem,” says Sampo Hietanen, CEO and founder of MaaS Global.

Written by Michael Rothenborg and Andrew Somerville.