The world’s urban population exceeded its rural population for the first time in 2007, according to the United Nations. Non-profit organisation Global Change Data Lab now predicts that more than twice as many people will live in urban areas than rural ones by 2050.
Better public transportation will be a key consideration for city leaders in an increasingly urban world as they work to address the challenges of city life.
For example, more people living in cities means more travellers and ever-increasing congestion. In 2021, congestion cost commuters in London, UK, 148 hours of lost time and US commuters $53 billion, according to Inrix’s 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard report. There are other challenges too, including new modes of transport such as ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, and the rising impacts of pollution on our climate.
Connected transportation could be a solution to some – if not all – of these problems. According to a Microsoft white paper titled Digital transformation in public transport, the concept is built on collecting data via internet of things (IoT) sensors, radio-frequency identification tags and satellite receivers, and analysing it to optimise public transport operations. For example, traffic lights can be timed to improve traffic flow, tolls can be adjusted based on road demand, and public transport schedules can be updated in real time to give commuters the best information for planning their journeys.
“Once cities have installed and connected sensor technology, they can take advantage of that infrastructure to power additional smart city insights: for instance, sensing air quality, or even analysing emissions data,” said Microsoft, in the white paper. “The intelligence resulting from this data can inform choices around transport policy and give government agencies the ability to better engage with communities, modernise operations and enhance services.”
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) in the UK has achieved some of these goals by working with HPE and Microsoft and implementing the Microsoft Azure cloud. As a result of the collaboration, TfGM has reduced costs, while improving security and maintaining performance.
“To enable TfGM’s plans for the future – as well as Greater Manchester’s digital ambitions – it is important that we have firm technology foundations that we can build on,” said Malcolm Lowe, head of information systems at TfGM, in a Microsoft case study. “This work, which complements other technology changes we are making, is fundamental to ensure we can deliver outstanding transport services now and for the future of the region.”
Microsoft and its partners are helping city leaders to realise plans that improve city life. At Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC) 2022 in November, several organisations joined the Microsoft booth to showcase their technologies in this area. For example, US-based firm Umojo highlighted NexCity, a cloud-based platform designed to modernise municipal parking infrastructure.
Meanwhile, PTV Group demonstrated how PTV Optima uses transport network modelling and real-time data to provide traffic operators and road users with current and predicted traffic conditions in urban environments.
Cubic Transportation Systems exhibited Cubic Urban Mobility Back Office, a revenue management system that allows users to manage complex, multimodal transportation networks while enabling people to manage their travel needs via a single account.
Accenture also highlighted its smart city infrastructure platform – called The Future of Transport Operations – which enables city leaders to digitalise urban infrastructure operations, and NTT Data showcased NTT Smart Solutions, a data analytics solution set that uses IoT to transform aggregated data relevant to city services into actionable intelligence.
These solutions help to improve citizens’ experiences of city environments, but crucially, they may also have an impact on the environmental impact of urban transportation systems. For instance, Schneider Electric has combined Microsoft’s secure cloud with its own IoT EcoStruxure platform to create digital solutions for transport infrastructure.
“Those solutions contribute to energy savings of up to 25 per cent and optimise customer operations by up to 20 per cent,” said Valerie Layan, president of Schneider Electric’s global transportation segment. “We provide railway operators with digital solutions enabling them to extend their equipment’s lifespan by up to 25 per cent and develop a circular economy.”
The firm is also going beyond city limits, to provide airports and ports with microgrid solutions that optimise energy supplies and integrate renewables. This will enable customers to meet the industry’s ambitious sustainability goals of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
“There is opportunity for governments to implement solutions that benefit their citizens while also driving progress towards sustainability goals,” said Angela Heise, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of public sector, during a session with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group at SCEWC 2022. “It’s a huge challenge and it’s going to take every single one of our cities and our patience to be able to incrementally improve, and I think that's what we have to focus on.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.