The challenges faced by transportation in an age of increased urbanisation can appear daunting. How do we improve mobility of people without negatively impacting on the environment? How do we ensure that millions more people get from A to B without our streets becoming choked with even more traffic?
To deliver an integrated mobility ecosystem we need to think radically. Each element of the problem—congestion, pollution, reliability—cannot be looked at in isolation, but instead must be examined in light of how one impacts on the other.
For instance, traffic in London alone costs the city $8.5 billion each year, while it also contributes to the 14 percent of global C02 emissions each year caused by transport. The damage that results from these two issues would be lessened if we found a way to reduce traffic.
Similarly, Social Innovation demands that solutions are the product of collaboration and convergence: how can different bodies and different technologies work in partnership to deliver a smoother and more sustainable transport service to the urban public?
Innovation in action
There are several areas where Social Innovation is already improving transportation across varying modes. Greater investment in these would bring simultaneous benefits for both the global society and the environment.
Transport is highly habitual. People tend to use the same service because of their familiarity with it. This is fine with public transport. But commuters who are used to using a private car often struggle to adapt to more sustainable modes of transport, such as a shared car, bus or train.
Reliable journey planning devices however can begin to change this. They have the potential to educate users on the various alternative modes available. And they can be refined even further, by not only offering guidance on not only price, convenience and journey time, but emissions too.
As a result, consumer awareness and confidence in the transportation network will be increased, and users will be encouraged to use a more sustainable mode of transport. This in turn reduces congestion and pollution
All this helps to encourage a more multi-modal lifestyle where consumers know their various travel options and lessen the reliance on one means of getting from A to B.
On-demand transport is becoming increasingly popular in line with a growing desire among urban dwellers to assert great control over when and how they go from A to B.
Companies such as Zipcar allow users to pick up a car at their own time from a convenient location and drop it off in an entirely different location; there is no need to pick up keys or sign papers. DriveNow and car2go similarly offer instant access to one-way journeys via a car.
Already more than five million customers use these services, and that figure is expected to reach more than 26 million by 2020.
This is a classic example of Social Innovation, with each company applying a new business model to a strategy aimed at making life that much easier for the average person.
But it doesn’t stop there. The number of people wanting smart parking solutions is rising. Around 30 percent of congestion is caused by drivers looking for a parking space. New technology, such as mobile apps, can provide real-time updates to the driver on where to find available parking.
With the continued development of electric vehicles, a collaborative e-mobility ecosystem has emerged. This consists of charging station manufacturers, utility providers, parking companies, vehicle manufacturers and systems integrators.
This ecosystem is set to grow. Global sales of electric vehicles are forecast to top two million in 2018, from just 190,000 in 2014. This increases the attractiveness of the market and will encourage collaboration across the public and private sectors.
With traffic chewing up so much of our time and causing unsafe C02 emissions, there is a pressing need to find ways to reduce congestion without inconveniencing drivers and passengers.
Social Innovation is already working to connect traffic signalling systems, traffic flow regulation systems (such as ramp meters), CCTV, and vehicle detection systems (such as induction loops).New initiatives are emerging that will improve the way crowd-sourced data from road users can help deliver a better overview of conditions on the road, and thereby reduce waiting times.
Growth in rail
Not only is the length of global high-speed rail track forecast to grow from 50,000 km to 90,000 km by 2020, but the journeys themselves are set to become more comfortable. Around eight percent of train in Europe currently have wi-fi; that will reach nearly 18 percent by 2020.
As the rail market continues to grow, so does the potential for technology-enabled applications within the rail infrastructure. New systems for closing the gap between train departures have been developed, thereby increasing efficiency.
Greater connectivity and the Internet of Things are set to dramatically improve communication between transport and infrastructure. Smart cities require smart infrastructure, and the emergence of multi-modal transport systems as the new norm is already beginning to happen.
The ideas in this article are taken from Hitachi’s whitepaper on Social Innovation in transport and mobility.
Our world faces a number of challenges, from climate change and pollution to population growth and urbanisation. Hitachi believes that it must help to find innovative and commercially viable solutions for these challenges. Visit Social-Innovation.Hitachi to learn how Social Innovation is helping Hitachi improve lives across the world.
Image under licence from iStockPhoto.co.uk, credit a_Taiga