Connectivity could be the key to reduce the congestion in urban areas

Introduction

While the traffic congestion is intensifying worldwide, cities are trying to find ways to reduce it and lower its negative impacts. Shared mobility solutions can contribute to reverse this trend. Unfortunately, they are not yet well known by the public and their implementation in the mobility offer must be improved. A technology such as IoT, is an opportunity to increase the connectivity of the solutions and the awareness of the populations.

By 2050, more than two-thirds of the world population will live in cities. An efficient network will be necessary to manage the flows of the populations and to avoid an increase of the traffic jams and their negative effects. To do so, using shared mobility solutions is a relevant option but some improvements are still needed. To promote these systems, regional governments and companies can be leaders and ready to adopt innovative solutions.

Congestion in urban areas: an environmental and economic plague

The traffic jams cause a substantial loss of time and a degradation of air quality. They increase the stress of populations and demonstrate how inefficient their commuting can be. A study [1] led by CEBR for INRIX in 2015 showed the cost of heavy traffic in Paris was twelve billion dollars in 2013 and could reach more than eighteen billion in 2030. This trend is valid for every big city in France and for cities in the other countries studied: Germany, United-Kingdom, and the United States.
Several factors can explain this trend and this increase. The concentration of economic activities within cities is the main factor. The populations will, therefore, gather around those specific locations, where the job opportunities are plentiful. Then the limits of the current infrastructures, which struggle to assimilate this influx of commuters and users, are a recurrent issue, especially in emerging countries. This aspect depends on local policies and the development of new infrastructures.

Paris wants its bicycle-sharing system to be a reference

Paris has a lower congestion index compared to Los Angeles and it is thanks to its efficient subway network and bike-sharing system. In 2016, the Velib system had more than 300 000 annual members and almost 2,5% of Parisians commuted by bike. This large amount of people commuting by these means of transport helps tremendously to improve the congestion situation.

Bike sharing system is a typical example of the potential of shared mobility to decrease the traffic congestion in urban areas. The bike allows people to cover short and medium distances at a low price and zero greenhouse gas emission. It can complement public transport where the infrastructures are scarce and when public transport is not running. However, bike sharing systems need support from local governments. The geographical coverage and the number of bikes available must be sufficient to encourage populations to use it, that is why there is a Velib station at less than 300 meters everywhere in Paris. A study from Roland Berger [2] demonstrates the correlation between network density and frequency of use. A lack of stations or a recurrent unavailability of bikes are frustrating situations for the users which can deter them from keep using the system. The creation of cycle paths is likewise a positive action to promote the use of bikes.

How to make bike-sharing systems appealing?

Innovative solutions are in development to reduce these inconveniences. IoT projects like Nextbike or Social Bicycles can therefore be relevant. These projects aim to create bikes with a GPS, a locking device and a communication unit with the control center. In this way, the bikes don’t require a station to be parked thanks to the geolocation and can be unlocked through a smartphone or a magnetic card.
Electric bikes will also allow to increase the distances reachable and will open the market for bike sharing systems in areas where the topography is difficult.

The transitions between each mean of transport must be easy to make urban trips efficient. To make them easy, the hubs must be geographically close and the process smooth. The magnetic card for public transport and bike sharing system is the perfect example of a convenient common platform. This service offers a wider range of possibilities to its users without any additional difficulties.
Companies like Smoove or Keolis offer the possibility to unlock a bike thanks to a smartphone or a magnetic card without using the central dock. This is another example of how the IoT can help to develop shared mobility solutions.

These smart solutions have to be easy to implement and cheap as well if this trend want to provide the peri-urban and rural areas because the revenue streams is not sufficient in this case to afford a costly material. A company like Ubi Transports proposes to the school bus companies a simple magnetic card coupled with a cloud computing system to help them better monitor their activities.

What does the future hold for car-sharing systems in urban areas?

The use of cars is still predominant; however, each car is used only one hour per day on average, which represents a great opportunity to share them. It would decrease the number of vehicles and consequently the need to park them for a long period of time. Fortunately, several solutions are worth considering, from fleet management to peer-to-peer rentals.
The fleet of business vehicles in auto sharing in Europe should go from 2000 in 2014 to 100 000 in 2020, with the same increase rate in North America according to Frost & Sullivan [3]. This increase is testament to the understanding of auto sharing’s benefits by businesses. It allows businesses to reduce their fleet and the cost per kilometer. Plus, it is an encouragement for employees to use public transport to commute, the company being in charge of professional trips through this program. The program can be even more profitable for companies if they are willing to rent the fleet’s vehicles to their employees for their spare time at a low price which can be seen as an interesting incentive.
A car-sharing system needs a specific logistic with the creation of a physical space to park the cars and eventually docks to charge the electric vehicles. Cars manufacturers understood they should enter this market in order to be prepared for this new business model. BMW, through its subsidiary Alphacity, already operated in nine European countries in 2015. For example, SFR decreases its costs by 30% with a fleet of fifty vehicles for its office in Saint-Denis in France. Every employee can book a car of the fleet and have access to it thanks to the company’s smartphone.

This is the simplicity of use and implementation which convinced SFR to adopt the program. The success of these programs make big companies wonder if they can extend the principle by sharing a fleet with another company.
The regional governments can also make their contribution to the development of car sharing or carpooling, for example by creating specific parking spots for the vehicles of these types of programs. This would be a way to extremely decrease the number of cars used to move the same amount of people. While Blablacar is excelling in Europe for long distances, the market for short distances is not booming yet. The average number of occupants in cars for commuting is less than 1,1. If this number reached two people, it could save a significant amount of gas and decrease the greenhouse gas emissions. People need to be encouraged to change their daily habits. For example, a specific lane for vehicles with two people or more to access areas such as airports or business areas would favor those who carpool. Nevertheless, a convenient solution is the key to sustain the growth of carpooling for short distances and currently there is none.

A few shared mobility solutions have yet disrupted the transport industry despite the urging need to reduce the traffic congestion. This environment, where innovation is welcome, represents a great opportunity for startups to thrive.

Links:
http://www.smoove-bike.com/
http://www.ubitransports.com/
http://www.keolis.com/en
https://www.alphabet.com/en-ww/alphacity

References:
[1] https://www.cebr.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/INRIX_costs-of-congestion_Cebr-report_v5_FINAL.pdf
[2] https://www.rolandberger.com/publications/publication_pdf/roland_berger_bike_sharing_4_0.pdf
[3] http://www.frost.com/prod/servlet/press-release.pag?docid=289244478

 

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