Setting the Scene
As the world’s population swells to eight billion, we are confronted with innumerable challenges, not the least of which is public transportation. Historically, transportation has inspired or constrained where we live, work, access resources, and with whom we spend our time. However, the status quo is changing. Decades ago, the invention of the car significantly increased freedom of mobility, but now overcrowding on roads and realizations about their environmental impact are leading some cities to rethink this model. Public transit systems are a powerful tool for transforming the urban landscape. Looking toward the future, a new paradigm for urban mobility will redesign our cityscapes to meet the needs of an evolving world: The Smart Transit Revolution.
Singapore: A model of Urban Sustainability
Singapore is a world leader in sustainable innovation and a living lab for urban mobility experiments. Innovative breakthroughs have been a result of public, private, and education sector collaboration and has lead to a “car lite” model, which is a defining feature of the transit ecosystem. Singapore has a proven record demonstrating its commitment to improving the public transit experience. Autonomous shuttles have been transporting students around Nanyang Technological University (NTU) since 2016 with great success. Projections by experts describe a truly futuristic transit ecosystem by 2030 where efficiency and beauty coexist.
Drivers of Change
Disruptive technologies in the fields of AI, big data, robotics, and, aerial innovation, have revolutionized transportation. More transportation options will reduce commuter dependency on cars. Trains will remain the cornerstone of the transit system, but technological advancements will greatly improve their commuter-appeal. If the train doesn’t suit a commuter’s needs, they can hail a flying taxi, or hop in a passenger drone to reach their destination. Autonomous pods will be on-demand and provide door-to-door service, eliminating the first and last mile challenge.The Singapore transit agency predicts that by 2030, eight in ten households will have a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station within a ten minute walk, making it easily accessible. Convenience will be a defining characteristic of public transit.
Commuter expectations are spurring reform as well. Users want on-demand service that meet a myriad of needs. Recommended routes and travel modes will be pushed to a commuter’s phone before planning a trip, anticipating a commuter’s travel needs through their online calendar and travel habits. However, not all of Singapore’s ventures require high-tech solutions. A recent experiment by one agency added “green notes” to their bus emissions transforming the smell of exhaust to a fresh, clean, scent as an appeal to to eco-minded consumers to align their brand with their values. Singapore’s transition away from cars is ambitious, but with commuter experience at the forefront of development, citizens are engaged in the process of improving their city.
Finally, resource scarcity is forcing change on a global scale. Singapore has limited space, providing constant motivation to design sustainably, but this is not the only constraint. The labor to run the transit systems is diminishing. Therefore, utility vehicles performing functions like road-sweeping and watering of roadside greenery will also be autonomous. Drones will provide on-demand deliveries that do not take up space in our terrestrial systems, or require piloting. Those at risk of losing their job during the transition will be trained in new skills that fit the high-tech transit ecosystem, for example, they might oversee the deployment of the autonomous fleets. This capacity building approach empowers those who are the most vulnerable during the industry revolution.
Agents of Change
Strong leadership in urban sustainability, like that of Singapore, paves a path for other nations. Oslo, London, and Amsterdam are three cities poised to develop the first zero emission transit system. Citizens are encouraged to travel via environmentally friendly transport like electric vehicles, and green public transport. Incentives, penalties, and investment have been implemented to encourage the use of alternative options instead of polluting vehicles. Through their shared vision of a greener, cleaner, more efficient urban environment, a precedent is being established for other nations to follow.
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