Olivier Loison, Managing Director, China & East Asia at Alstom, looks at the technology behind the traffic
Bangkok is one of the world’s great cities, but not all its attributes are a source of pride. The capital’s traffic congestion is legendary – and it’s not getting any better. In navigation company TomTom’s Traffic Index rankings for 2018, Bangkok came in as the fourth worst in Asia.
Reasons for congestion
There are several causes for Bangkok’s traffic woes. These include the fact that the city expanded without any land use or transportation planning, low parking charges, and the perception of car ownership as a prestigious status symbol.
The most worrying result of the traffic congestion is carbon emissions. On 30th September last year, Bangkok’s Pollution Control Department reported that an unhealthy level of air pollution covered 14 areas of Greater Bangkok.
This air pollution problem is encouraging the government as well as long-suffering commuters to place their hopes on a speedy expansion of the city’s mass transit network. The authorities have a proposed goal of connecting all the city’s areas by 2025 via a total of 434.3 kilometres of track, as calculated by the International Association of Public Transport (UITP).
Bangkok’s public transport
Bangkok’s current public transport options include the BTS Skytrain and the underground Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system. The MRT network is constantly expanding, as part of Thailand’s Rail Transport Infrastructure Development Strategy 2015-2022.
Five more stations opened on the Blue Line in late July 2019, and projects in the pipeline for Bangkok include several colourful-sounding new lines. By 2022, the city’s commuters will be able to ride the Purple, Yellow, Pink and Purple Lines as well as extensions to the Green and Blue.
These proposed solutions are Bangkok’s answer to the similar challenges faced by any major metropolis – quite simply, how to get people to the places they need to go. As research by McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment notes, the world’s cities are facing an urgent set of challenges when it comes to ensuring that fundamental right of urban living: getting around.
The challenge of getting around
Urban transport is more than just getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ – it is a vital part of the living, beating heart of the city. The McKinsey study says that one hallmark of great cities is constant movement, but sometimes that movement falters, and with it the dynamism that defines them. Polluted air plus the economic costs and personal stress associated with traffic jams combine to make it imperative for city authorities to solve the transport challenge.
Subway, bus or even tram networks certainly help ease congestion, but they must make financial sense for passengers and operators alike, and must operate efficiently and sustainably in order to deliver pollution-free cities.
Evolving transport demands
Transport solutions must also reflect and facilitate the evolving transport demands of city residents. Passengers today expect their transport choices not simply to take them where they want to go, but also to reflect the expectations of their lifestyle. Like their homes, workplaces and options for leisure, they want their transport to be technologically advanced, efficient and sustainable.
Fortunately, advances in technology are coming to the rescue of the harried commuter and delivering innovative transport solutions that can rightly be termed ‘smart mobility’.
The disruptive trends behind urban transportation
The technologies that are leading to smart mobility solutions reflect the trends we see across society – they are disruptive of traditional transport models in the same way that new ways of working, shopping and relaxing are disruptive of earlier, more constrained lifestyles.
In practical terms, this means a multimodal system that maximises integration between bus, train and commuter rail systems to increase the range of accessible destinations, thus improving public transport’s competitiveness with the private car. Such a network needs to include an integrated digital platform that enables passengers to access and pay for different transportation services.
Heavy rail will always be essential for the core trunk routes – to get commuters from the suburbs into the city – but beyond this, transport authorities can introduce complementary measures such as dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes, and even autonomous electric vehicles. A smart city that helps people move across it more fluently will encourage greater citizen participation by expanding the usable space of cities and linking disconnected neighbourhoods to the rest of the city.
Big Data makes multimodal transport possible
What makes multimodal transport services possible is the availability of big data and the ability to analyse it. The real-time analysis of data from IoT sensors, telcos, car navigation applications and even third-party travel planner apps, will enable city managers to better predict and allocate resources, as well as respond to emergencies and uncover trends that would have otherwise been invisible.
Crucially, these smart digital solutions can also improve the capacity and fluidity of an existing asset through a number of different capabilities, such as advanced signalling, predictive maintenance and centralised operation control centres.
The benefits to passengers of such a connected system include information on their travel options when extreme circumstances that affect mobility arise, like public transport strikes or unexpected weather conditions.
There is no one-size-fits-all smart transport solution. Today’s public transport managers and city planners recognise that multi-modal systems must always be evolving and adapting to the needs of the city’s many citizens. Getting people where they want to go demands a dedicated collaboration between multiple stakeholders to design, develop and implement a cohesive network of interconnected travel options. The result will be a more efficient, pleasant and environmentally friendly commute for all city residents.
Olivier Loison is Managing Director, China & East Asia at Alstom