Urbanization and Transportation
Cities of the future will be bigger and more crowded, and urban transport systems will need to be ‘smart’ enough to keep up. But will they?
Cities are changing. According to the UN (United Nations), 68% of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050, compared to 55% today. What’s more, the UN expects the global population to skyrocket in the next few decades, potentially adding 2.5 billion more people to urban areas by 2050. Urbanization, which the UN defines as “the gradual shift in residence of the human population from rural to urban areas,” will likely cause a sharp increase not only in the number of large cities around the world, but also the density of these cities in terms of population and commercial activity and, consequently, the need for mobility services.
Opinions about the future of transportation vary. While some people envision a future system that emphasizes public transit, others envision a future that emphasizes AVs (autonomous vehicles). In reality, the future of urban transportation is probably somewhere in between, blending AVs used for personal and on-demand solo or ride-sharing transportation solutions (like those being tested by Waymo and Uber) with public transit and microtransit and alternative mobility options like e-bikes and scooters. Experts foresee a paradigm shift from transportation as a product (i.e., car ownership) to MaaS (mobility as a service), in which users pay for transportation on a per-use basis. This model allows people to access different modes of transportation without taking on the cost of ownership.
Urbanization isn’t the only trend shaping future cities and their transportation systems. The IoT (Internet of Things) is creating opportunities for sensorization and automation of complex city systems. It’s revolutionizing urban transport, including how fleets and logistics are managed and handled. As the next generation of urban centers begins to take shape, cities are emphasizing smart technologies in order to meet the demands of tomorrow.
Next-Gen Urban Transportation
Matthias Winkenbach, director of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Megacity Logistics Lab, says as urban centers grow, cities will become more complex and difficult to optimize from a mobility point of view. He also says increasing urban density could create new problems for the cities of tomorrow.
“Density is a key driver of uncertainty when it comes to planning and operating efficient urban logistics and mobility services,” Winkenbach explains. “Density creates congestion, density raises the likelihood of random disruptions, such as accidents, and, very often, density also negatively correlates with public safety.”
This challenge is further amplified by the rise of the on-demand economy. “Driven by the rapid growth in electronic commerce, consumption—and, thus, the need for mobility and logistics services in cities—is becoming ever more fragmented and individualized, causing a significant amount of additional miles traveled and emissions generated by commercial vehicle fleets to supply these buzzing urban centers,” says Winkenbach.
However, the IoT and the data it delivers on urban consumption, movement, and freight flows can help to mitigate the negative effects of these trends. For instance, Winkenbach says IoT data can help facilitate the coordination and consolidation of individualized shipments and movements, anticipate needs for mobility services and goods transportation, and predict the future state of an uncertain urban traffic system.
“Smart coordination of urban freight and passenger flows, the seamless exchange of data and information on movements and shipments, and the availability of system-wide realtime and predictive analytics on the state of a city’s mobility networks will be key in making ever-growing cities economically, socially, and environmentally viable in future decades,” he says.
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Will Urban Mobility Alter AVs?
There is no doubt that trends such as urbanization and the adoption of smart technologies are going to change transportation. There are a lot of questions about how urban mobility will change and impact autonomous vehicles.
Smart Cities Get a Push
When you think of cities of the future, what comes to mind? Are we talking about AVs (autonomous vehicles) and transportation? Sometimes we are talking about the future of supply chains and logistics. And other times we are looking at urbanization and how cities are going to adapt.
Is Urbanization Taking Away from Work and Play?
Let’s be clear about the IoT (Internet of Things): The only constant is constant change and if you blink, you’ll probably miss something. The IoT has created so much opportunity to speed processes up.
How Cities and Transportation Collide
Many people are just starting to realize some of the challenges facing cities and states as they grapple with ways to solve their various transportation problems. It is without a doubt—one that everyone who lives in a city or commutes to one ought to be interested in.
Ideally, future urban mobility and transportation systems will be flexible, dynamic, and interoperable. Winkenbach anticipates more seamless ways of transitioning between different urban transportation modes, such as personal cars, shared mobility services, and mass public transit, which would enable system-level optimization of urban mobility. System-level optimization is different than today’s status quo, which mostly consists of what Winkenbach considers to be the “socially suboptimal scenario” of individuals focused on optimizing their own journeys.
Optimization and efficiency will be key to future urban transport since there will be more people demanding mobility options. John Stankovic, a professor at the University of Virginia and director of the Link Lab, says in the future, the transportation system will be more efficient than it is today. Besides placing more emphasis on AVs, he also expects public transit to become more integrated. “Integrated public transportation will be able to quickly react when problems occur in one area,” he says. “(For example), when disruption in the train system occurs, more buses and taxis can quickly be dispatched to reduce the impact of this disruption.”
The impact of autonomous-vehicle technology will affect both personal and public transportation modes, as well as the transportation infrastructure. Stankovic expects autonomous trains to occur first, followed by autonomous vehicles, such as specialized vans, buses, corporate cars, taxis, and personal vehicles.
Designated lanes may be built on highways and some roads to accommodate AVs. In public transit, AVs could replace low-performing, fixed-route bus services with more user-focused on-demand options. Autonomous, on-demand microtransit could similarly offer more flexible mobility options in areas that aren’t traditionally served by fixed-route, fixed-schedule transit.
The IoT, alongside machine-learning algorithms, will help improve the performance and safety of transportation systems in smart cities because it will make large amounts of data available to decisionmakers. This will mean improved fleet schedules, more efficient movements of assets, and quicker reactions to disruptions. More data could also improve logistics for the delivery of goods, which, thanks to on-demand consumerism, will be much needed in the dense urban centers of tomorrow.
… With the expansion of lockers and more elaborate receptacle systems, night deliveries could become more common, made more attractive when trucks can be autonomously driven …
The Future of Logistics and Fleet
Alex Lybarger, a senior applied R&D (research and development) engineer for the Transportation Research Center, says urbanization and the establishment of smart cities will create new options for mobility and address increasingly complex logistics and fleet operations. “With the implementation of connected vehicles and infrastructure, data is leading cities into the future,” Lybarger says. “Connected technology enables enhanced fleet operations like realtime route adjustment and enhanced route planning, especially in a dense urban environment, which help solve first-mile/last-mile issues.”
In fact, there is a lot of movement in the realm of logistics and fleet operations thanks to concurrent trends toward urbanization, IoT connectivity, and on-demand consumerism.
Companies like Embark are out to revolutionize commercial transport by developing autonomous fleet trucks. The company and its partners are already moving real freight in the real world using its self-driving technology.
Earlier this year, Daimler announced a hefty $573 million investment in autonomous-truck technology, which will help the company reach its goal of bringing automated trucks to roads within a decade.
Meanwhile, Amazon may also be testing autonomous cargo-delivery trucks, though nothing official has been released. However, the company did officially announce in January that it’s developing Amazon Scout, an autonomous device the size of cooler that could revolutionize last-mile goods delivery.
Solving last-mile logistics issues may require some shifts in urban planning for cities of the future. Melissa Ruhl, a transportation planner for Arup San Francisco, says as e-commerce and demand for faster goods delivery continue their explosive growth, competition for urban curb space and loading docks is likewise increasing.
“To manage this pressure, logistics companies and other goods-movement stakeholders are beginning to experiment with new time and space-saving designs,” she says. “For urban residential and office land uses, for example, common carrier lockers are gaining traction, saving nearly 80% of the time required to service multitenant buildings. Future proposals for urban deliveries center on consolidated freight depots. In the long-term, these centralized locations could enable small, autonomous pods to deliver goods to receiving ports in buildings, obviating the need for full-sized loading docks.”
Eventually, a range of other designs and technologies will help facilitate efficient last-mile goods delivery. “With the expansion of lockers and more elaborate receptacle systems, night deliveries could become more common, made more attractive when trucks can be autonomously driven,” Ruhl adds. “When goods movement is automated as a rule, space allocated for in-building goods movement (e.g., warehouses or loading docks) can be minimized through the reduction of space for human operators and precision driving.” Although Ruhl expects the last 50 feet from truck to door to require human delivery personnel for the foreseeable future, many fleet operators are already rethinking the traditional paradigms of last-mile logistics in response to urbanization challenges.
Steering in the Right Direction
The path to an efficient, user-centric transit future is complex. To build this future, partners from industry and the public sector will need to work together to devise new and innovative solutions to various urban-mobility challenges. The MIT Megacity Logistics Lab is one example of how organizations can liaison between the private and public sectors, promote the sharing of best practices, and facilitate discussion about the urban mobility solutions of tomorrow. Through this discussion, stakeholders will begin to understand what challenges need to be addressed now and what challenges may be coming down the road.
Two challenges that need to be considered and addressed for the future of mobility include infrastructure and cybersecurity. Financial stress makes it difficult for many U.S. cities to install and maintain the sensing and actuation infrastructure necessary to support smart city services. However, recognizing these services are vital to the future of their economies, many municipalities begin their efforts by focusing on their most pressing demands. Often, transportation is one of them.
The future transportation system may also create increased security risks, and cities need to plan now for what it may take to mitigate these risks. Incorporating AVs into urban transportation systems will require existing transportation infrastructure to be upgraded with ICTs (information and communication technologies), and, therefore, Araz Taeihagh and Hazel Lim from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore say precautions must be taken.
“The increased connectivity of vehicles and transport infrastructure can expose AVs and the entire transport system to privacy and cybersecurity risks,” they say. “Third-party access and misuse of the data stored in AVs has become a legitimate concern in several countries. AVs’ external V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication networks can also be accessed to conduct surveillance, raising questions about whether the extent to which the access to AV systems and networks should be restricted.”
Cybercriminals could also hack AV systems to steal valuable information, control AVs to disrupt traffic networks or inflict physical harm, or even access critical national infrastructure. “To tackle these risks, AV systems and connected infrastructure must be designed to be robust against these cyber threats with a solid foundation of security, privacy, and trust, which would first require industry players and governments to identify the full range of potential cyber threats and to collaborate in setting the relevant standards and system security requirements,” Taeihagh and Lim conclude
Joe Kochan, COO of US Ignite, says it’s possible to imagine future transportation systems that are dramatically more responsive to the needs of citizens and that involve much less waste of energy and space, but stakeholders must also think about the potential downsides of these systems, including privacy and security. “It’s also possible to imagine these systems being insensitive to the privacy and security needs of citizens,” Kochan says. “Transportation freedom—being able to be where you want, when you want—is a very important part of people’s lives, and if some of the data privacy problems appearing in social media are translated into the transportation space, people will lose faith in the systems and feel less free.”
… Transportation freedom—being able to be where you want, when you want …
Municipal governments have an important role to play in the safe, secure, and private development of autonomous transportation systems. It’ll therefore be important for cities to tackle safety, security, and privacy issues as proactively as possible. Cities need to be asking the right questions, like whether public AVs should be considered “public space” where surveillance is considered acceptable. By getting many different stakeholders involved, including thought leaders in industry, government, technology, and transportation, as well as specialists in realms like cybersecurity, cities can begin to pave the way for the next generation of urban transportation and a new era marked by urbanization and the IoT.
Cities will operate differently in the future than they do today, and the way people navigate around these smart cities will be different too. New transportation paradigms will replace the old ones, and new technologies will likely take hold. Logistics and fleet operations will also adapt, and all of this will raise questions about the safety of roadways, privacy of citizens, and security of data, but these uncertainties mustn’t stop forward progress.
“The future is what we make of it,” says Lybarger of the Transportation Research Center. “The focus for any transportation system is to improve safety and efficiency in a cost-effective manner. The future urban setting will be connected to all users, creating an interconnected web of data that will only better the lives of its inhabitants and visitors.”
April 4, 2019
Håkan Agnevall, president, Volvo Bus Corp., joins Peggy to discuss the future of transportation. He says the future of autonomous vehicles requires a step-by-step approach that will take time to achieve. He agrees in a collaborative approach in order to have the autonomous future come to fruition. Further, he answers Peggy’s questions in regard to the redesign of cities, government regulation, and the change in services businesses will need to offer. He concludes the segment by inviting listeners to imagine the autonomous future, a journey of open opportunities.
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