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Credits: Transport for Cairo
Urban life is becoming ever more complex with high densities, growing population and ever-expanding urban sprawl. These factors represent a higher demand for mobility, where conventional ways of transport do not guarantee a sustainable future and may not necessarily cope with growing mobility demand. For so many years the answer for covering growing demand was primarily by constructing new transit infrastructure or by increasing the number of vehicles. However, rapid development in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), together with advancements in Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in many cities around the world have encouraged policymakers and entrepreneurs to look for new solutions to mitigate mobility demand challenges. As a result, smarter methods have been introduced, such as the utilization of their fleets of vehicles in order to meet increased demand without adding more vehicles to the road.
Urban mobility is the ability and freedom to move from an origin to a destination in the city by any means of transport. Public transport is defined as "passenger transport services of general economic interest provided to the general public continuously and without discrimination" (Transport Agency, 2014). However, the downside of this system in a simple definition, as heard from E. Jenelius, a professor at KTH university, is that “public transport, takes you from where you are not, to where you don’t want to go, at a time that does not fit you, together with people you have not chosen.” In the same context, private vehicles are not free from disadvantages for both the motorists and the environment: congestion, time lost for searching for a parking spot and idle time that represents the majority of the life-cycle of private cars.
Smart mobility can be simply seen as using telecommunication and information technology to serve transit systems of different types. This type of service relies on the use of digitization, data and advanced tools like sensors, GPS and software. It contributes to increasing the transit system and the operational efficiency. Examples of diverse applications of smart mobility could be found in many different cities around the world. Using your mobile phone to call an on-demand Taxi or find the nearest shared bike close to your home are simple applications of Smart Mobility. On a much larger scale, mass transit operators in many cities around the world use live data to provide user information and to increase the efficiency of their transit system. Stockholm is another example of increasing operational efficiency with smart mobility. There, transit operators are using advanced systems to monitor and guide their fleet of buses to keep a fixed headway time between each. This exercise of using smart mobility has helped in the reduction of bus delays and in enhancing the reliability of the system.
How far can Smart Mobility applications be applied to the public transit service in developing countries? As previously mentioned, digitization, data and information technology solutions are the main components of smart mobility systems and the availability of data and information is a must for smart mobility to function. It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine the future of transport planning in any city without any data available for policymakers, researchers and commuters. The lack of data as a main challenge towards promoting public transport has encouraged several initiatives around the developing world to fill the data scarcity induced gap. Examples include Digital Matatus in Kenya, Bus Map Project in Lebanon and Maan Nassel in Jordan. In Cairo, a team of seven people started an initiative called Transport for Cairo (TfC) in 2015 with the main objective of promoting public transport by mapping transit networks and publishing the collected data as open data accessible to different stakeholders. From the early days of the TfC initiative, the team realized that the availability of transit data in Cairo can be a game changer in the transit scene in Egypt and digitizing the complex network of the Greater Cairo Region can be an inspiration to many other developing cities around the globe.
Throughout the past three years, TfC has used cell phone GPS to draw mass transit lines digitally and has published the resulting data as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) datasets in addition to GTFS feeds (a global standard for saving transit data). This data can form the basic layer of a countless number of smart mobility applications. Transport for Cairo has now expanded its team and its technical capabilities are higher than ever before. This has led to a strong collaboration in the form of a large project group called Digital Cairo in partnership with the initiative Digital Matatus and the consulting firm Takween Integrated Community Development. The project aims to map the public transit system of the city of Cairo and is sponsored by Expo Live, which is a partnership program launched by Dubai Expo 2020 and which aims to support the achievement of sustainable development goals around the world.
Smart mobility is a key player in enhancing the mobility services and is one of the tools for achieving sustainable mobility. However, the use of Smart Mobility is still very limited in many cities around the world for several reasons, including the lack of data and poor digital infrastructures, which all are critical elements for transit planning and operation. In addition, it sets the foundation for the development of smart mobility services.