I recently had a discussion on the future of urban transport when addressing the issue of what are key technologies that shape the future urban transport. Firstly, I have to point out that we did not come up with a unanimous assessment but rather with the conclusion that there are different visions about the future. Secondly, there are many different technologies that we most likely do not know about that will shape the future of transport significantly. Thirdly, there are a few points we agreed upon which I am going to raise as topics for further discussion now:
The significantly changing focus
Urbanization will shape the demand for transportation dramatically. While there are many different means of transportation for inter-urban area transportation, the intra-urban transportation will depend on slow moving transport, such as walking, cycling ad various variations such as seg-ways; individual transport, such as cars, pods and elevators; as well as mass transportation, such as BRT, metro, LRVs.
At the same time, the more compact urban centers or sub-centers, as well as the increasing demand for transport services due to changing socio-demographics in Africa, will dramatically increase the demand for transport in the new metropolis such as Lagos, Abijan and Douala.
In the near future
To cope with the changing demand, the cities start to implement first mass-transport projects. However, with the changing city structure, these will not be able to keep up with the rising demand and create grid-locked cities with traffic jams, pollution and much time spent in the transit between places. Over time, the transport pattern can change and e.g. shift from commuting which is very time inflexible to the more flexible spare-time induced traffic, flexible work-times, work at home models etc.. This would reduce the burden on peak hour traffic and ease the grid-lock. However, this will change only over time and the implementation phase can be quite troublesome. This is why we though on what are technologies that support this transition and that can be implemented quite cost effective. These can be split into two major categories: Supply affecting technologies and demand affecting technologies.
Technologies to optimize infrastructure capacity
I think that these ideas are technologically already possible are already being tested or can potentially be implemented soon.
There are many potential technologies that will have an impact on the transport service supply:
- Transport vehicle capacity optimization by using larger vehicles (i.e. double articulated busses, larger metros, larger cable car cabins etc)
- Street capacity optimization by reducing speed and distance between vehicles due to autonomous vehicles
- Street crossing optimization by using video controlled traffic lights
- Semi-flexible adaptive mass-transport vehicles that can variate their capacity
- Flexible usage of mass-transport infrastructure also for individual traffic
- Autonomous vehicles
Technologies to optimize transport demand
On the other hand, demand will also face some changes, especially to solve the currently high uncertainty about the transport situation:
- Provision of accurate traffic information and transport time prediction, transport-mode independent
- Provision of real time information on public transport (i.e. next vehicles, capacity,…)
- Roll out of more telecommute technologies, flexibilization of work times and work places in the office-workspace industries
All these technologies implemented by the responsible with a far forward looking planning will help to avoid a grid-lock and human catastrophe in the urban metropolis of Africa in the near future.