Today, mobility is the lifeblood of every city. As cities everywhere grow and as more megacities emerge, leaders face a growing challenge: to provide an adequate transportation infrastructure and offer mobility solutions that serve the public’s needs and support economic vitality and sustainability.
The advent of new vehicle technologies and business models has introduced the world to an array of new products and services. Electric and autonomous vehicles (AVs), ride-hailing services (i.e. Uber and Careem), Robotaxis (i.e. nuTonomy), and other recent developments do more than promise solutions to overburdened public-transit systems and congested roads; they also hold the prospect of improved safety, increased parking space, more efficient transport spending, reduced CO2 emissions, and overall greater productivity.
The potential benefits of AVs in urban transportation are enormous and wide-reaching, but achieving them requires ambition, as well as careful planning and execution, from multiple stakeholders. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) have been collaborating for several years on an initiative dedicated to shaping the future of urban mobility with AVs. Their latest report, ‘Making Autonomous Vehicles a Reality,’ examines a functional case for AVs as a cornerstone of an urban mobility revolution. Based on scenario-modeling simulations and field-testing research, the report reinforces the benefits of AVs and illustrates the challenges and strategies to be considered in implementing these new technologies.
Boston, Massachusetts was chosen for the recent initiative as it provides a diverse landscape of both private and public transport options, resident and non-resident commuters with varied incomes, and an environment of robust growth in population and jobs. Together these factors contribute towards a strain on the city’s existing transport networks. The report found that in urban environments, the transition to AVs and shared transportation can substantially increase a city’s productivity and enhance efficiency by enabling fewer vehicles to be on the streets, resulting in reduced congestion, emissions, journey times, and public space needed for parking.
Together these developments will reshape the urban landscape and the future of transportation worldwide. The transition towards implementing new transport technologies will not be without its challenges; however, insights derived from the initiative in Boston indicate that preparation is essential to easing the transitional process. This is especially true for large cities in the Middle East, where existing advantages can be leveraged to enhance future returns.
Digital Mobility in the Middle East
Autonomous transportation comes in many forms, such as private vehicles, taxis, and shuttle buses, to name just a few. For large cities in the Middle East, the challenge will be integrating these new modes of transport with those already existing in order to provide a seamless experience for citizens, commuting workers, and tourists.
In evaluating their options, large cities must take into account their individual context and needs. The key is to adopt a flexible approach to autonomous transport in order to leverage the benefits of fast-growing developments in the Middle East. They must also consider how new forms of autonomous transport can complement their existing infrastructure.
A digital mobility platform that aggregates all transportation modes should be at the heart of the new urban mobility system. It is important to have an integrated mobility platform to help a city manage traffic volume and flow, and at the same time provide commuters with a single easy-to-use point of access to the city’s transportation network. This will ease travel by allowing for better commute planning through smart devices, all in real-time. This same platform will also allow the city to gather data about its commuters’ current use of transport, which can be used immediately to manage traffic and maintain infrastructure.
Cities do not need to own or even operate mobility assets; enabling their deployment is sufficient. Rather, the key directive is to take ownership of mobility ecosystem management. Establishing a governance structure and testing policies and parameters will aid the development of transportation solutions tailored to the individual needs of cities in the Middle East. This will accelerate the transition from considering AVs to conducting on-street tests. The emphasis is placed on working in close cooperation with industry leaders, technology developers, and government officials, which is an integral step towards enabling the use of AVs. In the Middle East, the ability of Transportation Authorities to strike the right partnership agreement with technology providers will be a decisive success factor.
Implementation in the Middle East
In testing AVs, cities should adopt an agile development approach. Cities in the Middle East can begin the testing process promptly, with small tests that have a narrow and well-defined scope. Each test can be used to inform and course-correct future tests, as the testing conditions and area gradually expand.
Early testing phases of AVs will involve numerous stakeholders; therefore, close coordination and cooperation between the city and public sector leaders will be crucial to expediting the testing process. Involvement of various responsible stakeholders will ease any regulatory changes and facilitate earlier deployment of on-street AV testing while helping ensure public safety.
Once on-street-testing has commenced, cities will gain an understanding of the infrastructure required for AVs and can begin to experiment with different business models. By working with private sector leaders, cities can harness third-party expertise to foster innovation and create business models that are optimized to their individual city needs.
City leaders must also recognize that AVs are still a reserved concept, and potentially a source of skepticism given recent events in the US. As such, the public must be well informed and educated early in the process of introducing AVs to a city’s streets in order to help aid acceptance of the technology. The city’s plans for AVs should be communicated to them as being one constituent part of a broader, enhanced, and secure mobility platform.
Realizing the vast potential of AVs in urban transportation systems is a complex but rewarding challenge for a city’s government and residents alike. It will require ambition from the outset and early involvement from each of the numerous stakeholders in order to maximize its potential.
Cities in the Middle East have an established reputation as leaders in early investment and adoption of new technologies. One of the greatest challenges in implementing new technologies will be the integration between existing infrastructure and new mega-projects and developments. This will allow for an open and creative approach to making decisions regarding future transportation infrastructure.
Earlier investments into owned digital mobility ecosystems will lead to better benefits for Middle East cities, residents, businesses, environment and the economy at large.