Transforming Transportation (#TTDC15) is the annual conference co-organized by EMBARQ, the sustainable urban transport arm of the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the World Bank. This year’s conference focuses on Smart Cities for Shared Prosperity, and takes place on January 15 and 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #TTDC15, by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter, and tune in to www.transformingtransportation.org for video streaming of select sessions.
Experts often discuss the idea of creating “connected” cities – compact urban areas featuring public transit, bike paths and walkways – as a way of curbing climate change, improving safety and boosting citizens’ quality of life. As a panel of experts highlighted at today’s Transforming Transportation conference, connected cities also present multiple opportunities and benefits for businesses.
So what is a “connected” city?
“I see a city as connected when citizens have peace of mind regarding mobility – making transportation available so that every citizen in a country can be present in the right place at the right time,” said Arvind Singhatiya, vice president of corporate affairs for OLA, an Indian car service similar to Uber.
Two big factors are converging to influence a city’s connectivity. For one, the rise of technology. “The electronic fabric in cities around the world is, for the first time, providing a level of connectivity that allows other things to happen,” said Michael Dixon, general manager of IBM’s Global Smarter Cities Business program. “We’re seeing people able to share information and make decisions in ways that weren’t possible in the past.”
The other factor is collaboration – allowing all stakeholders, from local government officials to urban planners to citizens themselves, to share knowledge and ideas. “This bottom-up connectivity is very important,” said Marisella Montoliu Muñoz, director of Urban and Disaster Risk Management with the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice.
Opportunities for business to generate impact
We’re now seeing several opportunities for businesses to contribute to better connected, integrated cities like never before. It’s a relationship that benefits businesses as well as the world’s city dwellers. For example:
Rise of the “on-demand economy”
Services like Uber and OLA allow any citizen with an internet connection to access reliable transportation whenever and wherever they need it. It’s a fundamental change in capitalism that presents unprecedented business opportunity. “For businesses, the real opportunity is to work out what are the business models where we can improve service and reduce costs by applying technology?” said Dixon.
A robust job force
Connectivity gives citizens better access to goods and services throughout a city, including jobs. It’s a design that benefits both residents and businesses. “That ability to reach in an affordable way the places where they live to the places where the jobs are has to do with the attractiveness of a city to business,” said Montoliu Muñoz.
Cities around the world face Herculean problems – from traffic congestion to air pollution and its associated health impacts to road accidents and fatalities. Collaboration between businesses, city leaders, urban planners and other stakeholders can foster innovation to solve these difficulties and improve the lives of city residents.
For example, many cities struggle with the problem of “last-mile connectivity.” The city provides public transit systems, but citizens live too far away to utilize them. Enter shuttle systems: “In many large urban cities, you have an arterial rail system,” said Dixon. “The idea of this connected car system where people can get from their homes to transit and back again is very attractive.”
OLA arose to help solve a similar problem in India. Delhi in particular boasts a large population with relatively poor city infrastructure – citizens face challenges in getting to where they need to be on time. OLA’s vehicle-response time is about 15 minutes, and every OLA car replaces the need for about six vehicles on the road, according to Singhatiya.
Data for change
Thanks to sophisticated technologies and software systems, businesses and governments now have access to increasingly robust data sets. Sharing this data between the two groups can improve business and ensure good policy-making. For example, Uber recently agreed to share its transportation data with the city of Boston. OLA plans to do the same with some of the 60 Indian cities in which it operates. “We are using analytics to understand commuters’ behaviors and using technology to asses roads and traffic conditions,” said Singhatiya. “This will help authorities to identify where they need to have flyovers, and which places have more traffic during specific days.”
Planning for the long-term sustainability of cities
Of course, these are just a few opportunities for businesses to impact connectivity. The space is continually evolving and innovating.
Perhaps the main lesson to keep in mind from today’s session is that investing in connectivity is simply good strategy – for businesses, for cities, and for citizens. “When cities are connected, businesses grow because every transaction happens at the right time,” said Singhatiya. “And this leads to a growth in economy.”
Stay tuned for continued coverage of Transforming Transportation later today on TheCityFix! In the meantime, join the conversation online using hashtag #TTDC15 and by following @EMBARQNetwork and @WBG_Transport on Twitter.