Smart city initiatives are now commonplace, with many ongoing projects in urban environments around the globe. Comprising a broad range of digitally enabled services, the overall goal is to optimise civic functions to improve quality of life and drive economic growth. As the lifeblood of any urban environment, transport is often a key element of smart city projects, and provides many opportunities to address issues like congestion and pollution. While this kind of integrated smart transport system can add to overall complexity, effective deployment of next generation communications technology can help authorities to address this.

Mastering multimodal complexity

The next generation of smart city enabled transport is often referred to as multimodal transport or Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Combining multiple forms of transport into one integrated service, it’s designed to better meet the needs of citizens while boosting efficiency across the entire network. The advantages are numerous, including simplified ticketing, holistic visibility of transport operations, as well as reducing reliance on private cars. Modes of transport can range from bike and car sharing, to traditional mass transit options like buses and trains.

Many cities around the world operate integrated transport networks, which are typically managed by a singular entity, often part of the public sector. Multimodal services present a more complex proposition, comprising services from a variety of providers, both government and private sector. This complexity will only increase as technologies like Automated Vehicles (AV) become more prevalent.

Addressing this complexity depends on finding solutions to a range of challenges, the central one being how to share data across a range of platforms used by a variety of stakeholders. Agreeing on the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to use, for instance, will be required to facilitate effective integration. However, this integration is only possible if communications infrastructure is in place to ensure consistent data service connectivity across the network.

Reliable high-speed connectivity is essential due to the large volume of data that needs to be shared to enable real-time management of internal operations as well as passenger service provision. For transport providers, it will allow more sophisticated scheduling and the use of analytics to intelligently reroute services should disruption occur. For passengers, it means highly accurate, holistic visibility of services, and the ability to make informed transport decisions both before and during their journeys.

Transport corridor connectivity

Connecting transport corridors today will be key to providing the broad coverage and capacity required to power the multimodal networks of the future. Next-generation wireless technologies such as 5G will be heavily reliant on small-cell architecture to function as well as on the larger rooftop antennas traditionally used to distribute mobile signal. To address this, many civic authorities are now looking to use ‘street furniture’ lining our roads, including lampposts and traffic lights, as the solution, using them as anchor points to building out a network of low-power, small footprint radio access nodes.

Looking to the future

In the smart city of the future, citizens can look forward to a more cost effective, safer and seamless transport experience. The launch of digitised smart ticketing will eliminate the use of paper tickets and enable passengers to upgrade class or change journeys while on the move. Cities with strong transport communications networks in place today are already seeing benefits of connectivity. Enabled by BAI Communication’s network, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has launched a free mobile app allowing passengers to report non-emergency activities like harassment, safety concerns and suspicious activities, ensuring there will be staff or authorities at the next station ready to assist.

It’s even been demonstrated that transport connectivity can have a dramatic impact on economic productivity, a topic I explored in more detail in an article earlier this year.

Transport is at the heart of any city and can significantly impact the quality of life of inhabitants. This will continue as civic authorities progress in their smart city journeys. The smart city is all about driving seamless integration, something transport providers specialise in. As such, they should have a key role in supporting government in both developing and deploying the smart infrastructure that cities increasingly depend on.