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State of the Smart

State of the Smart

Urban planners are developing seamlessly integrated transportation services, while also according ease of travel options for commuters without the routine hassles of congestion, delays and lack of intermodal connectivity.

India has to think Smart Urban Mobility (SUM) as its logical next step to developing over 100 Smart Cities in the country. The Smart Cities would not be nearly as intelligent, were their transportation options seamlessly integrated while also according ease of travel options for commuters without the routine hassles of congestion, delays and lack of intermodal connectivity.

Maharashtra´s Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis emphasised these very aspects while addressing a recent conclave on infrastructure, where he emphasised that the time for India´s infrastructural boom was here and now.

´We are looking at a fully integrated and intelligent transportation network. It will become possible for a commuter, who books a single ticket in the southernmost part of Mumbai city, for instance, to simply use the same ticket to board the Metro at Colaba and travel to any direction in the city using any mode of travel -whether the Metro, monorail, railways or even bus routes without having to stand in a queue for tickets a second time,´ Fadnavis told the invitees of an infrastructure conclave organised by the Lokmat group of newspapers.

Seamless travel
Fadnavis has a strong reason to lay the emphasis of infrastructure development alongside SUM.
A report titled ´World-class integrated mobility solutions (tailor-made for India)´ released by Siemens at a railway summit held earlier in September, notes, ´Across the globe, cities provide the economic engines for development and growth. By 2030, urban areas are expected to house 40 per cent of India´s population and contribute 75 per cent of India´s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Planning and developing Smart Cities and (commensurately smart) infrastructure is essential to unleashing the success of the country´s economy.´

The report articulates the CM´s viewpoint and emphasises, ´An integrated mobility platform can give citizens an overview of a number of different transport services, intelligently combined with individual means of transport. The integrated mobility platform makes it easier for operators to incorporate complimentary mobility services into their own range of services. Ultimately this simplifies planning, booking and charging for intermodal transport services. The best networks minimise passengers´ travel time and optimise their daily lives. For all cities, technology can maximise existing capacity and improve quality.´

Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, the Chief Guest at the summit, also made a similar pitch for smart technology. ´We were recently given a presentation on the Hyperloop technology. It is a very futuristic transportation technology and it would be another 10 years before it could possibly result in some real time travel options. However, we are exploring the new age technologies like Hyperloop in India that can allow us to simultaneously operate train travel services and the travel by ´pods´ (as Hyperloop proposes) on an elevated corridor over all conventional transportation networks that are ground based.´

Tech advancement
Prabhu is right to seek to leverage new age technologies like Hyperloop, that would be relatively cheaper to construct, quicker (travel time between Delhi-Mumbai would be around 1 hour and 15 minutes).

While this technology is still in its R&D stage and will not become available for actual mass passenger transportation anytime soon, the sheer pace of technological innovations taking place enthuses literal application possibilities that are likely sooner than later.

Reji Kumar Pillai, President, India Smart Grid Forum, tells Infrastructure Today, ´If I were to talk about WhatsApp even five years ago you would have disbelieved me.

Today (after Facebook acquired it in 2014 for over $17 billion and disseminated it globally), it has become a universal phenomenon.´ Pillai adds,´Only recently my wife asked me whether we needed to acquire a third four-wheeler since both our cars are already five years old. I said we may not need to invest in a four-wheeler, what with personalised individual jet propulsion systems that are being tested for actual real-time introductions. We need to now start thinking in terms of regulating the airspace as the next superhighways of the transportation sector.´

Smart technology is certainly on the anvil to bolster the concepts of Smart Cities and SUM.

While Uber and Ola have launched passenger transportation services that offer more reasonably priced options to commuters, concepts like the Bla Bla Car system of car pooling accord commuters the option of smartly deciding the kind of company they would prefer to keep while on an inter-city commute.

A spokesperson for the French carpooling concept launched in India tells this journal, ´When you book a commute between two cities using the infrastructure made available by us, you get to select the profile of your co-passengers.´

Sometimes, just the aspect of a quiet co-passenger (not very talkative) could make a qualitative difference to such travel options spread over a few hours. Even the reverse option as a preference (seeking talkative co-passengers) is facilitated through the Bla Bla Car service in India.

Today, the conventional means of transportation, whether by road, air, water or rail, are expensive, slow and unfriendly to the environment. Road travel will get more difficult with density of vehicles on roads escalating, oil prices impacting costs, with mass transit transport services becoming the urgent necessity relatively sooner than later in India.

Similarly, while rail travel is energy efficient and by far the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation, it has its own dynamics of being too expensive to be used for less than 1,500 kilometres of distance, as well as being relatively slow in comparison to new age transportation options.

The World Bank is on its final round of assessments before the Indian Railways would receive its sought corpus under the Railway Infrastructure Fund. As Prabhu says, ´Railways is one of the most important infrastructure entities in India. It is our Prime Minister Narendra Modi´s priority to transform the Indian Railways. There are joint ventures with state governments which have also started by looking at new projects which are commercially viable. There is high priority on punctuality and innovative financing options. World Bank is supporting a Railway Development Fund, financed by pension and sovereign wealth funds. Another pursuit is to develop stations and its infrastructure on a commercial basis.´

Fadnavis for his part has set up a team of young infrastructure specialists – in CIDCO (headed by Bhushan Gagrani), MMRDA (UPS Madan), Metro projects (Ashwini Bhide), amongst other key bureaucrats with a proven track record in infrastructure building to translate his state´s infrastructure vision into a reality. Other chief ministers are also similarly vying for a slice of the infrastructure development pie in India.

´I am unable to stop talking and can go on and on about the various infrastructure forays we have planned for Maharashtra in tandem with the Centre. But my team of specialists is there to take forward our plans to reality,´ Fadnavis gushed at the infrastructure conclave.

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