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Building Sustainable Urban Mobility

With urban populations growing exponentially, cities are turning to artificial intelligence and cloud-based analytics to create more sustainable—and in some cases, profitable—public transportation systems.

By 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60 percent of people globally, and one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants. In most cases, this means city planners need to rethink the way people will move through these urban areas. Cities with high mobile sustainability will have the power to elevate human quality of life, increase productivity, and reduce their environmental impact.

Each year Arcadis, a global design, engineering, and management consulting company, studies 100 cities around the world for its annual Sustainable Cities Mobility Index. The index measures three pillars of sustainable mobility: people, planet, and profit. People measures the human and social implications of the mobility systems in place and quality of life. Planet measures the environmental impacts, like energy, pollution, and emissions. Profit assesses the efficiency and reliability of the system to facilitate economic growth. North American cities have repeatedly ranked low, owing in large part to their reliance on cars.

Hong Kong, Zurich, and Paris ranked highest in 2016. In different ways, these cities have collected and analyzed big data, leveraging the use of technological advancements, to restructure or enhance the way people move about. Their efforts demonstrate that what we build today will have an impact on our lives, our environment, and the world in the future.

Artificial Intelligence and the Mass Transit Railway

Imagine a world where you’re never late for work due to train delays and track maintenance. That world already exists in Hong Kong, and the reason is artificial intelligence. The AI Engine that controls and monitors scheduling for engineering works on Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network has achieved a 99.9 percent on-time record, with trains running every 1.9 minutes during rush hour on the busiest island subway line.

“The AI Engine uses a scheduling algorithm that maximizes the amount of engineering works that can be done using available MTR resources, such as personnel, equipment, space, and time. This allows MTR to do more with less,” said Andy Chun, an associate professor at City University of Hong Kong and designer of the AI Engine. He helped MTR Corporation, the company that runs Hong Kong’s mass transit system, incorporate the AI Engine, running it on MTR’s private cloud infrastructure.

The AI Engine first encodes all of the MTR’s safety rules and regulations, and then Hong Kong’s government statutory requirements. But the secret ingredient that makes the system so unique and successful is the operational knowledge and expertise from human engineers with over a decade of experience.

The Rail Plus Property Model

“Without safe and reliable railway services, a modern city will not be competitive and productivity will be lost,” said Chun. Since the introduction of the AI program, the MTR has not only saved HK$800,000 a year (US$103,000) but has also achieved over HK$9 million (approximately US$1.16 million) every year in productivity gains. This is in large part due to the fact that the percentage of operational cost covered by fares was 185 percent, the highest in the world. The average weekday patronage of the transit systems is 5.6 million. However, MTR Corporation knows how to turn a profit in more ways than one.

Hong Kong’s transportation corporation has figured out how to capture the value of a city’s need to move well. By striking a bargain with shop owners, MTR Corporation signs a co-ownership agreement with malls, accepts a percentage of property development fees, and even gets a cut of the profits. In exchange, the transit agency just has to keep doing what it’s doing: transporting customers from one end of the city to the other. Moreover, MTR Corporation leases all of the retail within the subways, and furthering its “rail plus property” model, it owns two of the tallest skyscrapers in the city.

Switzerland’s Underground Cargo Train

In 2016, an average of 127 hours was lost due to traffic in Zurich. The transport of goods in Switzerland is projected to increase up to 37 percent by 2040. As Zurich is now, it is ill-equipped to handle such an increase in traffic. Switzerland’s private sector understands that mobility is key to economic success. That’s why a project called Cargo sous terrain (CST) is completely privately funded. This project envisions an underground logistics network of tunnels to transport goods between Switzerland’s economic centers. Although it’s a privately funded endeavor, it will be regulated by the state to ensure no discrimination.

The first phase will link Härkingen-Niederbipp to Zurich. By 2030, Zurich’s roads, and the country’s overall, may be released from the burden of being clogged by additional large vehicles used to transport goods. Reloading hubs in Zurich will deliver goods to their final destinations via autonomous vehicles through an environmentally friendly distribution system called City-Logistik. City-Logistik will not only ease the strain on the current urban infrastructure, but it will also help to increase the profitability of urban freight transportation.

How Zurich’s Transport Turns a Profit

Arcadis’s Sustainable Cities Mobility Index ranks the use of public transport high in the profit pillar because higher usage also allows greater revenue from fares. This is one of the reasons why Zurich ranks so high. The city’s transit, Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich (VBZ), has a reputation of being clean, efficient, and attractive. Zurich’s streets, on the other hand, are often congested, due to the large population of people moving about the city: 415,000 live in the city, another 450,000 work in the city, and the metropolitan region hosts over 1 million, many of whom also must travel to and from the city for work. The Strategien Zurich 2025, a framework devised by the government for long-term sustainable development, highlights the city’s devotion to a mobility plan. The keys to success, it says, will be giving preference at street lights to trams and buses, creating special traffic lanes for public vehicles, and improving pedestrian and bicycle traffic safety. The high usage of the VBZ makes it sustainable in another sense, too, as the system generates more than enough to pay for maintenance and repairs.

The Grand Paris Express: Autonomous Rapid Metro

Paris is well known for its metro, not only due to iconic art nouveau station entrances, but also because it is one of the oldest metro systems in the world. Metro operator Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) opened its first fully automated line, Line 14, in 1998. Since implementing an automated line, RATP has saved up to 30 percent in operational costs. Now it wants to extend that line as part of a larger project, the expansion of the 118-year-old Paris Metro into the Grand Paris Express. This rapid metro will also be fully automated. It will include four new lines extending into the greater Paris metropolitan area, and it is expected to carry 2 million passengers per day through 68 new interconnected stations, with real estate developed by the Société du Grand Paris to help new neighborhoods emerge.

According to a report that Arcadis wrote on the project, the new lines are expected to be completed by 2030. In an effort to make public transport more accessible to residents throughout the region, the project will consist of a ring route around Paris and lines that serve developing neighborhoods. The Grand Paris Express is an excellent example of a city project that’s leveraging sustainable mobility to combat urban sprawl, reduce congestion and car pollution, create ease of travel between suburbs, and contribute to France’s competitiveness as a whole. In addition, the greater fluidity of movement throughout metropolitan Paris is expected to create between 115,000 and 310,000 jobs.

Paris’s Commitment to Reducing Pollution

The year 2030 is shaping up to be a big year for Paris as a sustainable city. In addition to the completion of the Grand Paris Express, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also announced the city’s plan to ban all petrol-fueled cars from the city. It’s a bold move that signals the city’s dedication to reducing pollution, especially in the wake of her announcement to also ban all diesel cars by 2024. If enforced, the French capital may be home to electric powered cars only, but the goal is to also get more Parisians using alternate forms of transportation. This is something the mayor has championed with initiatives like a “Day Without Cars,” of which there have been several.

Hidalgo has also advocated for less car usage and more alternate transportation by pedestrianizing many stretches of the banks of the River Seine and adding hundreds of miles of bike paths and a network of dedicated bike lanes. These movements are largely the result of the presence of a cloud of smog over the city due to dangerous pollution spikes. Paris has always been a city to adjust well to progressive ideology, and it’s proven it through the compliance with these new regulations, as well as the successful introduction of different bike sharing services: Velib’, GoBee.Bike, and Ofo.

“Technology has been an important part of the development of the bikeshare program,” said Stéphane Kirkland, an Arcadis city executive in Paris. “Now the next step is being taken with dockless private bikeshare alternatives. Paris still has a long way to go, especially in the design of its roads, but a true cycling culture is starting to develop.”

Artificial Intelligence and the Mass Transit Railway

Imagine a world where you’re never late for work due to train delays and track maintenance. That world already exists in Hong Kong, and the reason is artificial intelligence. The AI Engine that controls and monitors scheduling for engineering works on Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network has achieved a 99.9 percent on-time record, with trains running every 1.9 minutes during rush hour on the busiest island subway line.

“The AI Engine uses a scheduling algorithm that maximizes the amount of engineering works that can be done using available MTR resources, such as personnel, equipment, space, and time. This allows MTR to do more with less,” said Andy Chun, an associate professor at City University of Hong Kong and designer of the AI Engine. He helped MTR Corporation, the company that runs Hong Kong’s mass transit system, incorporate the AI Engine, running it on MTR’s private cloud infrastructure.

The AI Engine first encodes all of the MTR’s safety rules and regulations, and then Hong Kong’s government statutory requirements. But the secret ingredient that makes the system so unique and successful is the operational knowledge and expertise from human engineers with over a decade of experience.

The Rail Plus Property Model

“Without safe and reliable railway services, a modern city will not be competitive and productivity will be lost,” said Chun. Since the introduction of the AI program, the MTR has not only saved HK$800,000 a year (US$103,000) but has also achieved over HK$9 million (approximately US$1.16 million) every year in productivity gains. This is in large part due to the fact that the percentage of operational cost covered by fares was 185 percent, the highest in the world. The average weekday patronage of the transit systems is 5.6 million. However, MTR Corporation knows how to turn a profit in more ways than one.

Hong Kong’s transportation corporation has figured out how to capture the value of a city’s need to move well. By striking a bargain with shop owners, MTR Corporation signs a co-ownership agreement with malls, accepts a percentage of property development fees, and even gets a cut of the profits. In exchange, the transit agency just has to keep doing what it’s doing: transporting customers from one end of the city to the other. Moreover, MTR Corporation leases all of the retail within the subways, and furthering its “rail plus property” model, it owns two of the tallest skyscrapers in the city.

Switzerland’s Underground Cargo Train

In 2016, an average of 127 hours was lost due to traffic in Zurich. The transport of goods in Switzerland is projected to increase up to 37 percent by 2040. As Zurich is now, it is ill-equipped to handle such an increase in traffic. Switzerland’s private sector understands that mobility is key to economic success. That’s why a project called Cargo sous terrain (CST) is completely privately funded. This project envisions an underground logistics network of tunnels to transport goods between Switzerland’s economic centers. Although it’s a privately funded endeavor, it will be regulated by the state to ensure no discrimination.

The first phase will link Härkingen-Niederbipp to Zurich. By 2030, Zurich’s roads, and the country’s overall, may be released from the burden of being clogged by additional large vehicles used to transport goods. Reloading hubs in Zurich will deliver goods to their final destinations via autonomous vehicles through an environmentally friendly distribution system called City-Logistik. City-Logistik will not only ease the strain on the current urban infrastructure, but it will also help to increase the profitability of urban freight transportation.

How Zurich’s Transport Turns a Profit

Arcadis’s Sustainable Cities Mobility Index ranks the use of public transport high in the profit pillar because higher usage also allows greater revenue from fares. This is one of the reasons why Zurich ranks so high. The city’s transit, Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich (VBZ), has a reputation of being clean, efficient, and attractive. Zurich’s streets, on the other hand, are often congested, due to the large population of people moving about the city: 415,000 live in the city, another 450,000 work in the city, and the metropolitan region hosts over 1 million, many of whom also must travel to and from the city for work. The Strategien Zurich 2025, a framework devised by the government for long-term sustainable development, highlights the city’s devotion to a mobility plan. The keys to success, it says, will be giving preference at street lights to trams and buses, creating special traffic lanes for public vehicles, and improving pedestrian and bicycle traffic safety. The high usage of the VBZ makes it sustainable in another sense, too, as the system generates more than enough to pay for maintenance and repairs.

The Grand Paris Express: Autonomous Rapid Metro

Paris is well known for its metro, not only due to iconic art nouveau station entrances, but also because it is one of the oldest metro systems in the world. Metro operator Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) opened its first fully automated line, Line 14, in 1998. Since implementing an automated line, RATP has saved up to 30 percent in operational costs. Now it wants to extend that line as part of a larger project, the expansion of the 118-year-old Paris Metro into the Grand Paris Express. This rapid metro will also be fully automated. It will include four new lines extending into the greater Paris metropolitan area, and it is expected to carry 2 million passengers per day through 68 new interconnected stations, with real estate developed by the Société du Grand Paris to help new neighborhoods emerge.

According to a report that Arcadis wrote on the project, the new lines are expected to be completed by 2030. In an effort to make public transport more accessible to residents throughout the region, the project will consist of a ring route around Paris and lines that serve developing neighborhoods. The Grand Paris Express is an excellent example of a city project that’s leveraging sustainable mobility to combat urban sprawl, reduce congestion and car pollution, create ease of travel between suburbs, and contribute to France’s competitiveness as a whole. In addition, the greater fluidity of movement throughout metropolitan Paris is expected to create between 115,000 and 310,000 jobs.

Paris’s Commitment to Reducing Pollution

The year 2030 is shaping up to be a big year for Paris as a sustainable city. In addition to the completion of the Grand Paris Express, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also announced the city’s plan to ban all petrol-fueled cars from the city. It’s a bold move that signals the city’s dedication to reducing pollution, especially in the wake of her announcement to also ban all diesel cars by 2024. If enforced, the French capital may be home to electric powered cars only, but the goal is to also get more Parisians using alternate forms of transportation. This is something the mayor has championed with initiatives like a “Day Without Cars,” of which there have been several.

Hidalgo has also advocated for less car usage and more alternate transportation by pedestrianizing many stretches of the banks of the River Seine and adding hundreds of miles of bike paths and a network of dedicated bike lanes. These movements are largely the result of the presence of a cloud of smog over the city due to dangerous pollution spikes. Paris has always been a city to adjust well to progressive ideology, and it’s proven it through the compliance with these new regulations, as well as the successful introduction of different bike sharing services: Velib’, GoBee.Bike, and Ofo.

“Technology has been an important part of the development of the bikeshare program,” said Stéphane Kirkland, an Arcadis city executive in Paris. “Now the next step is being taken with dockless private bikeshare alternatives. Paris still has a long way to go, especially in the design of its roads, but a true cycling culture is starting to develop.”

More of a city’s health, happiness, and profit is based on ease and quality of mobility than we know. Technological advancements that collect big data and use cloud computing services to analyze that data will be invaluable in creating sustainable urban mobility. As demonstrated by the highest-ranked cities in the world, the path to sustainability in the future will be reached on a train, a bike, or on foot.