Interconnected public transport systems are key to a smart city
The Middle East is undergoing rapid transformation – at different rates in different parts, but irresistible everywhere and in distinctive ways across this very large, diverse, dynamic and youthful region. This transformation is focusing on creating sustainable knowledge economies and societies that facilitate and enable a high quality of life for citizens, residents and visitors, as well as a rapidly growing, aspirational young population. In the dynamic Gulf countries, we see strong and visionary leadership backed by dynamic, action-orientated programmes, with clear directions and ambitious objectives. These objectives are being set through comprehensive visions for accelerated and sustainable economic development enabled by advanced technology and with “smart” urban environments providing the focal point.
In Dubai, which is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s smartest cities, we are at the epicentre of a future vision of urban development in the region, embracing innovation in all its forms to create a leadership position among the world’s most successful cities. Dubai is attracting the best talent in the world and enabling its citizens, residents and visitors to experience a high quality of life, encapsulated in the UAE’s very fundamental objective: happiness.In a world economy increasingly defined and influenced by the “mega cities” or specialised cities, urban planning and development is a key driver of competitive advantage. Effective mobility through efficient public transport – one of the main critical success factors in any urban environment – lies at the heart of the city plan.
Traditionally, the development of transport infrastructure has been the responsibility of governments and public sector agencies. But the scale of investment needed – especially for fast-growing urban environments such as those in the Gulf – may now exceed available budgets.
Several important trends and opportunities are arising from this situation.
Firstly, the scale of investment needed for public transport systems means that a wide range of project opportunities is emerging for long-term private investors in greenfield and brownfield developments. Urban planners are using a cluster approach in prioritising transportation investments to solve specific problems, and transport companies are playing a pivotal role in supporting the competitiveness of these industry clusters. Urban planning can be closely coordinated not just with the transport network but also with the financing of associated property development, both residential and commercial in transit-orientated developments.
Continued investment in information and communications technology (ICT) and public transport – the virtual and physical infrastructure that connects the physical and virtual worlds – will shape the urban environment and define sustained economic success. The benefits of clustering firms of different sizes in the same industry in urban areas are well documented. Yet to achieve the best possible economic growth for the designated area, transport companies play a pivotal role – through understanding the transport needs of firms within those clusters, then providing the transport networks and services that answer their needs, while influencing the overall competitiveness of the cluster.
An example is the development of the aviation industrial areas around the new Dubai South development. In Dubai South, the government actively encourages the establishment of aviation-related industries in the newly developed area around Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport – an aerotropolis and global economic hub. These transit-orientated developments will play a key role in any effectively designed transport infrastructure. In South Africa, Gautrain – a mass rapid transit railway system in Gauteng region – links Johannesburg and Pretoria in a corridor offering commuters a viable alternative to road transport. Now, 1.4 million passengers a month save the equivalent of 41 working days a year per passenger; saving time and improving their quality of life.
In the Gulf, new smart cities are rising from the desert and this greenfield opportunity is an invitation to shape and build these new urban environments on the platforms of the key networks for the 21st-century city – high speed connectivity, connecting people and things, and physical transport links providing the mobility that drives the competitive advantage of the future city. Continued investment in ICT and public transport will shape the urban environment and define sustained economic success. The city of the millennials is a place where physical mobility matches online connectivity, and the speed and ease of connectivity are seamless. The experience it offers is safe, secure, effective and smart.
If the IT network is the neural pathway of the new smart city, then the physical transport system provides its beating heart and arteries. Laurence Batlle is chairwoman of the executive board of RATP Dev – the international arm of RATP, the French public transport operator