We need smart transportation solutions

From conventional transport, India can leapfrog to a shared, electric, and connected mobility future, with huge energy savings

A modern nation is built upon a smart and efficient transportation system. This will require disruptive measures that can address problems ranging from infrastructure challenges to governance inefficiencies.

The transport infrastructure sector in India is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 5.9 per cent, becoming the fastest-expanding component of the country's infrastructure sector.

Government as enabler

The Government has come up with numerous initiatives ranging from Make in India, FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles), Green Mobility Fund, and Smart Cities, to the recently announced projects in high speed mobility, namely high speed trains and the proposed ‘Hyperloop’ connectivity. The Government is already working on the ₹10 lakh-crore National Transport Master Plan which aims to provide seamless movement of freight and passengers across multiple modes of transport. The shipping ministry's ‘SagarMala project’, which focuses on port-led development of the country, will have several such multi-modal hubs under it. The Centre has also indicated its aim to boost corporate investment in the sector by introducing business-friendly strategies that will balance profitability with effective project execution.

A lot of debate has taken place over the feasibility and profitability of the High Speed Rail (HSR) network. Any progress in reduction of travel-time and enhancing safety of passengers requires not just an upgradation of railway tracks, engines and coaches, but also an improvement in capacity utilisation (around 16 per cent railway network handles more than 60 per cent traffic). The crucial question is: Is it not wise to look further into the future and upgrade to better technologies in addition to upgrading the current rail network?

Around 17.7 million motorcycles and scooters were sold in the country in FY2017, making India the largest two-wheeler market in the world. There is no universally acceptable solution to India’s urban transportation challenges. Although the initial idea is to pick the low hanging fruits, for example, carpooling; with cities and number of vehicles growing faster than ever, there is need for a hybrid, sustainable and scalable solution.

Experts estimate that India could save 64 per cent energy in 2030 by shifting to shared electric mobility. Further, there can be a drop in petrol and diesel consumption of 156 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE) or 1.8 tera watt-hour energy — enough to power 1,796.3 million homes. This would also result in a significant drop in carbon dioxide emissions. While the idea of electric vehicles never picked up pace in India, mostly due to lack of recharging infrastructure, with significant advancements in battery technologies, it is high time that we forayed more into this area. The power ministry has already announced an all-electric car fleet in India by 2030.

Technology-driven solutions

New technologies are making the transportation job easier by overcoming shortcomings, typically by enabling real-time analysis of public transportation routes and traffic patterns. Seeing this opportunity, public sector agencies in many technologically advanced countries have begun to encourage the use of public transportation through new mobility business models such as on-demand and multimodal trip-planning applications. For instance, integrated payment systems such as London’s Oyster and Singapore’s EZ-Link allow users to opt for different modes of public transportation through a single smartcard.

Adoption of technology-driven solutions can be seen in the shipping industry as well. Startups around the globe are developing technology-driven solutions. For instance, a Cape Town-based startup has come up with an open platform providing a detailed look at formal and informal public transport options in African cities, thereby improving user-experience and provide emerging cities with crucial transportation data for better planning.

A holistic traffic management approach is necessary for a sustainable solution. IT-enabled smart traffic management and smart transportation solutions can prove to be game-changers. For instance, a GPS-based system will prove to be immensely helpful for people who use public buses. Under this system the user will be provided with real-time information on the current location of nearest buses approaching the bus stop. The user will be able to manage his schedule, thus saving long waiting hours. Besides, such systems help prevent accidents from happening due to overspeeding, by alerting the driver.

Technology-based solutions can also be applied in areas such as ‘fleet management’. For example, a last-mile logistics provider helped a Delhi-based courier dispatch company track its fleets in real time. The company receives alerts every time its shipping trucks reach their destination, report to the warehouse or break down.

A collective responsibility

Transportation must be considered the collective responsibility of all stakeholders. The public and private sectors must work together to devise and develop India-specific solutions. The private sector needs to take full advantage of the market opportunities and help transform India’s transportation system. Active private sector participation can bring in expertise, capital and latest technologies. Further, citizens should be made active partners in such initiatives through community-driven programmes.

Recent developments in India’s transportation system reflect the characteristics of an emerging mobility paradigm. India could leapfrog from the conventional transportation model to a shared, electric, and connected mobility future, by capitalising on a confluence of dynamic technical capabilities, an emerging entrepreneurial culture and building on foundational government programmes and policies.

A smart transportation system involving GPS and digital technologies such as Cloud-based services, Big Data and Analytics, and Internet of Things (IoT) will be at the core of any such transformation. While global tie-ups will be enablers, IT companies and new-age technology startups must rise to the occasion and focus on solving the country’s biggest problem that will not only support, but accelerate a nation on the move.

The writer is the MD and CEO of YES Bank and chairman of YES Institute

Published on November 21, 2017

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