The smarter the investment…

Smart Cities Invest in Mobility. A simple statement but also the title of a fascinating session at the IRF World Meeting, as Brendan Halleman and Tom Antonissen report.

The International Road Federation (IRF) convened the 17th IRF World Meeting & Exhibition, a global summit for road and transportation stakeholders, from 10 to 14 November in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At the invitation of H.E. Abdullah A. Al-Mogbel, Mayor of Riyadh and IRF Chairman, over 2,000 industry professionals from the private sector, academia and government, including an unprecedented 15 Ministers of Transport, took part in discussions spanning the sector’s strategic challenges.

68 The smarter the investment 2

Riyadh’s traffic centre has the type of setup needed to create the shift towards guiding people’s decisions rather than just informing them

Highlighted global issues included road traffic injuries, responsible for 1.3m deaths a year, the highway infrastructure funding gap, estimated at nearly US$16 trillion in between now and 2030, the growth of urban areas across emerging economies, climate vulnerabilities in the existing road network, as well as the connections between road networks and socio-economic development.

The IRF World Meeting was held against a backdrop of unprecedented investments in transport infrastructure investments in the Gulf region, and singularly in Saudi Arabia where government authorities have engaged a multi-billion dollar investment programme in support of urban growth and inter-urban connections. “With unprecedented investments across all modes of transport, the IRF World Meeting could not have come at a better time for the global community of transport professionals,” according to the IRF President and CEO Patrick Sankey. “In response, we managed to put together the most comprehensive World Meeting yet”.

With over 100 plenary, executive, technical and scientific sessions covering every aspect of surface transportation, delegates were able to interface with thought leaders, practitioners and academic specialists from every region of the world. In support of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, one of the Executive Sessions organised tackled the topic “Smart Cities: Mobility, Efficiency, Safety and Sustainability”.


While the 20th century saw an unprecedented migration from rural areas to cities, the first decades of the 21st century will be marked by how the public and private sector came together in tackling the intertwined challenges regarding environmental sustainability and safety. Such co-operation, according to experts from renowned companies like Iteris, IBM, Siemens, SWARCO and 3M, will be the only way to truly harness the potential of technology in reconciling the tensions between a continuing population growth and citizens’ justified mobility demand.

As Iteris’ President and CEO Abbas Mohaddes said, within the past 5 years the amount of data produced has grown by a factor of 9 to nearly 2 zettabytes, and it will continue to grow exponentially in the near future. According to Mohaddes: “Big Data is characterized by the 3 Vs: Volume (of data), Velocity (of data provisioning and processing) and Variety (both of data types and data sources).”

IBM’s Global Leader for Smarter Transportation Eric-Mark Huitema added his 3 As: “Awareness (the need to leverage real-time visibility across city data sources), Anticipate (to proactively identify problems in order to mitigate their impact) and Act (to coordinate cross-agency operations so as to drive better business outcomes).”

Ultimately the goal would be to reach “predictive information” which could guide people’s decisions instead of simply informing them, so traffic information would change from being mostly reactive to becoming proactive as such data should be turned into useful information that travellers can actively use. The traffic centre in Riyadh was quoted as resembling the centres of excellence that would need to be created to deal with such a shift.

Siemens’ Klaus Theml agreed that, as mobility of people and goods is one of the toughest challenge cities face today, recent studies have shown this is the “number one priority on mayor’s political agenda”. As Dubai is now benefiting from investments made in public transport and route guidance, Riyadh is in the process of awarding new mobility projects which will benefit the capital and its population of close to 7m.

The IRF World Meeting was held against a backdrop of unprecedented investments in transport infrastructure investments in the Gulf region, and singularly in Saudi Arabia and Dubai

The IRF World Meeting was held against a backdrop of unprecedented investments in transport infrastructure investments in the Gulf region, and singularly in Saudi Arabia and Dubai

Other examples mentioned of cities which had already implemented existing technologies were IBM’s Mobility Service Platforms set up in London, Stockholm, New York and Chicago; Siemens’ Integrated Mobility Platforms in Hamburg and Lisbon; SWARCO’s Supervisor Systems in Bucharest and Florence; and 3M’s Smart Transport Solutions deployed across US cities and worldwide. Such integrated platforms enable cross-provider integration of mobility services such as intermodal mobility, parking management, law enforcement, fleet management, tolling systems, adaptive traffic control, active traffic information, car sharing, individual trip planning and booking, and eTicketing.


Appreciating such industry expertise, the European Commission (EC)’s Pawel Stelmaszczyk reiterated that almost three quarters of Europeans now live in cities, consuming 70% of the EU’s energy. Looking at the effect on mobility, congestion currently costs Europe about 1% of its GDP every year meaning around €130 billion is yearly lost in traffic jams, most of them located in urban areas (which, coincidentally, create some 80% of the EU’s GDP). Against this background, it is commonly agreed that smart technologies can make a major contribution to tackling many urban challenges – and therefore “smart” cities are encouraged by the EU to first and foremost invest in unhampered mobility as the backbone of sustainable economic and population growth.

However, as the status of ITS deployment across the EU is “not that great” – due to a lack of interoperability, standards, cooperation across borders, data protection, and liability issues – the EC published an ITS Action Plan and Directive in 2008 in order to provide the necessary legal framework, which now includes Urban ITS Guidelines developed in consultation with a high-level platform of industry experts. This has been further complemented by the Smart Cities and Communities Partnership, which has seen its funding increased from €81m in 2012 to €365m in 2013.

Looking ahead to the budgetary period of 2014-2020, the Trans-European Transport Network is set to benefit from the revised TEN-T Guidelines which come with a funding instrument under the name of the Connecting Europe Facility, earmarking €26.2billion for nine so-called corridors identified to create a “core network” within the EU. Furthermore, the future €70billion R&D programme Horizon 2020 will foresee around €7billion for transport projects as well – including for smart cities.

In addition, Civitas – an acronym for ‘cities, vitality, sustainability’ – is funded by the EU’s current research framework programme FP7 to support cities in their efforts to innovate for more sustainable urban mobility. Since its start in 2002, Civitas has supported more than 700 demonstration activities in around 60 cities within a total network of 200 cities that learn from those demonstration activities. With a total investment of more than €200m from the EU, this leveraged an additional investment of close to €1billion from local and regional authorities, as well as from private partners.

Such funding initiatives were welcomed by SWARCO’s Chief Technology Officer John Chipperfield, who exemplified emerging technologies as witnessing data collection and traveller information moving from the roadside to mobile devices, leading to the advent of cooperative systems, smart sensors, the “Internet of Things” and other axioms such as being “always connected”.

He saw computing technology furthermore evolving with the arrival of cloud computing (with a next generation already being dubbed “fog computing”), Software as a Service, social media as emergency warning systems, and multipurpose back-offices. Therefore EU funding for such innovation within cities should be welcomed, as the “legacy systems” in place are not fitted to deal with urban mobility challenges such as congestion and pollution – though it sometimes feels like cities’ budgets remain as static as these systems. To get things moving, SWARCO developed its OMNIA open platform that is capable of integrating existing systems from different suppliers in order to create a “system of systems” and do away with the current “silos” (the company is currently in the process of installing a system in Riyadh to increase its traffic safety and road network efficiency).

As existing traffic infrastructure will not be replaced overnight, both public and private actors should agree on how to drive forward improvements in smart architectures and transport planning, the uptake of new Information and Communication Technologies, the deployment of intelligent transport and energy systems, and new ways of integrating all these areas within a network of linked-up and “interoperable” cities. Such a paradigm shift should include a presumption that those cities’ data be “open” – whether related to standards, interfaces, source software or mindsets – so that public data can be re-used by private service providers to create additional benefits for citizens, businesses and governments.

Based on a true partnership approach, time and effort will be necessary to educate users and decision-makers on the benefits ITS can bring to the economic vitality and overall efficiency of a city. As spoken by 3M’s Global Director Dan McGurran: “Sustainability is a mindset, not a destination.  Citizens must see and appreciate the benefits – it is our responsibility to develop valuable applications”


Brendan Halleman is Head of Communications & Media Relations at the International Road Federation in Washington, DC

Tom Antonissen is an independent European Affairs Adviser based in Brussels