The future of transport could begin in Dubai

This week sees some of the brightest business minds gather in Dubai for the International Project Management Forum.

By Laurence Batlle

Published: Tue 10 Dec 2019, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 10 Dec 2019, 9:03 PM

Imagine starting your day by hailing a bus from your home via an app, riding to the nearest metro station, boarding a driverless train then hopping on an electric scooter to take you to your office. Throughout you haven't had to fiddle with different tickets, loose change, and all has been taken care of with your smartphone. No long waits and no clunky changeovers. Sounds a little futuristic and certainly it is not most people's commuting experience. Yet, this seamless, often automated journey is increasingly a feature of modern-day travel. In the transport world, the future is here.
This week sees some of the brightest business minds gather in Dubai for the International Project Management Forum. The setting is the ideal backdrop as the Gulf is leading the way in transport innovation, investing time, money, and ambition in creating the world's most technologically advanced networks. The Gulf alone has $250 billion of investment slated for the next decade, demonstrating clear ambition to build world-leading public transport. Dubai specifically has seen a $46 billion return on $27 billion of transport investment over the past 12 years, with a 13 per cent increase in public transport as people's favoured form of mobility.
Dubai was for many years home to the world's longest automated metro-lines, showing the incredible potential of driverless rail. More broadly, driverless rail and its mass global rollout has been a major feature of transport's evolution over the past decade. Technology has reached a point that make these advanced, automated systems not only viable, but preferable. Automation not only points the way forward but shows how far we've come already.
Micro-mobility is the growing trend that we expect to expand further, as customers increasingly demand an 'end-to-end' experience. Technology has enabled solutions that allow an increasing number of passengers to go the first and last mile of their journeys out of a car and on public transport. For example, a 'Slide' service was launched in London last month. This enables users to hail a minibus to within five minutes' walk of their location and join passengers heading in the same direction. What makes this service unique is the 'live' nature of the route, altering to fit new ride hails and destination.
Cities are beginning to see a proliferation of these solutions. Another example would be free-floating devices, such as Paris' self-service Cityscoot scheme, allowing people barrier-free access to rented scooters. However, to embed them as a feature of the transport landscape, they must be introduced safely, properly regulated, and work alongside existing infrastructure. Regulation still needs to catch up as free-floating mobility schemes, such as bikes and scooters, have been introduced without a clear legal framework to protect the safety of users and pedestrians.
Even five years ago, the idea of such personalised, accessible and affordable transport options would have seemed fanciful, yet we are on the brink of making it an everyday reality for millions. Indeed, the speed of change within the transportation sector is breath-taking. Ten years ago, the idea of hailing a taxi via an app from the comfort of your living room would have seemed absurd. Yet now, it is all many of us know in the world of taxis. On-demand public transport is the next phase in this tech-driven evolution.
The growth of smarter transport solutions is changing the mindset of operators. We are increasingly being compelled to think of mobility as a service, rather than a range of separate transport options. The commuter of today does not think in terms of preferences for trains, buses, cars, or bicycles. They think in terms of simplest way to get from A to B. It is now the responsibility of operators, in close partnership with public transport authorities, to deliver this service.
Furthermore, getting people out of their cars and onto public transport is increasingly expected of policymakers, as people demand a response to the perils of climate change. Technology not only allows for easier transport solutions, but cleaner ones too. Transport of today is cleaner than ever, yet it still doesn't go nearly far enough. The green transport agenda will be a major factor driving change in the years to come.
We know what the transport solutions of tomorrow are, we are already seeing them in action, piecemeal across the globe. They stand as evidence of the last decade's progress. The challenge now is not to develop the technology, but to apply it in a way that makes the transport of the future widely available. Sophisticated, technologically advanced, clean, app-based solutions are worth nothing unless they make people's journeys more seamless and more convenient. We already live in the transport future, the challenge now is making that future a reality for all.
 Laurence Batlle is the President of the RATP Dev Executive Board

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