Will We Ever Stop Gridlock?

It is estimated that by 2030 the urban population in developing countries will double. Adopting innovative technologies might ease congestion traffic around megacities.

By Maria Guerra, Technology Editor

Mobility is essential for urban life but in growing megacities like New York, commuters still spend hours stuck in traffic jams. Urban areas are packed with taxis circulating in different patterns, pedestrians and cyclists trying to get to work or school, crowed trains, and delivery trucks. Government, business, and academic sectors recognize that cities need not only better city infrastructure to function but more efficient ways to move people around urban environments using technological innovations and services.

In response to many of today’s mass transit woes, NEXT, a mass-transportation company, is developing a patented, fully automated, electric vehicle fleet and the supporting operating systems. According to its CEO, Emmanuel Spera, “public electric buses are extremely expensive for cities and they are not profitable—one electric bus could cost approximately $800,000.”

NEXT is literally breaking down the design of a bus with the creation of an electric patented modular designed to operate as a mass-transportation system with walkable open-space where each modular vehicle will be able to fit 10 people in half the length of a car. Each module can move individually or by attaching itself to other modules, forming a train-like structure. Passengers using a smartphone app of can be picked up on demand and dropped off at different locations.

Figure 1

NEXT fits ten people in half the length of a car. (Figure courtesy of NEXT)

Spera says, “The most important part of these modular vehicles is that they will have occupancy rate optimization with in-motion passenger distribution. In other words, because there is communication between vehicles, it is possible to group passengers in a module that will reach the final destination.”

The company has already two full-scale autonomous prototypes and they are testing the autonomous software. The batteries, power trains, and autonomous system were already tested at the beginning of the year. The vehicles can do 360-deg. rotations; they are even safe enough to drive themselves. However, the company is not aiming to use the autonomous driving features until it is legal to deploy such vehicles on the streets.

According to Next, 100 people in 10 NEXT modules translates into 70 fewer cars on the roads, therefore reducing traffic congestion. NEXT has interesting plans in place, including partnering with Careem and Regional Transportation Services (RTA) to provide modular vehicles in the Middle East in the near future (part of the Dubai Smart Government Initiative, launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai).


Reducing Car Ownership

Another innovation helping to solve gridlocks is car-sharing, which, according to The Economist, can reduce car ownership at an estimated rate of one rental car replacing 15 owned vehicles. Companies like Zipcar, Car2go, and Maven are part of this trend of shared mobility.

Also, megacities always encourage citizens to use mass transportation; some cities are deploying better public buses offering free Wi-Fi connection and charging stations in them. Recently, the mayors of 12 cities made a pledge to add only all-electric buses to their public transport fleets starting in 2025. The resolution was adopted by the mayors of London, Paris, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Quito, Vancouver, Cape Town, Mexico City, Seattle, Milan, and Auckland. The goal is to create a zero emission zone within their cities by 2030 and to encourage commuters to adopt alternative forms of transportation.

The arrival of connected cars is reshaping the way we think about mobility. The upcoming arrival of 5G technology and advances in sensor technologies like LIDAR are turning self-driving vehicles into a reality. Reducing and stopping gridlock in megacities is a challenge that can be tackled if cities and commuters change the way they look at mobility and they adopt innovations in technologies.

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