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Smart Mobility Challenges and Solutions in Smart Cities
Jon Glasco1. February 20199 min read

Smart Mobility: Challenges and Solutions in Smart Cities

Urban mobility is described as the lifeblood of modern cities, a critical economic factor, and a facilitator of smart, sustainable development. Planning a smart city that delivers effective and equitable urban mobility solutions is one of the most pressing problems for cities throughout the world. In this article — the first in a planned series — we provide a perspective on urban mobility challenges and examples of smart urban mobility solutions.

Current and Future Challenges in Smart Mobility

Smart cities must deliver effective smart mobility solutions while encouraging innovation, facilitating a collaborative ecosystem, and meeting sustainability goals. These challenges are part of the rapidly changing landscape of urban mobility as seen through the lens of a smart city planner. Strategies to meet city mobility challenges and solve urban mobility problems are unique to each city and involve:

  • Designing effective, equitable, safe and secure public transport systems, integrated with mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) and other platforms
  • Adapting to vehicle innovation and adoption (autonomous, connected, electric, shared, dockless)
  • Crafting policies and strategies to promote adherence to air quality standards and other quality-of-life measures
  • Developing public-private partnerships (PPPs) and collaborating with knowledge institutions to address air quality, traffic congestion, and sustainability issues
  • Building sustainable infrastructure — physical and digital — to support innovative mobility solutions from public and private sectors

Urban Mobility Problems

McKinsey claims there are few places where the reality of urban mobility "matches the public's aspirations for safe, clean, reliable, and affordable ways to get from A to B — and back again." Finding ways to improve urban mobility while "reducing congestion, accidents and pollution is a common challenge to all major cities in Europe."

Problem: Environmental pollution due to CO2 emissions

Taking action to reduce and control pollution levels is a major priority. "Urban mobility accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions of road transport and up to 70% of other pollutants from transport" in the EU. A highly critical report from the EU Court of Auditors indicates most European countries do not meet air quality standards. Air pollution is now the "biggest environmental risk to public health in Europe, causing an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year […] but the huge impact of toxic air has not been reflected in action to reduce emissions."

Problem: Dependence on car/public transport

Urbanization and continuing car dependence lead to inevitable traffic congestion, emissions and mobility safety problems for transport policymakers and urban planners. According to the European Joint Research Center, "the cost of road congestion in Europe is equivalent to an estimated 1% of GDP, and its mitigation is the main priority of most infrastructure, traffic management and road charging measures. […] The reason for congestion in many cases is not a lack in capacity of road infrastructure, but rather an issue of demand management."
Although cities recognize the benefits of public transport in reducing pollution and congestion, local government efforts to deliver the benefits may collide with disruptive business models such as Uber and other ride-hailing services. The popularity of ride-hailing has "transformed the transportation marketplace in over six hundred cities," and in some cases Uber is seen as a threat to cities by increasing pollution and congestion while reducing public transport ridership.

Problem: first mile/ last mile

For many citizens (especially those in suburban areas), public transport is an uninviting option if transit stops are too far from their home or place of work. This is public transport's first-mile / last-mile problem. Ride-hailing and other sharing options provide opportunities to complement public transport. The challenge is how to overcome the first-mile / last-mile problem and enable citizen-centric journeys by integrating public transport with ride-hailing, ride-sharing, vehicle-sharing, and smart ticketing services.

Problem: Road safety

In spite of measures to improve urban mobility safety, "road fatalities are increasing in many cities" and comprised 37% of Europe's total traffic fatalities in 2017. Urban population density, combined with cars, trucks and public transport vehicles "sharing crowded streets with vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists), makes the task of providing safe mobility a complex challenge (read more on mobility safety)." The safety challenge is further complicated by unsafe driving habits and inadequate infrastructure for cycling and micro-mobility users.

Problem: Cyber attacks on digital transport networks

With greater reliance on digital technologies, the transport sector faces increased cyber-security risks. "Cybercriminals are increasingly able to attack not only the information technology but also the operational technology that runs a city’s signalling and control systems." Cyber attacks could disrupt urban transport networks and trigger outages in public transport services.

Problem: Transport Poverty

In developing innovative smart city transportation solutions, cities face the challenge of how to ensure usability and continuity of services for citizens who have limited mobility options and those in "transport poverty". Based on research from Leeds University, someone suffers from transport poverty "when issues concerning travel time, availability, accessibility, affordability or adequacy of transport options present barriers to satisfying basic activity needs." The effect of transport poverty is harsh in diverse segments of society and often denies equitable access to employment, education, healthcare services and social and cultural activities. "Our transport planning system penalizes people who cannot afford a car, who struggle to cover rising public transport fares, and who lack access to public or private transport because of age, disability or where they live."


Examples of Smart Urban Mobility Solutions

Mobility as a Service (MaaS)

Moovel, an innovative MaaS platform combines and facilitates the use of multimode transport and shared mobility services and enables payments via a single interface. This smart urban mobility solution offers a multimodal capability which bundles transport options such as public transport, on-demand services, vehicle sharing, bike sharing and ride-hailing. With access to the Moovel app, customers can book and pay for mobility services through an integrated account.

Sustainable Travel Behavior

Innovactory is committed to making the travel behaviour of its users more sustainable through the development of TimesUpp, a smart travel assistant. Used by more than 150,000 people, TimesUpp "transforms a user’s calendar into the perfect travel assistant, advising on the best time and method of transport to get to their destination, with real-time updates on traffic jams and other unexpected delays."

In 2017, Innovactory introduced TimesUpp incentive programs intending to reduce transport-induced emissions and "prevented more than 250,000 car trips from being executed. This resulted in a CO2 saving of almost 650 tons." In 2018, TimesUpp launched the Smart Traveling! Campaign — an initiative of SmartwayZ.NL with stakeholders from public and private sectors — to reward commuters when they reduce usage of their car by switching to cycling, public transport or working from home.

Intelligent Traffic Management Solution (ITS)

PSIRoads is an intelligent traffic management solution that provides decision support enabled by artificial intelligence. This smart city mobility solution offers intelligent traffic management services such as changes in traffic light phases, road user information, and dynamic changes in traffic capacity. This mobility solution is designed to help transport authorities meet strategic goals by minimizing vehicle emission levels and reducing traffic congestion in residential areas.

Traffic Congestion Service

An estimated 30% of traffic congestion in urban areas is caused by drivers looking for a parking space. Parquery — a cloud-based smart parking solution implemented in more than 15 cities worldwide — provides parking managers with accurate data on parking space usage and "also supports adaptive street light management, intelligent traffic management, and retail services for easy navigation in a smart city."

Micromobility Management

Micromobility — including systems and fleets of shared bikes and electric scooters — "is the hottest tech in transportation," according to CityLab. "The appeal of cycling and scooters to cities and startups alike is obvious: Micromobility systems complement each other while stealing trips from other modes."

eCooltra is a European innovator in scooter sharing with a fleet of more than 3,000 electric scooters deployed in five cities. By using the eCooltra app, customers can book and unlock a free-floating scooter and pay only for minutes of usage. This e-mobility solution aims to improve the customer's quality of life, contribute to urban sustainability, and reduce CO2 emissions.

Public Transport Innovation

In Poland, an innovative passenger information system was designed and implemented in the City of Lublin. This project included the modernization of urban transport infrastructure and the city's fleet of bus vehicles. The project involved the installation of GSM and GPRS equipment in the vehicles; electronic displays at bus stops; dispatch centre software; and a website offering dynamic information to passengers. For its innovation in traffic management and transport solutions, Lublin was named “Smart City of the Year" among cities with populations between 100,000 and 350,000. By modernizing transport infrastructure and improving communications with passengers, Lublin shows that mid-size cities can achieve far-reaching upgrades in the user experience and quality of urban mobility. 

Transport Poverty Reduction

The HiReach project, a research and innovation action funded under Europe's Horizon 2020 program, has the mission of finding solutions to improve accessibility, inclusion and equity of mobility by:

  • Exploring viable business models for affordable, modular and replicable mobility services (community transport, ridesharing, minibus)
  • Generating and testing mobility solutions created by startups and entrepreneurs
  • Enabling the viability and scaling-up of new mobility business models


Smart Urban Mobility: Visions of the Future

Judging from innovation trends and disruptive forces in urban mobility, it is realistic to envision a future scenario when smart city residents and visitors enjoy a wider range of affordable, multimodal, on-demand mobility options; and conventional cars and ownership practices are replaced by shared electric and autonomous vehicles.

The Boston Consulting Group believes widespread adoption of autonomous technologies could yield substantial benefits by eliminating road fatalities, improving travel times by up to 40%, recovering billions of hours lost to commuting and congestion, and generating total benefits to society worth $1.3 trillion.

Lukas Neckermann, noted strategist and transport visionary, predicts the rapid adoption and positive impact of electric vehicles: "Close to 100% of new vehicles sold in 2025 in the developed world will be electrified (including hybrids)" […] and "however transformational electric vehicles are to cities, their lasting legacy will be the reduction of deadly air pollution."


Thomas Müller, Managing Partner, bee smart city GmbH“Smart cities must deliver effective mobility solutions while encouraging innovation, facilitating a collaborative ecosystem, and meeting sustainability goals. These challenges are part of the rapidly changing landscape of urban mobility as seen through the lens of a smart city planner"
, states Thomas Müller, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at bee smart city.

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Jon Glasco

Jon Glasco is a freelance consultant and writer focused on innovation in smart cities and smart urban mobility. He has experience in executive and consulting roles in the telecommunications, mobile operator, public transport, government and professional service sectors. Jon holds an MBA and Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.