Transportation ranks as the second highest household expense in the United States, approaching $1 trillion per year. Sensors, RFIDs, smartphones, and other maturing technologies are being deployed to optimize costs — both monetary and temporal — in this domain. We began by discussing smart mobility in Dubai and Barcelona and evaluated smart mobility options in the United States in public transit, cabs, cars, and bicycles.
Consider Dubai’s new “Salik” toll system. It currently consists of four toll gates on some of the city’s more congested roads and bridges. The toll gates communicate with battery-free RFID transponders that are available to motorists at banks and service stations. The transponders are charged with funds, and when the motorist passes through a toll gate, the $1 flat fee is deducted. Motorists that do not have transponders are caught on camera and fined about $15. In addition to Salik, other congestion mitigation measures include diversion of truck traffic to other routes, and exempting taxis from the tolls. In concert, these measures have resulted in a palpable reduction in congestion.
Another innovation applied in Dubai is an automated parking guidance system. The parking guidance system provides motorists with easily readable parking space vacancy information. Each parking space is instrumented with an overhead detector and LED indicator that lights up green for empty and red for occupied. This enables drivers to glance down long parking aisles and quickly determine if any spaces are available. The data from the sensors is aggregated and reported on lighted signs near garage entrances to inform passing motorists of the space availability. The result is a notable reduction in the time and fuel spent trolling for parking spaces. Similar systems are operating in China and Barcelona.
Smart phone technology has spawned some new opportunities to optimize transportation costs by increasing transportation awareness, fostering collaboration among transportation users, and leveraging inefficiencies. One particularly impactful application domain is real-time transit information disseminated by apps such as Transporter, NextBus, 511, and iBART. This idea has been adapted to taxicabs by applications such as Cabulous and TaxiMagic, which enable users to view the locations of cabs and hail them using smartphones. For drivers, services such as Waze enable self-reporting of traffic conditions and consideration of alternative routes. While an innovative way to actively crowd-source traffic data, some concerns about driver distraction are left up for debate.
Cab sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing are relatively low-tech collaboration concepts that have enjoyed a boost from rapidly growing smart phone technology. In the cab sharing space, apps like GobiCab and Fare/Share allow users to locate each other and share the cost of a cab ride. Ride sharing solutions such as Zimride (targeting communities), RideJoy (targeting long-distance riders), Ride Amigos (targeting riders to specific events), and Wheelz (targeting university students) each approach different ride sharing markets. The value they purport to add over existing solutions such as casual carpool and craigslist are improving reliability and reducing the inherent “sketch factor” of ride sharing. Bike sharing is reaching the United States. Washington DC’s Smart Bike, the nations first formal bike share program, launched in 2008. Since then, Capital Bikeshare emerged, and a pilot program is materializing in San Francisco. Spotcycle, a smart phone app enables uses to efficiently locate available bikes on a map.
The strong growth and diversity of car sharing schemes is reflects smarter mobility by leveraging the inefficiency of otherwise idle cars and fostering collaboration. With a market cap of approximately $600M, Zipcar has set the standard for car sharing. Other companies such as RelayRides and GetAround have varied the car sharing theme with a peer-to-peer approach that enables individual car owners to micro lease their cars to other members. Finally, services such as Scoot Networks are making a scooter sharing market.