Driverless flying cars called Ehang 184 will be trialled in Dubai July this year.

When we move out in a city for a stroll or a ride, the first area, most of us think requires urgent attention and innovative interventions, is urban mobility. Cities are getting overcrowded with increasing people and vehicles. Cities around the world are investing in flying cars, passenger drones, Hyperloop, Maglev, straddling buses, Integrated Traffic Management System, green transport, etc. to keep their cities running smooth and fast

Driverless flying cars called Ehang 184 will be trialled in Dubai July this year.

Our condition of traffic management systems and lack of efficient public transport systems in cities are leading to dangerous levels of air pollution and snarling traffic movement on roads. Whether it is Beijing, Delhi or Paris, the situation is getting worse despite drastic measures being put in place. Urban concentration accelerates economic growth and social development but high dependence on cars for mobility in metro and mega cities has created issues of road safety, clogging of roads and environmental pollution. Cities are in dire need of appropriate policy measures and innovative mobility alternatives to persuade daily commuters to adopt responsible mobility options instead of private vehicles.

It is the responsibility of urban local bodies to play a proactive role in contributing to sustainable mobility with long-term vision. It will require strong political will, and the support of innovative solutions based on meticulous research. To understand what suits a particular city, local bodies will have to go out and talk to people, engage with them in regular dialogues to know what kind of initiatives will work for their citizens. This will provide local leaders a feasible framework for mobility that will help in building sustainable cities.

Alternative mobility options

Gone are the days when citizens had limited options in public transport—bus, metro, tram, local rail. The world has progressed and it is manifested in the availability of a number of options in global cities as public transport. We are now living in a car-share and bike-share world and all can be done with a few taps on a smart phone screen. In near future, pod taxis, driverless cars, flying cars, flying water taxis, passenger drones are some of the innovative mobility solutions which will be available for citizen’s convenience. Many of them are being tested for their feasibility as a mobility option. Transport and safety concerns are intertwined issues. If we are considering out of the box solutions like passenger drones, flying cars or self-driven cars, the issue of passenger safety should be the foremost priority.

Dubai has already geared up to test flying cars to tackle the undeniable issue of traffic congestion. According to newspaper reports, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has collaborated with the Chinese company EHANG for the project. It has carried out the trial run of an Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) capable of carrying a human. RTA is set to start the operation of the AAV as early as July this year. The ‘flying car’ is fitted with a touchscreen to the front of the passenger seat displaying a map of all destinations in the form of dots. Passengers will be able to select their preferred destination from preset options.

Paris is all set to try flying water taxis. As reported by The Telegraph, the futuristic egg-shaped river shuttles, the creation of French yachtsman Alain Thébault and Swedish windsurfer Anders Bringdal, are due to be tried out in the French capital next spring at the request of the environmentally conscious city hall. Made of fiberglass and high-density foam, the solar energy-powered vessels can carry five people and, with the help of foils fixed to the hulls that reduce drag and cause the shuttle to “float” about two foot above water, can reach speeds of up to 30kmh. In India, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has planned for pod taxis between Delhi and Gurugram, and the government has sanctioned around US$130 million for the project. The project is quite similar to SkyTran of NASA, a system of small, automated maglev capsules, which will run on elevated rails, and a working demonstration system is scheduled for completion in Tel Aviv. Similarly, many other cities around the world are trying to find out ways and means to solve the major issues related to road traffic. There is mixed response from the people—some are ecstatic and some are concerned for safety and feasibility.

In all this safety is paramount. According to Association for Safe International Road Travel, nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day and an additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. The global epidemic of road crash fatalities and disabilities is gradually being recognized as a major public health concern.

Policy reforms                            

In times when new mobility options are coming up, cities must ensure that the traditional alternatives are given appropriate importance. Pedestrians, cyclists, and other street users shouldn’t be pushed away to make more space for private vehicles. For this, cities need to make redesigning of roads a priority. The concepts of multi modal transport and transit oriented development can be considered while making city development plan for solving problems related to urban mobility.

Technological innovations will be available with increasing frequency and these will help address urban mobility issues. In the meanwhile, we need to look for innovative, simple, non-technology driven solutions, too.

For example, why should all offices in one location work 9 to 5? Can some work 8 to 4 and yet others maybe 11 to 7? This could help de-bottleneck our streets to some extent and to relieve overcrowding in public transport. Again can offices have one day per week for each employee as work-from-home day? We also need many measures to make use of public transport more attractive (maybe free) and private mobility more unattractive (expensive parking for example). There is obviously need for multi-pronged actions on the urban mobility front if we are to save this planet and its inhabitants.

Transport and safety concerns are intertwined issues. If we are considering out of the box solutions like passenger drones, flying cars or self-driven cars, the issue of passenger safety should be the foremost priority.