Why au­to­ma­tion will have the big­gest im­pact on pub­lic trans­port

Au­to­ma­tion can op­ti­mise costs, ca­pac­ity, flex­i­bil­ity and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, says Fabrice Toulouse

Gulf Business - - CONTENTS - Fabrice Toulouse

WHEN UAE RES­I­DENTS and trans­porta­tion plan­ners think of the fu­ture of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, they tend to en­vis­age science fic­tion films, where pha­lanxes of cars whisk peo­ple along a con­nected Sheikh Zayed Road. But the likely fu­ture is quite dif­fer­ent.

Au­to­ma­tion is set to trans­form not only cars – among the least ef­fi­cient forms of ur­ban trans­port – but also shared trans­porta­tion, such as met­ros, trains, trams, and buses. In an in­creas­ingly ur­banised re­gion, high-ca­pac­ity, fast, and con­ve­nient rail­ways and buses will be es­sen­tial for ur­ban growth.

As au­to­ma­tion pro­gresses, the costs of sen­sors and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence are de­creas­ing, while the com­put­ing power of con­nected ve­hi­cles is in­creas­ing. As a re­sult, the UAE is at the fore­front of us­ing au­to­ma­tion to make mass tran­sit faster, cheaper, safer, and more en­ergy ef­fi­cient – es­pe­cially on met­ros and main­line trains in the short term, and buses and trams fur­ther ahead.

For ex­am­ple, the Dubai Metro is al­ready driver­less, and the UAE is pi­o­neer­ing the Dubai Au­ton­o­mous Trans­porta­tion Strat­egy aiming to make 25 per cent of all trips au­ton­o­mous by 2030. Au­to­mated trans­port was also a key topic at the re­cent MENA Trans­port Congress in Dubai, which was hosted by the UITP, the in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion for pub­lic trans­port.

Mak­ing met­ros and trains more ef­fec­tive

As the UAE fur­ther ur­banises, one might ex­pect that more peo­ple will sim­ply pile into cars to go to work. But car com­mut­ing is not sus­tain­able. Roads can be widened only so much, traf­fic con­ges­tion racks up bills for em­ploy­ers, and cars con­trib­ute sig­nif­i­cantly to pol­lu­tion.

With only lim­ited space on the roads, rail trans­port will in­evitably take on more promi­nence in the re­gion. Met­ros and main­line trains can trans­port the largest num­ber of peo­ple in the short­est amount of time.

In the Ara­bian Gulf ’s cities of the fu­ture, au­to­ma­tion of sig­nalling and trains could make its big­gest im­pact in en­hanc­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of met­ros and main­line trains. Met­ros can re­duce their head­way to below the in­dus­try stan­dard of 1 minute 30 sec­onds – ba­si­cally en­abling a con­tin­u­ous flow of trains that could op­ti­mise costs, en­ergy us­age, and most im­por­tantly ca­pac­ity for riders.

Fur­ther en­hanc­ing rail safety, Al­stom, France’s SNCF and Sys­temX are pi­lot­ing the Safe Au­ton­o­mous Land Trans­port pro­ject to pro­vide a proof of con­cept that can au­to­mate driver ob­ser­va­tion func­tions. UAE trains or trams could use in­for­ma­tion fed from sen­sors, radars, and li­dar cam­eras to help driv­ers dis­tin­guish road signs and pedes­tri­ans, recog­nise ob­jects on tracks.

As the UAE’s main­line rail net­work ex­pands, freight rail con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor part of the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth, con­nect­ing in­dus­trial sites and ports for in­te­grated multi-mo­dal trans­port. The UAE could ex­change best prac­tices from the Euro­pean freight cor­ri­dor, where ProRail and Rotterdam Rail Feed­ing are test­ing au­to­ma­tion to op­ti­mise costs, en­ergy con­sump­tion, and safety for the rail line con­nect­ing Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam Port in the Nether­lands, to Ger­many.

In ad­di­tion to train travel, sta­bling also presents a strong op­por­tu­nity for au­to­ma­tion in the UAE. In France, RATP’s T7 de­pot in Vitry-sur-Seine saw trams be­come au­ton­o­mous with sen­sors de­tect­ing ob­sta­cles and lo­cal­is­ing the train.

Laws and reg­u­la­tion needed for au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles

While it can be tempt­ing for the UAE’s ur­ban plan­ners to imag­ine their Smart Cities as play­grounds of mass tran­sit in­no­va­tions, the re­al­ity is that ef­fec­tive au­ton­o­mous mass tran­sit re­quires a com­plete sys­tem ap­proach, ma­ture and safe tech­nol­ogy and ro­bust reg­u­la­tion.

Across the UAE, the ecosys­tem of pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor trans­porta­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions and reg­u­la­tors, tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tors, aca­demic or­gan­i­sa­tions, and in­sur­ance com­pa­nies are in­creas­ingly com­ing to­gether to de­velop the rules and reg­u­la­tions that can bring to life the au­to­mated trans­porta­tion fu­ture in a safe and sus­tain­able man­ner.

Al­stom is sup­port­ing rail in­no­va­tion in the UAE by lead­ing the con­sor­tium on the Expo 2020 Line in Dubai, which will ef­fi­ciently and safely trans­port mil­lions of vis­i­tors to the Expo 2020 site.

Au­to­ma­tion can sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce traf­fic con­ges­tion, costs, and pol­lu­tion. It can in­crease travel speeds and rapidly boost the coun­try’s ur­ban eco­nomic growth. As the UAE ramps up its in­vest­ment in Smart Cities and Expo 2020 Dubai, gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions and the pri­vate sec­tor need to take the next six months to plan the fu­ture of trans­port.

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