Praveen Jaiswal calls for viable solutions to the world’s urban transport woes

Cities are home to over half the world’s population. City dwellers are the heart of the global economy, accounting for over 80 percent of the world’s GDP. Roads, railways and other forms of transport are the arteries that nourish that heart; and when our arteries are clogged, the body suffers. Similarly, when the arteries of business are clogged, businesses, residents and cities suffer.

The movement of goods is an essential part of economic life where commercial vehicles account for a large share of traffic, and add to modern city woes of traffic congestion and pollution. A billion more people are projected to be living in cities by 2030, which implies there will be more vehicles on the roads, and heightened congestion and pollution.

City planners must identify approaches to reduce congestion and resultant pollution in advance. They need to devise policies that are location specific as each city is unique. Solutions that will work in Colombo might not be sustainable in Bangkok or Mumbai. But congestion and pollution can be reduced through solutions such as reducing the number of commercial vehicles on the road, improving efficiency and shifting delivery times.

The concept of urban consolidation centres (UCCs) must be optimised. UCCs are typically located in the outskirts of cities where deliveries are taken to, sorted and dispatched. Goods from multiple suppliers can be consolidated into fewer shipments, making it possible to optimise loads and truck sizes, thereby cutting down on the number of trips and vehicles required.

Night deliveries are an option that should be evaluated selectively. By opting for night deliveries, suppliers can use larger trucks on less congested roads – and cities would have less peak hour traffic and lower vehicle emissions.

The use of electric vehicle (EV) fleets should be made mandatory by law for transporting goods in cities. In the more distant future, drones could play a role in delivering small and low weight parcels in busy congested cities.

McKinsey expects up to 20 percent of urban commercial vehicles to be electrified by 2030. At that level, they would add about two percent to the global electricity demand. While the resulting increase in electricity demand may not be large, greater vehicle electrification could add to peak loads.

Power companies will also need to be able to respond to spikes in demand that could result from the simultaneous charging of EVs.

Approaches – both individually and in combination – can benefit urban economies, the environment and society. But for sectors such as retail, logistics, motoring and energy, changes in urban commercial transport will challenge existing revenue and operating models.

Improving the way people and goods move will require new technologies, business models and regulations. It will need new mindsets among businesses, governments and consumers, to imagine a future that is both different and better than the present.

The need for change is urgent. With more vehicles and people on the road, the time to start preparing is upon us. With extreme constraints on parking spaces and congestion, we’re witnessing growth in the e-commerce segment.

Many companies are already working to reduce delivery costs, the number of vehicles on the road, distances driven and vehicle related emissions. But government cooperation and intervention is required for them to succeed. Governments must adopt a holistic view; the success of approaches will depend on planning, infrastructure, regulatory direction and timely implementation.

Indeed, governments should develop a vision for a modern commercial mobility system, and create a framework that encourages early adoption of solutions and penalises those that damage urban life.

The private sector will need to collaborate with regulators as logistics will become a critical element in business models and supply chains. Automotive and technology companies will have to combine skills to create products that will define the future of urban commercial transport.

Both the private and public sectors must understand that the status quo is not sustainable and only bold action can change it.

There is no one top-down solution to urban sustainability – a plethora of bottom-up approaches are required instead. One of the strengths of cities is the initiative and inventiveness of their citizens. Seizing this opportunity requires critical rethinking, application of innovative non-market solutions and the active involvement of all concerned.

A ‘mass movement’ of sorts is the need of the hour.

The process towards creating sustainable cities commences with profound analyses of their past and present culture. It builds on an inclusive and holistic vision, applies integrated planning and transparent governance, and monitors implementation rigorously.

Even a large number of excellent but disconnected citizens doesn’t make for a well functioning whole.