How Mobility Apps are Transforming the Urban Transportation in India

In India, public transport, motorcycles, rickshaws and private cars have been the primary modes of transport. However, in the last few years, due to a major growth in the average mobile app usage, there is an upsurge in taxi and rickshaw-hailing apps. The growth is mainly driven by the increased use of smartphones and this is changing the way smartphone users’ travel within the cities, but the main question is – will this growth in mobility apps redefine the urban transportation landscape in India?

Mobility challenges faced by India

Like any other country, India is also facing various mobility challenges such as significant rise in urbanization, traffic congestion, fuel prices, pollution, road accidents and health issues. Public transport has not been able to cope with the increased travel demand – buses and trains are overcrowded and these public transit services have reduced the productivity of commuters as they spend hours stuck in the traffic. In most cities, public transit is unreliable and inaccessible making traveling an unpleasant and inconvenient experience.

Due to this, despite the heavy traffic, most Indians prefer to drive. Moreover, the tremendous shift from a lower to middle-class as a result of strong economic success, along with rising salary scales, banking systems liberalizing and aggressively marketed bank loans, the number of cars being sold per year has gone up exponentially.

Attracting this group of people to use public transport and other ride-hailing and carpooling services that are gaining popularity in India, even though it makes the most sense is very difficult. In the last five years, it seems like – the attitude, especially of urban commuters is changing. This is mainly due to the mobility challenges faced by Indians and the emergence of mobility apps like taxi and rickshaw-hailing services.

The increased usage of mobile apps

The average mobile app usage has grown exponentially by around 130 percent. This growth is mainly driven by the increased use of smartphones coupled with low mobile tariffs and mobile internet.

According to a report published by The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and KPMG, by 2017, the number of mobile internet users is expected to rise to 314 million – India has the second largest internet user base in the world. The growth is not only evident in urban areas, but also in rural parts of India.

Taxi-hailing services in India

In the last five years, the taxi-app sector has gained huge popularity owing to the many start-ups (international and domestic) that have entered the Indian market. In earlier days, people had to call service providers or thrust out their hand on the street to hail a cab, but now with mobile apps, one can book a cab at the touch of a button.

Bengaluru-based online cab aggregator started their operations in 2010 and they have been the market leaders in the Indian taxi-app market with around 80 percent in market shares. They provide different services from economic to luxury travel and have around 350,000 vehicles on their platform from regular taxis, high-end vehicles to rickshaws.

In order to stay ahead in the game, they recently introduced a carpooling service that allows customers to share their journeys with others and they also have an option that match customers with people from their own social groups (colleagues, friends and relatives can come together to share rides). A user has the possibility to join multiple groups or can simply choose to share a ride with anyone.

They also cater to the business sector through their corporate service. This service allows employees to directly bill the employer rather than going through the re-imbursement process and all a user has to do is choose “corporate ride” on the app. They recently acquired another Bengaluru-based taxi aggregator company and now provide a facility to book a cab by phone, through the website and via the mobile app.

One of the American international transportation network companies existing since 2009 entered the Indian market two years ago. They offer more or less the same services as that of the Bengaluru-based start-up. However, they have encountered some legal and safety issues, especially after the rape incident in New Delhi. Recently, they suspended their on-demand rickshaw-hailing service in Delhi in order to solve some specific problems.

After months of legal battles over rising concerns for the safety of women passengers, the Indian government has drafted new rules to regulate web-based ride-hailing firms.

According to the six page advisory, companies should provide round-the-clock call centers, taxis should follow emission norms, an extensive background checks of drivers is required and all vehicles should be equipped with emergency safety buttons and in-app features that will allow passengers to make calls to the police.

Rickshaw-hailing services in India

Mobile apps are not only improving the taxi services, but also Indian rickshaws. India is the only country where taxi-hailing apps can be used to summon rickshaws as well.

Rickshaws have been a major means of transport to get around within cities (mainly short distances) – accounting for around 20 percent of the motorized trips in some major metropolitan cities. Unlike any other transportation mode, rickshaws also face certain challenges such as reliability, accessibility, their inability to identify supply and demand in real-time and they have no predefined and clear pricing structure.

The recent advancements in rickshaw-hailing apps seems to be solving these pressing issues. A Pune-based start-up has built the world’s first three-wheel-ride aggregator which relies on GPS, smartphones and basic technology that can run on regular phones. Customers can request a ride through their website, an app or the traditional way, by calling their call center. They have provided more than half-a-million rides to middle-class commuters and this was possible only because of their low-fares, convenience and comfort.

There are various other players in the rickshaw-hailing market. Rickshaw-hailing services not only provide benefits to commuters such as fair pricing, reliability and accessibility, but also to drivers – they have the possibility to improve their earnings and reduce idle time.

As people are becoming more smartphone-dependent to plan their daily commute, there is an opportunity for the Indian government and other privately-operated companies to improve the daily commuting experience. There are various private authorities, who are initiating and spreading the benefits of such services. With the aid from government and other organizations, there is a distinct possibility that ride-hailing schemes can have a strong foothold in India.

Do you use your smartphone to plan your daily commute? If so, what kind of mobility apps do you use? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Talking Traffic Lights to Help Improve Traffic Flow and Safety in Cities

Driving is fun, but not when stuck in traffic or spending more time waiting at traffic lights. With a new device that is being tested in the city of Newcastle, there is no need to stop at traffic lights anymore as it allows motorists to turn red traffic lights to green – the first step towards a fully automated transportation system.

According to a study conducted by an in-car data company, British drivers spend up to three days a year stuck in traffic and the United Kingdom ranks 5th in Europe for time wasted in traffic jams.

In an effort to help motorists drive more efficiently, to improve traffic flow and safety and reduce congestion and pollution, developers from Newcastle University in collaboration with Newcastle City Council, North East Ambulance Service and other global partners are developing a new technology that establishes a direct link between driver’s communication system and the city’s Urban Traffic Management Control (UTMC).

Contributing to a smart city of the future

This pilot project will play a key role in developing Newcastle as a smart city of the future. The main aim of this pilot project is to show how providing personalized information to drivers can significantly improve the driving experience and the conditions on roads.

The technology allows traffic lights to “talk” directly to motorists to let them know at what speed to travel, so they can pass through a series of green lights, thus helping to cut congestion and increase fuel efficiency. For example, the device advises drivers that if they travel at a speed of 24 mph, the next four sets of traffic lights will be on green.

The NHS (National Health Service) vehicles transport patients to hospital for treatment and in many instances, there are delays due to traffic jams. In the first pilot phase, devices will be fitted on to the North East Ambulance Service vehicles, giving these vehicles priority at traffic lights, thus helping to cut vehicle response time, improving journey times for patients, reducing fuel bills and improving patient’s care.

Together with the priority feature, the team is also implementing various other features like a Forward Collison Warning, which warns drivers of obstacles on the road such as accidents, constructions etc. and a Red Light Violation Warning tells the driver when someone ahead has jumped a red light.

During this pilot phase, 20 traffic signals are fitted with these units on the key junctions around the city centre and 14 vehicles have been equipped with priority technology. Phil Blythe, professor of Intelligent Transport Systems at Newcastle University stated that “this is the first step towards driverless cars. If we can manage the traffic flow better and get vehicles to “talk” to the infrastructure (for example, traffic lights, message boards etc.) and each other – this could be a big step towards an automated transportation system”.

Leave a comment: What do you think about this concept? Do you think this technology will help to reduce traffic congestion?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Will Smartphone Apps Replace Traditional Car Keys?

Smartphones have not only changed the way people lead their lives, but also have changed the way people drive around, helping them to improve their driving experience – from displaying navigation to finding parking spots. In the near future, the advances in mobile technology will replace conventional car keys. Will they just be used to lock and unlock the car door or are there more possibilities when keys are digital?

According to a report published by a non-for-profit organization, more than four million people locked themselves out of their cars in 2012 alone. This could be one of the reasons why many auto manufacturers are experimenting with virtual car keys – not just to lock and unlock the car door, but also to perform other functions like starting the engine, turning on the heat, or monitoring the battery.

For example, just like humans, cars are also affected by weather conditions. Say the car is parked in the sun – after a few hours, when the driver enters the car, it is often too hot inside and usually it takes a while to cool down, and vice versa.

With a new mobile app, now there is a possibility to not only lock and unlock the car door, but also to turn on the air-conditioner or the heat before getting into the car.

Concerns associated with virtual car keys

Despite the advances it will be a while before mobile apps completely replace traditional car keys, because there are many concerns associated with virtual car keys such as slow network, dead phone battery as well as security and privacy issues.

Currently, these apps are increasing the complexity of operating a vehicle. For example, in one of the apps developed by an automaker, the driver needs to open the app, enter a pin to start the car or unlock the doors.

With the slow network traffic, it could take a while to use the unlock command and when there is no data signal available to send an unlocking or ignition command to the car, the driver will be stranded. Another difficulty is: what happens when the car is sold? How will the app transfer car activation capabilities to a new owner?

A third major concern is the cost. Who will pay for the data that will be needed to transfer from the smartphone to the car? Probably, the driver, maybe through monthly data subscription plans.

Experts warn the possibility of smartphones getting hacked, which in turn makes the car an easy target for thieves. Hence, if auto makers and software developers have to convince customers that smartphone is a better choice when compared to the traditional key, then they have to make sure to solve safety and privacy related issues.

The future of keyless technologies

Future keyless technologies would eventually store driver’s information within the system, so when the driver enters the car, the in-car environment is automatically set as per the driver’s preferences such as seating position, mirror adjustments, favorite music, locations etc. Furthermore, this information can be transferred across other vehicles for example rented cars.

The technology could work in-line with the smartphone. For example, if a phone can track a driver’s location, then if the driver is interested, the keyless technology could provide more information about the location and possibilities of what he/she can do around that location.

Some auto manufacturers are working on a feature that allows groceries and packages to be delivered to the car trunk. Keyless technology would allow the delivery man to place the package in the trunk and the owners would be notified for each entry via their smartphone.

A Toronto-based start-up company is working on a key free technology – a small device is installed into the car and it communicates via Bluetooth with an application downloaded onto a smartphone. Together with locking and unlocking the car door, it allows drivers to share their keys. For example, parents can share their car keys with kids and put restrictions on the time so that they have to be home by a certain hour.

To sum things up, in the near future, smartphone keys or digital keys will possibly offer more than what today’s conventional keys offer.

What other features would you like to have in your virtual car keys? Share your ideas in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Drone Ambulance to Help Speed Up Emergency Operations

In recent times, drones have been tested and explored only in consumer applications, for example delivering small-sized goods. Some start-up companies have been experimenting on various ideas to expand drone applications in the healthcare sector to help solve other problems like handling emergency situations or to provide faster treatment services during traffic accidents.

There have been many instances where critical patients wait too long for ambulances to arrive – one of the causes could be traffic delays. According to figures revealed by NHS England, more than 3, 800 patients waited more than eight minutes for paramedics to arrive – experts warn that this is putting patients’ lives at risk. In the United States, it is estimated that around 1,000 saveable lives are lost every year due to slow emergency response time.

Solutions to improve ambulance response time

One of the product design firms from Austin, Texas, is building a prototype called “drone ambulance” that can fly above traffic avoiding road obstacles and can arrive faster than a normal ambulance.

These one-person drone ambulances are very compact and small in size and can easily land on the street. It is modelled after a standard quadcopter and could be dispatched to an emergency scene with a single EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). As it does not need a pilot, it can depart and land immediately. The EMT attends the patient, loads him/her into the drone and sends him/her back to the hospital for further treatment.

A Belgian student is building another prototype called “airborne medical kit” that can be flown to the emergency scene without worrying about traffic conditions. These drones are folded up when flying and arrives at the emergency scene as a toolbox. It can travel at speeds up to 100 km/h (60 mph). These drones have the possibility to reach the location within one minute – which increases the chance of survival from 8 to 80 percent.

These are just the beginning of technological innovations and in the future, drones could improve the accessibility to healthcare.

Leave a comment: What do you think of these drone concepts? Do you think they can really save more lives?

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Smarter Cities in 2060 to Improve the Quality of Life

Currently, cities are facing many challenges such as urban sprawl, traffic congestion and safety, transportation accessibility etc., but digital technologies and new mobility innovations are allowing cities to streamline their city infrastructure and the transportation landscape. If cities continue to explore and implement more innovations, future smart cities should be able to offer their citizens a better quality of life.

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach nine billion people – 70 percent of whom will be urbanites. This rapid growth in urban population will have a significant impact on energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. Will the city of future be able to find solutions to resolve these issues? Will they be able to provide an ever increasing quality of life with no emissions and gridlocks?

What will the future smart city look like?

Currently, cities are crowded with people, cars and buildings, but, in the city of the future, cars will not run on traditional combustion engines; instead they will be replaced by eco-friendly fuels. Arterial roads will go underground, thus making it possible to create new urban parks and many public spaces.

With Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications, cars will be talking to each other and with the infrastructure to cut down on congestion and improve safety, thus lowering the accident rates.

Aerial photography will be used to identify the spots where energy is being wasted. Special technologies will be used to capture CO2 from the air and convert it into fuel and building façades will be used as an energy source. Researchers are already working on façade components that respond autonomously to sunlight and its thermal energy.

Buildings will act as energy suppliers where solar panels and wind power systems will convert buildings into sources of electricity. For example, while employees are on a lunch break, a glance at the smartphone app tells them that building’s energy is fully charged and it is the ideal time to get back to work.

As people are more connected than ever, they do more or less all their day-to-day activities and office work from home. However, while this might have a positive impact on congestion – they are increasingly becoming lonely and unhappy.

In the future city there will be more demand for holographic studios allowing people to sit in a real café or work out in a gym while meeting other people in virtual space who are doing the same activity. Sensors at the entrance will determine who is authorized to enter a building based on the person’s gait and weight.

To sum things up, future smart cities will be more like larger urban villages and with the help of new technologies, cities will be able to prevent urban sprawl and all the associated problems, thus making cities more sustainable.

How can we make cities more attractive and sustainable? Share your ideas in our comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.