Challenges in Urban Mobility and How to Tackle Them

The mobility sector is moving far beyond the concept of one-off journeys to become an ecosystem composed of physical and digital infrastructures, solution providers, governments, policymakers and end-users.

No less than a dozen sectors are involved in this ecosystem, and companies are trying to reinvent themselves to fit within this new business model. McKinsey estimates that these global mobility networks or ecosystems will generate around $60 trillion in revenue by 2025.

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Present Challenges of Urban Mobility

Not since the invention of the internal combustion engine has the mobility sector faced such revolutionary changes. Because of advancements in technologies such as AI and its subsets, Big Data and platforms have paved the way for autonomous mobility and shared mobility, electric vehicles and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS).

These technologies and changes represent a tremendous potential for environment-friendly, safe, accessible and inclusive solutions in urban mobility.

Urban mobility challenges have always been the key driver of smart mobility. Growing traffic congestion, rise in pollution levels, increase in traffic accidents and related fatalities have made the need for safe and accessible modes of transportation crucial.

Additionally, current mobility options are not accessible to the differently-abled, nor do they provide equitable access to jobs, education or healthcare.


Studies from the UN and the World Bank have shown that:


  • On average, 154 hours per person are lost to traffic jams each year in the 20 most congested cities of the world.


  • 90% of the world’s urban population lives in an environment that fails to meet the WHO’s air-quality standards.


  • Over 1.3 million people die each year due to road traffic crashes.


  • By 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities.

Opportunities to Tackle Urban Mobility Challenges

Taking on the challenges present in urban mobility requires thoughtful collaborations between the public and private sectors.

For instance, the Boston Consulting Group carried out a one-year-long study in collaboration with the University of St. Gallen to test the effectiveness of embracing autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, and micro-mobility. By using data and predictive analytics, the study created a complex mobility simulation of more than 40 metropolitan areas worldwide.

The study revealed that by adopting greener options there’s an opportunity to:


  • Cut 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year in Los Angeles.


  • Save $1.6 billion annually in transportation costs in Berlin.


  • Free up 900 blocks worth of space used for parking in New York.


  • Prevent over 15,000 traffic accidents and 60% of road traffic fatalities per year in London.


  • Eliminate 20 hours per year on average from commuting time in Hong Kong.

But the study also made it clear that it wouldn’t be possible to pull off these feats without concerted efforts from both the private and public sectors. For example, if autonomous vehicles were just added instead of replacing the number of operating vehicles, they would only intensify gridlock or cannibalize funding for public-sector transit.

Public-Private Smart Mobility Strategy

For a public and private sector mobility strategy to work, it should integrate emerging technologies like AI, data analytics, blockchain and platforms.

The solutions need to be replicable but customized according to the needs and regulations of a particular locality.

And the strategy should account for factors such as population density, public transport options, and street network type while keeping in mind the wellbeing of the locals.

BCG points to some of the opportunities that exist right now:


  • By 2023, connected vehicles will account for 100% of the market: Automobile manufacturers should shift focus from hardware to software as cars operate more along the lines of smartphones, providing over-the-air connectivity, guidance and upgradability, and boosting productivity for travelers.


  • As autonomous cars become prevalent within the next 15 years, by 2035, about 10% of new cars will have high-driving (level 4) automation: Self-driving cars and robotaxis in shared, autonomous, electric vehicles and autonomous mobility on demand can help overcome pollution, parking and safety issues.


  • By 2035, shared mobility services will account for 15% of urban trips: Mobility as a service will help users to plan, book and pay for the best point-to-point travel across modes, which will also increase ride-pooling and ride-hailing apps, car-sharing and micro-mobility with e-scooters and bicycles.


  • Electric vehicles will account for 35% of all new car sales by 2035: EVs are gaining feasibility as solutions that can help cut down pollution. Growing investments in EVs have not only helped expand their range and increase their power but have reduced the cost of electric batteries and improved the charging infrastructures.

Deploying a smart mobility strategy requires vehicle manufacturers, smart mobility solution providers, city planners, policymakers and the government to work together to shape and implement solutions that are good for the environment and the people.

Sign up for MIT SA+P Smart Mobility: Reimagining the Future of Transportation Tech & Sustainable Cities to learn about emerging opportunities in smart mobility, where you fit in this new ecosystem and how you can help overcome urban mobility challenges.

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