The middle east, in spite of its immature transport infrastructure, is driving development initiatives in urban mobility. Global Management Consultancy experts Ralf Baron, Thomas Kurvella, Morsi Beruiga, Michael Zintel, Joseph Salem and Mario Kerbage explain how

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others, through the rapid population growth in the Middle East over the past few decades, have the potential to drive major development initiatives and become top global economic performers in record time. However, to do so, these countries need to catch up with standard urban development issues quickly. As leaders in rapid expansion and urbanisation, they have a full set of urban-growth challenges on their management agendas, including traffic congestion, transportation safety and security, public transport cost, high usage of private vehicles, and environmental considerations.

As another indication, Arthur D Little’s Urban Mobility Index 2.0 report, which analyses the maturity and performance of urban mobility systems around the world, revealed that Africa and the Middle East were the lowest-performing regions, with respective average point totals of 37.1 and 34.1 out of a possible 60. This may be compared with leading cities in Asia and Western Europe, which scored well above 50.

Government and public authorities in the Middle East have generally followed one of two models when looking for solutions to address these major transportation challenges.

Transition model
The initial approach decision-makers followed was to invest heavily in roads and public transport infrastructure, raising the transportation network’s capacity to absorb the greater demand. This ‘transition model’ is inspired by the evolution of transportation networks in the Western world, where it took more than a century to build, develop and maintain advanced public transport networks (metro, tramway).

While this approach solves short-term urgent issues, such as congestion, it also faces the risk of not being sustainable enough to address long-term difficulties. Addressing the challenge of congestion solely from the supply angle, through investments in traditional transport infrastructure, will not solve the long-term problems for two main reasons.

Firstly, given the very high (and continually increasing) growth rates on the demand side, expansion in infrastructure capacity will not be enough. For example, road capacity in Dubai increased by 36 per cent between 2006 and 2014, yet the number of registered cars in the country doubled in the same period – without including the large inflows of non-Dubai-registered cars entering and exiting the Emirate every day. The city has started to think about new out-of-the-box ideas to address the problem differently.

Secondly, this traditional approach ignores current trends in urban transportation, particularly around major technological and behavioral changes. Today, we can see clearly that the dominance of the private car as the main means of transportation is coming to an end. The sharing economy means services such as e-hailing and car sharing and the rise of digitally enabled transport modes are booming all over the world. Given the young, connected population in the Middle East, this is creating a greater shift in transport habits than in other geographies. For example, in Saudi Arabia, 50 per cent of the population is below 25, and 77 per cent owns a smartphone, driving a sharp increase in e-hailing usage – the local Uber service announced a month-to-month increase of 50 per cent in the number of trips taken in 2016.

Ecosystem model
A few advanced cities have taken different paths, trying new approaches to reinvent their transportation networks in order to respond to challenges. The key principles of these new approaches are to:

  • Develop a holistic view of the mobility model before the event
  • Integrate all available mobility modes seamlessly and holistically
  • Consider both supply and demand levers to reshape urban transportation
  • Effectively leverage innovative, new mobility modes (such as shared or autonomous transport)

Middle Eastern cities provide a favorable environment for this new mode for multiple reasons.

  • They do not have heavy legacy transport infrastructure to manage.
  • Infrastructure rollouts are faster and easier given the short decision-making process.
  • Most of these cities are undergoing ambitious transformation plans with the aim of increasing their attractiveness: an innovative urban transportation experience is seen as a strong lever for differentiation.

At this moment, we can see that the Ecosystem approach – usually implemented in a broader ‘smart-city context’ – is a true game changer leading to progressive urban development opportunities. The model opens the door to create true impact in a city:

  • Push public transport modes via integrated offerings, hence reducing congestion and carbon emissions.
  • Provide a seamless customer experience – search, book, pay – integrating mobility and other sectors.
  • Promote complementarity between transport modes, rather than competition.
  • Prepare the city to accommodate the future mobility modes.

Case study:
Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority
Dubai, through its Road and Transport Authority (RTA), has been the front-runner in developing an innovative mobility ecosystem, driven by integration. This aims to overcome the city’s growing transport challenges, including high congestion and transport-related fatalities and CO2 emissions. RTA has also been supporting Dubai’s vision to become the smartest and happiest city on earth, with mobility a cornerstone of achieving this. It has adopted a four-step approach to drive an integrated mobility sector.

1. Invest in infrastructure
To support Dubai’s Masterplan 2020 and the aggressive targets for Expo 2020, RTA recently redefined its infrastructural plan. Over $7 billion was allocated to develop roadway projects that cater to growing inland urban clusters. One imperative was set: ‘smartisation’ of the infrastructure to enable integration.

Accordingly, RTA has launched its Intelligent Transport roadmap to drive smart initiatives over the next three years. The key components of this are smart lighting, smart parking, traffic information, collection and storage of data in one place. All initiatives were designed to allow the integration of the mobility components with other verticals in the city. This contributes towards achieving seamlessly integrated services in daily life, a key pillar of the Smart Dubai Strategy.

2. Expand public transport
Dubai has set an objective that public transport should achieve a 20 per cent share of journeys by 2020, up from 14 per cent today. This translates into cutting congestion by 20 per cent and reducing transport CO2 emissions by 30 per cent . More than $2 billion was budgeted to expand public transport in Dubai over the next three years. Investments were underpinned by the addition of 15km of rail network, over 1,000km of new bus routes and 20 new marine-transport routes.

3. Promote integrated services
RTA has set integrated mobility as a key topic for 2017. This represented a major step, so was only taken once the infrastructure and public transport system were well established. It will allow RTA to smartise Dubai’s mobility sector while promoting the use of public transportation, thus tackling challenges related to congestion and CO2 emissions – where conventional solutions have limited impact.

4. Pioneer the future of mobility
Dubai is renowned as a leader in innovation, particularly around mobility. The city has set a target of 25 per cent of vehicles being autonomous by 2030. Accordingly, RTA, with the support of private players, is working to establish a hub that focuses on R&D in the autonomous-vehicles space, as well as signing an agreement with Tesla.

Other regions:
Learning from the Middle East
Set solid foundations on the supply side: This includes infrastructure investments as well as investments in new mobility modes. On the infrastructure side, Dubai is a role model in rapid decision-making, planning and deployment of big infrastructure initiatives.

Set awareness for the necessary shift in mobility demand: Public transport’s share of journeys is only 14.4 per cent in Dubai. This is very low compared to other major cities in Asia, Europe and the US (where it reaches 35–55 per cent ). One explanation for this might be climate related, but the major reason is the mindset of users. Historically, individual transport was the only possibility users had. Now Dubai is aiming to jump directly from an individual-centered mobility system to an integrated one.

Think of mobility as an integrated ecosystem: The set-up and optimisation of single mobility modes and infrastructure components is important. But Dubai understood at an early stage that the entire system could only be successful if single modes were networked and integrated in a system that solved a mobility challenge for the user: to go from A to B.

Be at the forefront of new mobility technologies: Dubai is continually searching for the latest new technologies. Innovation labs, international experts, panel discussions, fairs and visiting trips are all used to identify technologies that might move the mobility system forward.

The dramatic growth of urbanisation is a global trend. It puts tremendous stress on one of the core functions of an urban area – the mobility system. It is therefore worthwhile for any and every urban developer, technology provider and traveler to study how the new ecosystem approach is being applied. When it comes to mobility, we may see learning becoming truly bidirectional. Middle Eastern centers have followed the traditional European and American development path for quite some time. Now they are setting their own priorities. Cities in other parts of the world should observe and learn from their experiences.