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Smart mobility transforms cities in the Middle East

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GCC countries are adopting smart technologies to create sustainable cities. How can businesses be part of the massive opportunities this transformation brings?

As urban populations increase, so do problems such as pollution and the demand on resources. Smart cities are increasingly seen as a way to create urban ecosystems using digital technology to improve services and make cities more liveable, with solutions ranging from reducing traffic jams to better waste management.

By 2050, an estimated 80 percent of the world’s population, or 6.3 billion people, could be living in urban areas. This is a clear opportunity to develop green and resource-efficient cities of the future, creating urban infrastructure and services that are both resilient and sustainable.

The global smart cities market is forecast to nearly double to U.S.$873.7 billion by 2026 from U.S.$457 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.8 percent during the period, according to the UAE Ministry of Economy.1

The ministry also expects the smart building market to almost triple in value to U.S.$229.1 billion by 2026 compared to U.S.$82.6 billion in 2020, while the global mobility service market is forecast to soar to U.S.$40.1 billion by 2030 from a mere U.S.$3.3 billion in 2021.

In the smart building market, a growing need for various forms of green technology brings a lot of opportunities for companies such as solar installers, battery manufacturers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms that optimise energy usage as well as businesses that can find innovative ways to reuse water.

Companies able to connect smart mobility platforms into ecosystems as opposed to current standalone solutions are also going to benefit from the transformation drive.

These include mobility as a service (MaaS) offerings and parking management solutions extending to infotainment and connected car services, as well as EV charging infrastructure.

To be safe and effective, all smart mobility services also require real-time traffic information, HD mapping data, and low-latency navigation. By joining ecosystems, individual firms can unlock data generated and exchanged by partners to create better mobility experiences.

Reducing congestion with smart mobility

In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), governments are incorporating smart mobility into their urban planning to reduce traffic congestion, accidents and air pollution. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where populations have grown substantially over the last decade, are expected to invest nearly U.S.$50 billion in smart city projects through 2025, according to Frost & Sullivan.2

Overall, the transport sector is estimated to be responsible for up to 50 percent of particulate emissions in developing countries compared to about 30 percent in developed countries.3 This is largely due to the proliferation of diesel vehicles and low public transport use in developing countries.

In Dubai, public transport is used for 17.5 percent of daily trips. That proportion is halved in Riyadh and a mere 4.9 percent in Abu Dhabi, according to a study by Strategy&, part of the PwC network.4

An even smaller proportion of commuters uses public transport in other major GCC cities compared to big cities elsewhere in the world - 59 percent in New York, 33 percent in Tokyo and 37 percent in London.

By making vehicles and transportation infrastructure technology-enabled and data-informed, smart mobility has the potential to transform cities with solutions such as autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, adaptive traffic signals, micro-mobility such as e-bikes and even airborne taxis.

In a dense city with extensive transit, smart technologies could save the average commuter almost 15 minutes a day. In a developing city with more grueling commutes, the improvement might be 20 to 30 minutes every day, according to research by McKinsey & Company.5

Revolutionising transport in the UAE

Dubai kicked off its Smart Dubai initiative in 2014, focusing on the economy, environment, people, mobility, living and governance. The emirate aims to revolutionise city traffic by shifting 25 percent of transportation to autonomous modes by 2030.6

The strategy is expected to bring in revenues of AED22 billion (U.S.$6 billion) a year by slashing transportation costs, carbon emissions and accidents, and by boosting the productivity of individuals wasted daily in traffic.7

A projected 44 percent drop in transportation costs could lead to savings of up to AED900 million (U.S.$245 million) a year and reduce environmental pollution in the emirate by 12 percent.

In 2022, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and the newly opened Museum of the Future announced a partnership to showcase future mobility solutions from personal jet packs to self-driving cars.

In Abu Dhabi, Masdar City offers an environmentally friendly self-driving shuttle service. Abu Dhabi Airports has signed a memorandum of understanding with France’s French Groupe ADP to explore the potential of advanced air mobility, which uses electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft to move people and cargo.8

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi top the Middle East in rankings of current smart city applications, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).9

Saudi NEOM: world’s first zero-carbon region?

In Saudi Arabia, the NEOM smart megacity project has announced plans to develop the world’s most user-centric, environmentally friendly and technologically advanced land mobility ecosystem.

In addition to introducing a new model for urban sustainability powered by 100 percent renewable energy, NEOM aims to prioritise active, autonomous, electric, shared and smart mobility options.10

Shared autonomous and electric shuttles will provide on-demand urban passenger mobility, along with urban air mobility and a high-speed underground transit system. With no cars and no traditional roads, NEOM wants to become the world’s first zero-carbon region.

The project also plans to install a smart water distribution network which should cut water loss to under 3 percent, compared to between 30 and 60 percent in cities around the world where old infrastructure is prone to often-undetected leaks, according to NEOM.11

Smart mobility is also advancing elsewhere in the kingdom. In the capital Riyadh, an artificial intelligence-based adaptive signaling project is already underway as well as a multibillion-dollar public transit project with driverless trains.

Egypt’s smart cities

With a steadily growing population of over 109 million, Egypt plans to build 15 new fourth-generation cities in the coming years to provide residents with high-quality amenities and services, create investment and job opportunities and reduce pressure on existing cities.12

The fourth-generation cities are urban developments that integrate advanced infrastructure and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), helping to keep pace with climate change challenges.

Expected to house 6.5 million people, the new capital near Cairo is being developed as a smart city integrating infrastructure to monitor traffic, plus buildings which automatically identify the most effective ways to save resources.13

As urbanisation and consumption grow, environmental pressures multiply. Savvy investors are quickly realising that cities of the future will need to use smart technologies as a vital tool to help combat global warming and make increasingly crowded urban areas more liveable.

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