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10 Powerful Policies to Successful Smart Mobility

ImageAs part of a more interconnected world, our cities are playing an increasingly active role in the global economy. Whilst this urban growth is largely driven by economic development and the search for a better quality of life, the resulting success will dramatically change the scale and nature of our communities, and put a tremendous strain on the infrastructure that delivers vital services like transport, electricity, water, and communications. Already, ageing infrastructures in many cities around the world are at a breaking point with governments' budgets for major infrastructure projects under increasing pressure.

In transport, we have seen a shift in the thinking during the past 20 years on how to provide the infrastructure required to support our mobility needs. For example, instead of building additional road capacity, there is more reliance nowadays on using technologies to optimise the performance of existing infrastructure and sweating of assets. Examples of smart technologies which can allow us to make significant, positive impacts on the safety, efficiency and environmental performance of our transport networks already exist. Collectively known as Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), these technology-driven urban mobility systems are now widely recognised as a cost-effective solution for enabling smart transport infrastructure outcomes. Support for these technologies is expected to increase in future years given the limited budgets available to governments, and the increased awareness of the role of urban technologies in optimising asset performance.

Which nations are leading the way in smart mobility and what can we learn from them?

A number of studies which examined the promise of ITS (e.g. the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) study), have repeatedly identified three nations as global leaders in smart mobility: South Korea, Japan and Singapore

One thing that struck me the most when I visited these countries is how widespread their ITS technologies were, and the impact they had on the quality of life of people in terms of ease of travel, reduced congestion, and improved safety and reliability of transport services. These studies provide a unique insight into these countries' remarkable journeys in ITS and the factors which contributed to their success. Although non-policy factors such as geographical constraints, cultural and political issues played some role, it was ultimately their national ITS policies which made them successful in smart mobility innovations

What were the recurring ITS policy themes in these leading nations, and how can they be adopted by countries aspiring to become successful in ITS?


1. National ITS Vision. South Korea, Japan and Singapore have all demonstrated a national level commitment to ITS. From the outset, their governments articulated and owned a clear vision for ITS and linked it to national Information Technology policies and long-term strategies for improving road safety and the quality of life for their citizens. Governments in these countries also demonstrated strong leadership in convening relevant stakeholders and spearheading implementation of ITS

2. Commitment to Funding. As a percentage of GDP, South Korea and Japan each invested more than twice as much in ITS than the United States. Not surprisingly, this level of annual spending (around 0.016 percent of GDP) allowed South Korea to provide 100 percent coverage of ITS on all expressways (around 4,000 km), and 20 percent ITS coverage on national roads (2,500 km out of 13,000 km)

3. Partnership and Collaboration. The public and private sectors in these leading nations played an important role in co-developing platforms that enabled government, industry, academic and professional associations to collaborate on development of ITS at both local and national levels

4. Private Investment. The three leading countries were all successful at forging public private partnerships within their nations, and viewed their investments as creating a platform through which the private sector can develop value-added products and services

5. Planning for Deployment. A big portion of the  funding available to these countries was allocated to supporting ITS technology development, test-beds and proof of concept demonstrations as a precursor to wide-spread deployment. This approach also helped to inform and educate their citizens about the tangible benefits of smart technologies in transport

6. Standardisation. Leading countries developed national ITS architectures which provided the basis for interoperable ITS applications and assisted in the delivery of consistent, cohesive and cost-efficient services to citizens. For example, establishing common standards for electronic toll collection (ETC) in Japan encouraged high market penetration and uptake of on-board devices in more than 70 percent of vehicles. In Singapore, the single national standard of ETC also facilitated the implementation of a city-wide congestion charging scheme from early 1998

7. R&D and Education. The three leading nations recognised from early stages that ITS will not reach critical mass unless they commit to funding large-scale research and demonstration projects. For example, the 2025 ITS vision, announced by the Japanese Cabinet in June 2007, articulated policies on R&D and set a goal that: "By 2025, ITS will have been constructed that integrate vehicles, pedestrians, roads, and communities; and that have made traffic smoother, and almost eliminated all fatal traffic accidents"

8. Innovation and Competition. This policy principle recognises the role of the private sector in developing and making available to governments and citizens innovations and technologies to improve their lives. Examples include alignment between the transport and telecommunications industries, where ITS was recognised as being inseparable from wireless technologies (for cooperative mobility applications) and high speed networks (for video transmission)

9. Performance Based Transport Systems. Nations leading in ITS recognised the need to move from a political or jurisdiction-based system of allocating transport investment to one that uses performance and cost-benefit analysis as the basis for investment decisions. ITS promotes this principle by providing quality data needed to make sound performance-based investment decisions. This data can also be used by the private sector to provide value-added services

10. Recognise ITS as a 'Force Multiplier'. Decision makers must be informed to recognise the importance and high benefit-cost ratios provided by ITS. For example, benefit-cost ratios between 3:1 and 62:1 have been reported for various ITS. This is far above the traditional physical expansion of roads which has, on average, a benefit-cost ratio of 2.7:1. Also, the levels of capital investment in ITS are much smaller than investment in new roads enabling governments to extract more value from their constrained budgets and meet road user demand for better services with relatively small levels of expenditure

In summary, the policy principles highlighted in this article apply both to nations embarking on new smart infrastructure projects, as well as developed economies looking to make the most of existing assets. But to be successful, these systems must be viewed as part of a holistic sustainable mobility vision. To drive change, governments must also move beyond a project-by-project view, spur close coordination between government agencies, and provide clarity about effective engagement between the public and private sectors

What do you think? 

I invite you to join the conversation and share your insights.