OPINION: Transport infrastructure in the smarter cities of tomorrow


Patrick Doherty, Head of Emerging Verticals at Elavon Europe, explores how technology will transform our journeys and the challenges and opportunities on the road ahead

At a bare minimum, consumers expect to be able to arrive anywhere in the world and find the transit experience to be simple, accessible, and unlocked using the tools that we already have in our pockets. Expectations are set to go beyond this as easier access to information, to travel updates, to the cheapest fare options and to seamless payments, wherever we are, become the norm.

Most operators already offer major cross-border scheme acceptance with contactless EMV transactions, made by cards and mobile devices, enabling, and leading the change. In 2020, Visa was involved in more than 500 contactless transit projects across Europe, clearly demonstrating the consumer demand and operator desire to use cards and devices to transform the way we travel.

What lies ahead is a smarter future, requiring infrastructure capable of accommodating a seamless experience across all our devices and networks. For example, we can expect apps to work collaboratively to automate more decisions, such as a notification of traffic congestion leading to the automatic rescheduling of personal appointments or professional meetings.

Shared and connected modes of transport

Mobility hubs are another area set to evolve, offering safe and accessible spaces where public, shared and connected modes of transport are available for the benefit of all. These hubs would encourage the use of shared transport such as bikes and e-scooters, as well as demand response bus services. These will improve the overall flow of traffic through towns and cities, while reclaiming space from cars at a time of rising fuel prices.

A mobility hub will often have several different transport options near each other, allowing users to switch between travel modes with ease. We expect to see these hubs evolve in line with increasing use of connected devices, allowing users to track traffic volumes and plan their journeys with increasing efficiency. Payment methods will need to be convenient and secure, allowing users to switch between these services and modes of transport quickly and with ease.

Every day, millions of commuters choose to pay in real-time using contactless technology. They don’t want to carry cash, be in a queue, or to have their journey interrupted by buying tickets. Operators who prioritize electronic payments gain access to valuable insight about the way we travel. Having this behavioral data in real-time can help with scheduling and capacity planning or help direct users towards the best, safest journey. Mobile payments can also be vehicles for loyalty and uniquely targeted offers, using behavioral and transactional data to predict patterns and target consumers.

The need for a new regulatory framework

Data-driven solutions are already integral to the choices we make in our everyday lives, impacting the ways in which we work, travel, eat, shop and play. As technology use has accelerated, regulations to protect consumer data have had to keep pace. As we edge closer to the future of smart cities, our transport infrastructure will need to keep pace too.

An increased demand for connectivity and convenience across our smart devices and transport networks would require a central hub to combine the transfer of data, or new regulations to ensure that data is moved between services and service providers securely. Understanding who owns and manages the hub will be crucial to ensure they are safe and secure to use by consumers and, importantly, who is accountable for fixing any problems if something goes wrong.

One of the leading concerns will be how this data is managed, stored, and used. The existing General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will underpin the framework of data-specific standards, but what’s not yet mapped out is how regulations will expand and embed into the infrastructure around the services involved across the chain.

Opportunities on the road ahead

Despite the challenges, advances in technology will bring enormous opportunity. Data from our smart devices could be used to regulate the flow of people through a city, with information on available parking spaces and train seats, and the level of foot traffic on a commercial street. Initially we may experience an increase in traffic as we form patterns and working schedules, however, this will slowly ease as more data is collected and processed.

As we look ahead to a smarter future, transport infrastructure will need to continue developing to meet increasing consumer demands for convenience, connectivity and security and payments will be at the heart of this tightly integrated network.

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