By Mark Haddad and Gustave A Cordahi
Some of the themes of recent Smart City Expo Doha 2022 were digital technology and its connection to smart, sustainable mobility. These themes recognise the link between the need to change mobility patterns, the power of digital technology, and sustainability goals. Qatar, for example, is targeting a 25% drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Such a goal is attainable if countries like Qatar use a comprehensive action framework that changes the management of mobility and the urban landscape. The next focus will be when Qatar hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup with over 1mn fans in attendance, which will use the country’s smart, sustainable mobility.
Qatar, like other Middle East countries, relies on private cars for most commuter transport. It helps that it is relatively inexpensive to own a car in the country thanks to affordable fuel, cheap licences, and friendly policies for private vehicles. The indirect cost is pollution, congestion, poor air quality, road crashes, and the resulting economic burden. The International Energy Agency, for example, estimates that transport is responsible for roughly 25% of all urban carbon dioxide emissions.
Shifting from excessive use of private cars has broader economic and social benefits, along with obvious environmental gains. As countries rethink mobility and urban development, and invest in sustainable, smart transportation, traffic flows will improve – as will economic and energy efficiency. Roads will be safer, productivity can increase, and there can be less investment in roads that will induce more traffic flows instead of resolving congestion.
A comprehensive action framework of five elements will enable the shift to sustainable, smart mobility.
First, governments should make public transport systems central to the future of urban areas, with fleets accessible and all electric. Qatar already provides such transport because it has invested in a $36bn, high quality automated metro system in Doha. The country is also committed to zero emissions public transport by 2030. The aim is for 25% of the fleet to generate no emissions in time for the FIFA World Cup at the end of 2022 (which Qatar wants to be the first carbon-neutral in the tournament’s history).
Second, countries should replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric vehicles (EV). Qatar has already used electric buses as replacements on its Metro Gold Line during recent essential work. Recently, Mowasalat, which runs Qatar’s public transport, launched electric bus charging stations as part of its overall EV strategy, which includes the Ministry of Transport and Communications providing incentives for private car owners to buy EVs. The ministry also has a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Alfardan Automotive to install free EV charging points in the country, which also builds the case for EVs.
Third, countries should decrease private car journeys and make travel more efficient by encouraging shared mobility. Already multiple companies have shown that ride-hailing and ride-sharing is a viable business model leading to more efficient transport asset use. One regional example is Swvl, which recently went public on the Nasdaq. The company started in Cairo to provide bus-hailing. Now Dubai-based, Swvl also offers ride sharing, with operations in more than 20 countries.
Fourth, countries can incentivise soft mobility. That means making cities more walkable and providing micromobility like bike-sharing and e-scooters. Beyond being an active and healthy option, soft mobility can strengthen public transit as a viable alternative by overcoming the “first-mile” and “last-mile” connection challenges that lead people to favour private motorised transportation modes. Soft mobility is particularly useful during spectator events when many people need to move relatively small distances, such as between football stadiums and surrounding facilities.
Fifth, countries can rethink how they design urban areas to encourage less private car use. Urban layout can incorporate concepts like “complete streets” that support safer and smarter mobility for all user groups beyond unique reliance on private cars. Many urban areas are adopting “five minute” policies so that all public transport or major amenities are accessible with five minutes or less of walking.
Countries should underpin the comprehensive action framework with infrastructure, technology and other enablers. Advanced analytics and real-time data, for example, make it easier to comprehend traffic flows, route transport efficiently, and monitor emissions – making sustainable transport smart.
As part of this, the Qatar Mobility Innovations Center has signed an MoU with the California Mobility Center, a public-private partnership, to collaborate on the commercialisation of locally-produced mobility innovation. Similarly, there should be policies to spread the burden of the cost of the mobility transition. Governments can invest the money they receive from traffic enforcement, road tolls, and congestion fees to pay for sustainable, smart public transport.
The Smart City Expo Doha 2022 was an opportunity to explore these ideas. As Qatar prepares for the FIFA World Cup, now is the time to elaborate a comprehensive action framework and implement it.
Mark Haddad is partner, and Gustave A Cordahi is manager with Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network