Intelligent Transport’s Leaders’ Series: Brian Masson

Digitalisation is making tomorrow’s smart cities possible, and the advent of big data and the Internet of Things should render poor passenger experience a thing of the past. However, as Brian Masson, Director of Multi Modal Transport Solutions Ltd, warns, there can be no smart cities and no true advancement until our air quality is brought under strict control.

In your view, how central a pillar is clean air when it comes to the smart cities of the future?

Throughout the world, awareness levels of the effects of poor air quality caused by emissions from vehicles, ships, homes and industry have never been higher. Increased levels of bronchial complaints like asthma, lung cancer and bronchitis are now reaching epidemic proportions.

There is therefore no question that our cities must become cleaner. In certain areas of the world, like Scandinavia, significant progress has been made by restricting access to city centres for all but the cleanest vehicles and bikes. Hybrid taxis, gas/hybrid buses and trucks are now common place in cities like Copenhagen, Malmo, Gothenburg, Oslo and Helsinki.

Achieving smarter cities that are more efficient, cleaner and safer requires buy-in from all stakeholders. Health is one aspect that money alone cannot resolve; we must all work together and accept that we are all part of the problem, and be involved in the design of solutions that can improve air quality in our cities. Clean air must be the foundation upon which all actions regarding smart cities are built. Without clean air, our cities face an ever-declining fate. We all know the issues together we can transform our cities to be safe and healthy once again.

To what extent is good air quality a collaborative effort between vehicle operators, manufacturers and technology providers?

It is in the interest of all stakeholders to improve air quality in our cities. This is where smart city technologies such as air quality monitoring can provide data to measure the success of our actions. Our planning authorities have a role to play in the design of streets and infrastructure to reduce congestion and increase average speed to allow free flowing movement where required. Bus operators want to attract passengers onto vehicles that are safe, clean and efficient. Throughout the world, bus manufacturers are designing new vehicles using a wide range of fuels from bio diesel, Euro 6 diesel, hybrid diesel electric, full electric, gas, hydrogen fuel cell, trolley buses, etc.

Each city and PT operator faces its own unique set of challenges. It is important that technology providers work with other stakeholders to address the real needs at each site to maximise the use of resources and reduce the economic and environmental costs as quickly as possible. Data management will be a key element in the success of these initiatives, as all actions must be monitored and reported to allow further improvements to made in the future.

How important is research into alternative power, both now and in the years to come?

Research is key to the ongoing success of any product and service. For every challenge, there is an opportunity. Collaborative working between our research centres, universities, colleges, transport authorities, operators and vehicle manufacturers is essential.

Research programmes like ZeEUS (Zero Emission Urban Bus System), funded by the EU, bring manufacturers and operators throughout Europe together to work for a common cause. As battery performance improves and production volumes increase in clean vehicles, so should the cost and reliability improve and become more cost effective for operators to invest in.

In some parts of the world significant investment in wind and solar farms is enabling operators and authorities to have greater control of costs, ensuring a green supply of electricity to charge their vehicles. As new roofing systems like those being developed by Tesla and Ikea become more readily available, the attractiveness of investing in green energy and mobility solutions should become more attractive.

Climatic, geographic and economic conditions vary from area to area, however, and given the increased awareness of the issues we are facing in our cities, we should be more receptive to how they are managed. Some cities like Bristol are now using waste and looking at the possibility of recycling materials to power their vehicles. Investment in cycling in the Netherlands and Scandinavia shows great potential for the rest of the world, especially using electric bikes.

Multimodal solutions are the future. Each offer in the supply chain should be designed to provide an attractive, healthy, safe, affordable solution. This can be achieved through true partnership among all stakeholders and lead to an ever-increasing number of new ideas and technologies.