What is smart transportation?

Every day, people encounter multiple obstacles while traveling to their intended destinations. Sitting in traffic, waiting for the bus to arrive 15 minutes later than scheduled, driving around for 30 minutes to find a parking spot—the modern world is full of inconveniences due to underlying inefficiencies in our transportation systems.

However, stalled cars and harried people waiting for public transportation aren’t just an individual nuisance. A less-than-optimal transportation infrastructure affects the economy, hastens environmental impact and lowers the overall quality of living. Making transportation work quicker and for more people keeps city planners up at night.

The good news is that new technologies and approaches to transportation management systems allow us to start addressing these inconveniences and make other downstream transportation improvements. The solution is smart transportation.

The rise of interconnected technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), electric vehicles, geolocation and mobile technology have made it possible to orchestrate how people and goods flow from one place to another, especially in densely-packed urban areas.

Several global cities, including London, Paris, Amsterdam and Rio De Janeiro, have invested in smart transportation as a key component of their smart-city initiatives. There are now universities that study smart transportation use cases (e.g., Carnegie Mellon, New York University, NJIT and many more). The whole world, it seems, is fixated on solving transportation issues and increasing mobility because it produces so many benefits for citizens and the economy.

The rise of smart cities

Many cities claim to be the first “smart city” in the world. While one can debate what exactly turns a mere city into a smart one, there’s no denying that the rise of the Internet and mobile technology has generated widespread interest in building the next generation of smart cities.

Every time a city improves upon its existing structures to incorporate more data-driven or connected technologies, it becomes more intelligent. Examples of smart-city enhancements beyond smart transportation include sensors to monitor air quality and temperature fluctuations, IoT technology in public buildings to conserve energy and data-driven waste pick-up management. But the crown jewel of any smart city is how smart transportation can revolutionize how cities operate and how people move within them.

A smart transportation overview

Also known as smart mobility, the rise of ubiquitous data collection and automation has led local governments to embrace smart transportation. It is made possible by the fact that virtually every citizen and commuter has a smartphone that can transmit and receive messages and data.

In addition, it’s never been easier and cheaper to create public Wi-Fi networks, creating many new opportunities for governments can implement smart transportation initiatives.

Smart transportation usually includes public-private partnerships that can positively affect several issues with transportation, such as pollution deriving from car emissions, congestion and the importance of public transportation to the needy and elderly.

Several smart transportation solutions have existed for some time—for example, a city department of transportation providing real-time arrival data of buses and trains, electronic toll collection, bike sharing, dynamic pricing on cars entering the city and public transportation smart cards. But several disparate technologies do not make an intelligent transportation system. It requires a comprehensive strategy and multiple smart technologies working in tandem.

Smart transportation helps better allocate resources so cities can do more with less and avoid unnecessary energy consumption and resource costs.

Cities and states prioritizing smart transportation provide a more inclusive and equitable living experience for all of their citizens.

Smart transportation benefits governments and citizens alike

The following are some examples of smart transportation and how they can benefit a city:


Every driver has had the experience of searching for parking for 30 minutes or more, convinced that every open spot is filled right before they get to it. It’s a vexing problem that has an obvious solution: adding sensors to parking spots. That way, drivers can find an open spot ahead of time and use their smartphones and/or dashboard consoles to go directly to the spot, instead of aimlessly wandering.

Intelligent transportation networks

Many local and national transportation departments are now broadcasting real-time mass transit schedule updates and maintenance interruptions through centralized control systems. Citizens and commuters can access this information on their smartphones, tablets and computers through applications, social media or browsers, but that should just be table stakes.

The next generation of smart transportation systems will be able to communicate when parts on trains or buses are likely to fail, allowing operators to take fleet vehicles out of service to fix them before they break down with passengers on board. Investing in transportation networks also includes the building of high-speed rails that can transport more people from destination to destination, ameliorating traffic and the environmental impact of individuals driving cars.

Better traffic management

Traffic congestion results from many separate issues, such as vehicle accidents, rigid traffic grids, poor weather, population growth and substandard infrastructure. While each has a fix (of varying levels of complexity), smart transportation can address them all:

  • Vehicle accidents: Connected vehicles with sensors can prevent accidents from occurring, often before the driver even knows something bad is about to happen.
  • Traffic control: Historically, traffic lights changed based on pre-determined time windows regardless of any unforeseen impacts. While the time windows for traffic signals to change may differ during different times of day (e.g., to account for rush hour on a busy street), they rarely change based on the specific flow of traffic. In the rare major metropolitan areas where traffic light times can change based on that data, it’s usually done manually by human intervention. The future of traffic management involves smart traffic lights connected to real-time traffic flow data that incorporates machine learning and artificial intelligence that can change lights at intersections based on thousands of variables.
  • Real-time information on road conditions and accidents: Like traffic, road conditions can create bottlenecks in travel patterns. While map applications accessible on smartphones increasingly provide real-time updates on traffic conditions, they’re often provided by citizen reporting. Public-private partnerships can boost this information by investing in vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology so that every car provides information automatically, identifying issues before they create traffic jams.

Smart public transportation

How many job seekers have lost out on the job of their dreams because of backed-up or stalled trains? How quickly do printed schedules on the bus stop become irrelevant every day? In every city, thousands to millions of people depend on public transportation daily; they are lifelines to the elderly, frontline workers and people with disabilities. It makes a world of difference when cities can connect those critical vehicles to a smart grid to ensure that citizens have real-time information about when bus services and other forms of public transit will pick them up and take them where they need to go.

Support for electric vehicles

Leaders who want to make their cities hospitable and attract electric car drivers must install electric charging stations in high-traffic areas, where drivers can stop for a bit and walk around or get some food while the car charges. Not only does that provide a service to the driver, but it also helps area businesses capture some new business. The important thing to remember about smart transportation is you’re also building for the future. While autonomous vehicles are not ready for mass deployment yet, many expect they will become a reality in the future. So any meaningful smart transportation plans have plans for future proofing as vehicle technologies expand how we can move around without human intervention.

IBM Maximo is helping advance the journey to smart transportation

Virtually every major city has incorporated some smart transportation technologies into their overall offering to citizens and commuters, but now is the time to establish a holistic smart transportation strategy that helps people get to their destination quicker, more safely and with less environmental impact. As the hybrid work movement enables more employees to work in a city of their choosing, the local governments that offer a truly smart city with a comprehensive smart transportation system will be able to attract more residents at the expense of those cities that fail to adapt.

The good news is that solutions now exist to help governments create a more comprehensive smart transportation framework that uses a full suite of solutions for operations, maintenance, monitoring, quality and reliability. IBM Maximo helps metro services serving 4.7 billion riders, 73% of the busiest airports and 75% of the largest automotive companies transform the intelligence of their systems to improve customer satisfaction and increase efficiency.

Learn more about transportation asset management with IBM Maximo Application Suite

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