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How IT can help transport move with the times

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Using tech, including data analysis, allows planners to create fully integrated transport system in super-sized cities

We are living in the age of the megacity. By 2025, the United Nations predicts that there will be 39 of these super-sized cities, and 22 will be in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

In Asean, close to two-thirds of the region's urban population are expected to reside in cities and urban centres by 2025.

A huge percentage of the 10-million-plus population of Asia's megacities is on the move, every day.

This puts a tremendous strain on commuters, city administrators, service providers and the infrastructure.

These challenges can be addressed through the application of technology, including the aggregation and analysis of travel-related data.

Combining physical infrastructure and assets with data allows for better planning and management of services, as the megacity continues to grow.

Megacity transport planners need to focus on bringing different parts of the transport system together - including rail, trams, bikes and walking - to create a fully integrated transport system.

Today's digital-driven, multimodal transport solutions can improve the capacity and fluidity of an existing asset through a number of different capabilities, such as:

- Advanced signalling systems that enable more trains for every hour on the same infrastructure to boost throughput

- Real-time train occupancy systems that inform passengers which coaches are less crowded

- Data and predictive maintenance, allowing a default to be identified before it occurs, reducing disruption to the transport service line

- Centralised operation control centres for incident reaction - with video analytics and data, the operator knows the precise situation of every line and in case of an incident, is able to trigger a response that is both rapid and coordinated.

One key challenge is to resolve the first mile/last mile trip elements. These are often missing links in established mobility chains, but in an integrated system, they can be overcome through, for example, bike sharing or on-demand shuttle buses.

These digital solutions make the transport system flow more smoothly, meaning trains are less crowded and arrive on time.

Digital technology can also work to remove many of the irritations and discomforts of the daily commute.

Passengers can be provided with real-time updates on traffic conditions and service interruptions, live estimation of journey time, and connectivity and Wi-Fi access throughout the journey.

And at the metro station, they can even benefit from visual aids to know the occupancy level of the arriving train, so they can judge where to stand on the platform, avoiding congestion and making passenger exchange smoother.

Having such a connected system allows operators to provide passengers with the options they need to make a decision when unexpected circumstances arise.

Passengers increasingly expect transport services to anticipate heightened traffic and suggest alternate routes via different available modes.

Providing such huge numbers of people with efficient and comfortable journeys can be achieved only through an integrated, digital-driven transport system.

The writer is senior vice-president of Asia-Pacific at Alstom, a promoter of sustainable mobility that develops and markets systems, equipment and services for the transport sector.