Data driven: ICT innovations in transportation and beyond are changing the experience of daily life

While Dubai possesses some of the most state-of-the-art hardware in its transport sector, integrating these devices into a single, smart structure has a been a long-term occupation of sector planners. Encouraging innovation in the software element of transport has been a priority for the government for many years, with the Dubai Smart City project, the most recent manifestation of this strategy, first proposed in 2013. The project, aimed to be completed by 2018, led to the passage of the Dubai Open Data Law in 2015, which ensures increased information sharing between the government and the public.

This project – billed as the “third phase” of the emirate’s development, after initial modernisation, then expansion into completely new districts – involves utilities, education, government services, health and retail, as well as a range of other fields. Indeed, the strategy involves six key pillars and 100 different initiatives, with 1000 government services alone due to “go smart” by 2017.

Smart City

The concept begins with the apps used by the Roads Transport Authority (RTA). One of these gives users information that includes the location of their car when parked, the extent of any traffic fines they owe, information on the RTA’s services for the disabled, the total electronic road tolls (known as salik) paid, and the balance on the “smart cards” used to access public transport. The same app can also book a ride with Dubai Taxis, the emirate’s ubiquitous cab service. A special, dedicated app for this latter service, RTA Smart Taxi, is also available.

The smart city is also at work on the roads. By July 2015, all 408 of Dubai’s traffic lights had been connected via 3G technologies to the RTA’s traffic control centre. This enables the centre to control each light separately and respond to specific traffic conditions, halting or allowing flow as necessary. The technology should ease journey times, with the precise, real-time status of the traffic also visible on an app, which sends alerts to drivers to warn them of approaching congestion and accidents. A “smart parking” app then provides information on the availability of spaces in the emirate’s car parks, enabling users to save time and fuel while looking for parking.

Another idea currently being tested is “smart car” rental. Under that system, cars can be rented for a few hours via an app that directs the customer to public parking where the car can be collected and returned. Such schemes reduce the number of cars on the road while also increasing the use of public transport. In the same vein, smartphone technology firm Uber, which has previously targeted individual passengers for its taxi services in the UAE, is looking to expand its offer by introducing carpooling.

“Pool rides could see many cars taken off Dubai’s roads and reduce expenses for commuters,” Christopher Free, Uber’s general manager for the UAE and Qatar, told OBG. “This is a solution that can be enabled through technology, building in layers of safety and reliability for customers.”

Looking Ahead

The level of smart city integration in the emirate was already advanced enough for Dubai to be named “Smart City of the Year” at TMT’s MENA Awards in February 2015. Yet much more is still on the way. Within the smart city, these individual solutions are then linked together, while also being hooked up to other services and sectors. Residents will be able to access, through a single, seamless app, everything from when the next bus will arrive to whether their refrigerator needs re-stocking.

In terms of transport, technology is playing a growing role. The RTA has launched more than 170 smart services as part of a roll-out of traffic apps. One navigation app, Smart Drive, allows for the sharing of real-time traffic information and route advice in both Arabic and English. Smart Parking lets drivers pay online to park, while also providing useful information such as on the availability of parking spaces.