Interview: Transformation in transport

PA Consulting is helping cities understand how new models of transport will change the sector

PA Consulting is working on some of the most innovative transport projects in the region, says Pavoni.
PA Consulting is working on some of the most innovative transport projects in the region, says Pavoni.

Transport is a core issue for every city, and one of the areas where new technology is expected to make an impact in many different ways. Defining strategies for transport projects, and understanding how innovations such as autonomous vehicles will change the sector, is a core activity for PA Consulting Services, and Francesco Pavoni, Head of MENA region, spoke to Smart Cities Arabia to discuss the future of transport in the GCC.

One of the company’s recent engagements is as an advisor to a PIF company that is launching city helicopter services for VVIPs in Saudi Arabia. The service will operate in major cities in the Kingdom, as a high-end alternative to taxi or limousine services. The service will also serve some of the emerging sectors in Saudi Arabia, such as culture and sporting events that are coming up on the Red Sea Coast.

Pavoni said that much of the work done in enabling helicopter services may have an impact on the launch of autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) services in future.

“In itself, there is nothing innovative [about helicopter services], it is innovative in the sense that it shows that one day we will have the Uber of the skies, through rotorcraft,” he said.

PA Consulting has done a lot of work in enabling these new systems, which includes not just understanding the technology involved, but also the governance implications of helicopter taxis, regulation from the respective Civil Aviation Authority, and developing the operational model. While self-flying taxis are some way off, he noted, the expansion of helicopter services could have implications across other verticals.

Ground-based autonomous vehicles (AV), like their aerial counterparts, also face a number of obstacles to adoption, Pavoni added. At present, the technology itself is not mature in all aspects, which is one issue. The company recently conducted research into the readiness of the UK for AVs, and found that alongside the technology itself, which faces a number of issues before it will be ready, there are a number of other areas which also need consideration.

The report highlighted the need to consider regulations to govern AVs, including compliance and enforcement of regulations; provisions for vehicle insurance; and possible changes to road infrastructure as potential barriers to adoption — not to mention the need to convince car owners that driverless is a better option.

Pavoni said: “The UK is one of the most advanced markets... the result [of the research] is that it will take lots of time, the technology needs to be developed, tested, made reliable, made safe and so on.”

While AVs may be a way off, PA Consulting has recently contributed to a major project with Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority, which Pavoni says makes Dubai a world leader, namely the integration of the control rooms for each of Dubai’s transport modes into an integrated command centre.

The project has created a single unified centre to manage all transport across the Emirate, which will be particularly important once Expo2020 launches.

“By 2020, by the time the Expo starts, the city will have an integrated command centre, one room that will monitor transport in Dubai, which will enable smooth transport around Dubai and the Expo site, to manage all the orchestration and to make the whole journey easier,” he said.

Managing transportation for Expo2020 will be no small task, Pavoni added. Even in terms of school visits alone, the site will host thousands of visitors each day, with the need to coordinate across bus operators, schools, the Expo site, traffic management and so on. A ‘single cockpit’ will enable coordination across all different elements, and will also help enable financial benefits and savings through efficiencies in transport.

“If we compare where Dubai stands today, compared to other single control rooms in the world, for mega events in the last five years, Dubai would definitely be the most advanced, technologically-enabled platform,” he said.

“The concept of integration is very important — integration means enhanced control, enhanced steering and decision-making, that is the strategy behind integration.”

Another aspect to creating advanced monitoring and command and control of transport modes, is the amount of data that can be collected, and the benefit that can then be extracted from that data, Pavoni added, and applied to many different aspects of transport planning and management in future.

Managing the integrated transport network requires connectivity, sensors and so on, he explained: “These are all IT systems, that will incorporate millions of data points every day — number of accidents, number of cars, road surface — which will basically enable data analytic around the whole system.

“This will be very useful for many different things, accident prevention and management, cost savings — if I can monitor how many cars are passing and hitting the asphalt every day in a certain part of the city, I can plan in advance when this asphalt will have to be replaced, and this will have an impact on the cost.”

PA Consulting is part of the Partner Advisory Board for Virgin Hyperloop One.

PA Consulting is also involved in one of the most advanced transport projects planned anywhere in the world, the Virgin Hyperloop One project. The company is on the Partner Advisory Board for Virgin Hyperloop One, and has advised on software and systems for the project, as well as on the commercial realisation and bringing Hyperloop to reality.

While Pavoni said it is too early to predict when we might see an operational Hyperloop in the region, or many of the other advances in technology, he noted that the pace of change is accelerating.

“Two years ago there was no artificial intelligence on the cover of publications — there has definitely been an acceleration and a shift, and there will be a faster acceleration in future.” 

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