Which Cities Have the Smartest Transport?

Here's how San Francisco, Vienna, Tokyo, Barcelona and London, which have the smartest transportation, have transformed mobility and quality of life.

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Image of the S-Bahn and U-Bahn overlaid on the Vienna, Austria skyline
Illustration: © IoT For All

One of the smartest things a city can do to become more liveable and reduce its carbon footprint is to improve the accessibility and efficiency of transport.

With the cost of sensors falling and the speed of connections increasing, there’s so much that can be done to improve transport in a smart, connected city. From bus arrival predictions to information on how full your nearest bike sharing station is, connecting our cities improves the lives of citizens. Here we round up some of the most interesting innovations of connected cities and where in the world they’re being implemented.

As the world population grows and more of us move to cities, the challenge of how to manage a city in such a way that it’s liveable, enjoyable and easy to move around becomes more pressing. By utilizing Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the cities in this post have used smart city technology to improve the mobility and lives of their residents.

1. Vienna, Austria

Lots of people walk across a zebra crossing
image credit: Jacek Dylag

Vienna has been named the best city to live in the world for the ninth time. Its healthcare system, coffee houses and rich cultural life certainly play a part in its appeal. It also has smart, affordable public transport, allowing residents to get around this grand city easily.

Vienna has five subway lines, 28 tram routes and 128 bus routes. Vienna’s metro system transports 1.3 million passengers every single day and it’s the best performing public transport system in the world, according to the International Association of Public Transport. All of these services are easily navigable through the smartphone app ‘qaundo’ which updates users as to when the next tram, subway train or bus departs.

People wait on a metro platform as a train passes
image credit: Franz Spitaler

In Vienna, smart technology is also being used to improve public transport for citizens with special requirements. Along with multi-sensory guidance systems, information about the services at stations, including current out-of-order notices for elevators, there are custom designed routing planners for people with hearing and visual impairments.

In 2018, Vienna hosted the Transport Research Arena, the largest transport research and innovation conference in Europe. One of the main themes in 2018 was the way digitalization is affecting and changing transportation systems. This seems to be a very appropriate topic for a city that is striving to be smarter, more accessible, more sustainable, and even more livable.

2. Barcelona, Spain

A pedi cab at night in Barcelona
Image Credit: Idan Gil

Barcelona is often named one of the smartest cities in the world. Barcelona is a bustling city of over five million inhabitants (in the metropolitan area), visited by nearly nine million tourists in 2017. It needs to be smart to ensure that the city can operate smoothly. Over 390 million journeys a year are taken on its extensive and sophisticated metro.

In 2016, when Barcelona presented the main objectives of the 2017-2020 Barcelona Digital City Plan, Gerardo Pisarello, First Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, explained,”We are not renouncing what has been done but we want to go beyond that and surpass the smart city model to make Barcelona an open, fair, circular and democratic city with a more plural and diversified economy.”

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona
Image Credit: Danil Sorokin

As well as its efficient public transport, Barcelona has a network of smart traffic lights that, along with other things, provide “green light” routes for emergency services. This allows vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks to provide emergency assistance faster.

Barcelona has implemented a variety of schemes including interactive touch screen information displays at bus stops, smart parking sensors that allow a driver to check where there are free spaces (reducing the time spent cruising the streets searching for parking), the bike-sharing system Bicing and shared electric scooter rental. All these combine to make Barcelona a smart and liveable city and the perfect location for the Mobile World Congress.

3. Tokyo, Japan

People walking on a busy street in Tokyo with neon signs
image credit: Andre Benz

The capital of Japan is one of the largest cities in the world, with over 13 million residents (38 million if you count the whole urban area). It also hosts visitors from all over the world who remark on how efficient and easy it is to use its transport system. Japan’s famous bullet train, which can reach speeds of 375 mph, is seen as emblematic of this fast moving and modern country.

The Yamanote Line, a loop line around central Tokyo, is the world’s largest transport infrastructure and used by a phenomenal 34 million passengers a week. Performing maintenance on this railway line is challenging as trains run every two to three minutes from early in the morning until late at night. IoT technology is allowing the operators to move from an inefficient periodical maintenance system to a smart one.

A guard stands by a metro train
image credit: Victoriano Izquierdo

“Condition-Based Maintenance” uses IoT technology to collect and analyze data on the status of equipment. It helps to identify weaknesses, forecast failures and schedule repairs. Tokyo is using IoT to create a safe, reliable railway and reduce the need for maintenance closures.

Tokyo has a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 25 percent by the year 2020. Efficient, attractive public transport will play a role in achieving this aim. City planners will also be gearing up to show off the best of the city when they host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

4. London, United Kingdom

Aerial view of London and the river Thames
Image Credit: Benjamin Davies

London is home to the world’s oldest subway system. It’s also one of Europe’s largest and most populated cities and travel, particularly at peak times, can be slow and stressful. Many subway lines run at maximum capacity. Due to the exorbitant costs associated with building new underground infrastructure, London’s authorities are taking more creative approaches to the problem. Along with encouraging more people to cycle, they’re attempting to ensure the subway system works not harder but smarter.

After years of struggling to organize the complex maintenance needs of such a vast and sprawling subway system (it’s one of the biggest and busiest in the world), Transport for London (TfL) installed network-enabled sensors in CCTV camera systems, escalators, PA loudspeakers, air conditioning systems and subway tunnels. Their central control centers use the aggregated sensor data from these sensors to track equipment problems and to deploy maintenance teams. This saves money and decreases maintenance related delays.

A tube train passes a platform
image credit: Josh Wilburne

Transport for London revealed in 2017 that it was using the free WiFi it provides on the underground network to track passengers’ movements. TfL now knows not just the start and end point of people’s journey’s but how they moved between those two points. This will help them to plan a more efficient network, with faster journeys and a better experience for their passengers.

5. San Francisco, USA

The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset
image credit: Evgeny Tchebotarev

San Francisco has a well-deserved reputation as a forward-thinking and innovative city, which makes it an ideal location for using connected devices to make city transport smarter and more efficient.

One of their smart city projects is SFpark, which uses wireless sensors to detect parking-space occupancy in metered spaces. The city can then use this information to adjust parking prices. Darton Ito, director of innovation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), says, “The SFpark program was created to reduce the time people spent looking for parking, which could delay transit, block bicyclists and lead to more distracted driving. This was done by pricing parking at a rate to ensure that there would be availability within certain geographic areas and adjusting the rates so that they were never too low that the spaces are taken all the time or too high that there are a lot of empty spaces.”

A hill in San Fransisco with parked cars and pedestrians
image credit: Jakob Owens

SFpark has led to a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled in neighborhoods where the program was implemented, according to Paul Rose, chief spokesman for the SFMTA.

San Francisco has committed to a 10 percent decrease of the single occupancy vehicle trip by switching to transit, shared and active forms of transport modes. If they want to achieve this goal then using connected technology to improve their public transport system will be key. With several of the world’s largest technology companies on their doorstep this should be doable.

Whether you live in one of the world’s smartest cities, a designated “lighthouse city”, a “follower city” or somewhere that has yet to wake up to the possibilities a smart, connected city has to offer, we can all agree that, by harnessing the power of IoT, the cities above have improved the lives of their citizens.

Bicycle share station
image credit: Ankush Minda