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EMT: ‘smart’ urban transportation for Madrid

Typography

Cities have recently been singled out as being responsible for three quarters of the total global energy consumption and for 80% of CO2 emissions. This means cities stand out, without the slightest doubt, as the biggest environmental policy challenge to be tackled.

It is not surprising for cities to be undertaking a revolution in their infrastructure to match the development of their energy platforms to the emergence of smarter urban transport systems. In the present article (the first one of a series) the facts and challenges faced by the Empresa Municipal de Transporte de Madrid (EMT; “Municipal Transport Company in Madrid”) are analyzed.


1.- Introduction

To many people, the ambitious, overall view of a smart city may only be considered Utopian, as smart cities are depicted as ultra-efficient urban centers that will be ideally managed through real-time analysis of thousands of millions of independent data. This will lead to (among other achievements) the creation of integrated public transport networks that will substantially reduce the time used for transport in the cities, as well as traffic jams. In turn, this would free up quality lifetime for citizens at no cost. If -beside all the aforementioned- Smart Cities are also expected to be Green Cities, real-life seems to give way to a fantasy, science-fiction world. As opposed to this view, there is a less utopian, more down-to-earth one: air pollution has reached alarming levels in major cities in Asia, South America and Africa. There is no need to go that far: the levels of air pollution and poor air quality in Madrid and Barcelona are alarming enough to foster immediate action.

In fact, we are not so far from making the dream of smart, green urban transport come true. New, clean technologies we wish to use in our cities may be introduced in the framework of a comprehensive, smart strategy focused on IT-based instruments. In the particular case of transport systems, having electric vehicles (that safeguard air quality and reduce consumption of non-renewable energies) move around in our streets is only to be achieved if citizens and local governments join forces in terms of information flows generated by both of them simultaneously. The key lies in the development of joint, comprehensive actions on the new means of transport and on information treatment systems.

As for new devices, an ever-growing wealth of empirical evidence is being gathered on their achievements in terms of improving air quality and reducing CO2 emissions in urban areas. They may communicate with each other and with their users through their integration with environmental sensors, electric vehicles, modern networks of computerized management of public transport, in situ generation of renewable energies and systems for saving and recovering energy. We are mainly talking about information management systems, as well as new vehicles and new communication technologies moving along together in the same direction, as we mentioned before. Thus, using vehicles in a more productive manner may bring forward an equal or even better access to public services, and the number of hours spent on driving may be reduced by 46-84%. Fortunately, we are able to exchange more information on our consumption habits, which makes it possible to expand and strengthen our mobility options.

In the present article we want to tell the magazine readers about a particular example: the way started by the municipal transport company in Madrid (EMT). First of all, we will place the company in the regulation frameworks in which its actions are to be developed, and later we will move on to a brief description of the technological developments that were recently included in the buses in order to reduce their environmental footprint. After that, we will introduce several examples of smart sensors currently in use to improve the connection between citizens, EMT and the City Council. Proper use of the aforementioned smart sensors will help EMT become the Smart transport company the city of Madrid wishes to have.

 

2. A regulational framework to provide urban passenger transport with intelligence

70% of the people in Europe live in cities, where 80% of the European Union GDP is generated. Cities are affected by internal mobility issues: mobility is still inefficient because it largely depends on private means of transport. Therefore, evolution towards sustainable mobility is moving at a slow pace. EU is working hard at the creation and development of the proper conditions to foster sustainable mobility, as it may be seen in the “series of measures for Urban Mobility” introduced in December 2013. Previously, the Urban Mobility Observatory had been created in the framework of the Urban Mobility Action Plan in 2009. The ELTIS virtual platform was created to discuss subjects, exchange information and provide access to several contents. The URBACT project stands out along with the aforementioned one, and it works in a similar manner in the exchange of good practices in the framework of sustainable urban development. A third project, also fostered by the EC, CIVITAS 2020, is aimed at promoting innovative policies and technologies that help achieve urban mobility that meets the two fundamental requirements: being efficient and competitive.

In this broad framework, it should be reminded that the organization of urban mobility is the responsibility of local authorities. Every city needs to develop its own plans and projects that fit their particular circumstances. This is outlined in the PMUS or Plan de Movilidad Urbana Sostenible (“Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan”); its guidelines, in the own words of the Commission, are “promoting balanced development and a better integration of different ways of urban integration”.

Work being done in Madrid is based on the Sistema de Transporte Inteligente de Madrid (STIM; “Smart Transport System in Madrid”). It should be noted that Madrid and its metropolitan area are the third most populated city in EU, and in 2012 the city led the Spanish city ranking on sustainability, where it obtained 1000 points (KPGM). Its first position was claimed to be due to the high marks achieved in several categories such as CO2 emissions and mobility, even if for other criteria average marks only were obtained, such as those of air quality and energy efficiency of residential buildings. The report shows that CO2 emissions are very low when the size of the city is taken into consideration; in fact, per capita emissions are 5,6 tm below the national average. The highest percentage of emissions was due to road transport, which accounted for 41,4 % of the total in 2008.

Taking mobility into consideration, Madrid has one of the largest and most modern networks in the world, which makes it possible for 74% of its population to go to work by public transport (instead of using their own vehicles). This is a striking phenomenon, particularly when the size of the city is taken into account. The density of the transport network is 2.813 m/km2, a ratio that decreases when the population is accounted for. This could have something to do with the network being efficient.

 

Madrid has one of the largest and most modern networks in the world, which makes it possible for 74% of its population to go to work by public transport

 

The Royal Decree 102/2011 (January 28th) establishes the levels that should never be exceeded for each of the air pollutants. The annual limit value for NO2 is 40 ?g/m3. On many occasions, Madrid has exceeded the alert threshold, a situation that has been informed against by environmental organizations. This implies that an effort should be made by the Administration, along with all the city sectors, in order to achieve a dramatic reduction.



3.- New buses

Given that the situation requires the provision of sustainable, high-quality transport, it is essential to have proper buses available for the service. The need arises in a complex socio-economic context which demands the rationalization of expenditure. Such rationalization of energy consumption, which was required by Europe as well, was a revitalizing challenge for the Municipal Transport Company in Madrid (EMT).

The fleet was updated as much as possible, and several vehicles propelled by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) were purchased. The EMT is the European organization that has more buses of that kind: nearly 400 CNG-propelled vehicles, which accounts for 40% of the total. In some bus lines, such as line 27, such buses are the only ones in service. Some CNG-hybrid vehicles work along the aforementioned vehicles, as well as a few diesel-electric hybrid vehicles that were converted in 2011. When the budget was insufficient, catalysts were checked and updated in as many buses as possible. Thus, the initiative made it possible for vehicles that already complied with Euro III regulations to comply with Euro V regulations, which decreased emissions without requiring substantial additional expenditure.

A “start-stop” bus is already working in full swing for the company; its engine may stop and start automatically at every stop using a capacitor. According to several tests, using such buses could bring about a 7% reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. To sum up, by applying such measures EMT has reduced its emissions to the atmosphere in 590 Tm of NO2 in the 2011-2013 period. Quite a significant reduction, when air quality in the city is considered in terms of several pollutants.

The third kind of interventions has been focused on the renovation of the interior equipment of buses in order to facilitate wheelchair or stroller access. This is expected to foster the use of buses by disabled people or people pushing strollers and to provide a better citizen-focused image along with higher quality in the provision of services. In this sense, it should be noted that the inside zone of buses is carefully thought-out so that people with reduced mobility may use the bus service without problems. Such measures include push buttons engraved in braille, reserved seats for people with reduced mobility, access ramps to the bus and pictogram signalling.

 

4.- The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart urban transport

The EMT has made a great effort to integrate innovations from smart sensors and IoT mechanisms -either individually or in cooperation with other companies- in order to be able to provide many additional services that may be attractive to passengers.

In order to achieve the full potential of smart urban passenger transport, the EMT was to find a way to obtain adjoining instruments -such as smartphones, sensors and other hardware to be included in the vehicles- that make it possible to gather, exchange and process (in real time) data on mobility, such as traffic conditions, weather conditions, available park places, vehicles moving around with empty seats that could be shared, etc. All the aforementioned parametres need to be processed in an intelligent manner in a large grid of interconnected data. Other equipment would be necessary, such as temperature and air quality sensors (so that temperature in buses remains at proper levels) LED lighting systems, air fresheners…

Some of the aforementioned elements are already being used by the EMT. Thus, at the beginning of 2012, the company established an Open Data Platform that offers real-time information to be used by third-parties in the development of new applications.

According to data provided by the company, the platform is visited four times every second, which is a clear indicator of success.

 

Madrid

 

An agreement with Google Transit was reached in the same year for the application to be integrated and offer real-time information on incidents and warnings, while making it possible for us to plan our routes ahead using geo-positioning technologies for buses.

In the year 2013 an application for Smart TV was launched (for Samsung, Philips and LG to be precise) which was downloaded 4.000 times in the first few months. Besides, internet access was provided in several bus stops, and the service was also available inside the bus, as 100% of the fleet offers free WiFi service. In the aforementioned stops, electronic-ink Variable Information Panels were installed. These are much more adaptable than common panels and use up less energy, which makes it possible to provide for their power supply using renewable energies. Another project was launched in 2013, which is now in use in almost every bus stop. The project, known as Smart Madrid, offers -using NFC technology and QR codes- information on waiting times at bus stops and tourist sites just by setting your cell phone close to the bus shelter.

Recently, the company collaborated in the development of Madrid Navigator, a useful application when moving around on foot or by bus. The application was developed by the EMT and their European partners in the framework of the GAMBAS consortium (Generic Adaptive Middleware For Behavior-Driven Autonomous Services).

 

The company collaborated in the development of Madrid Navigator, a useful application when moving around on foot or by bus

 

The new application provides all the information on the bus to be taken or on when to get off the bus. It is even possible to perform searches on places in Madrid without an internet connection. Indeed, once the place to go has been chosen, the application shows the user which bus stop to go to and provides information on when the bus will get there, as well as the stops along the route and the stop where the passenger is to leave the bus. All this information will be shown by means of messages displayed on the screen or else with audio messages through earphones. Some lines even offer information on the bus occupation rate, so that an alternative route may be chosen if the bus is already crowded. This is a free application which is currently available for Android devices only.

An experiment was launched in March 2015 on how to pay using mobile devices: 50 users will test the usefulness and functionality of the new system, which could be introduced in the near future. The experiment shows how the introduction of new IoT technologies is moving along; the EMT was one of the first companies to facilitate bus transport using contactless cards (that used NFC technology) in the year 2010. Nevertheless, as shown in Issue 11 of this magazine, Madrid was not the first city to introduce the aforementioned payment system, as Logroño in Valencia are already using this method, which is welcome by users.

 

5.- Please be patient and confident

The township of Madrid -along with many other European townships- is facing austere budgets for 2015. Budget cuts in the last few years have pushed city councils to the priorization of day-to-day bailout actions at the expense of actions based on strategic planning. The lure towards ambitious projects has decreased significantly. Besides, the fact that projects related to Smart Cities involve several municipal areas of services simultaneously makes it easier for several “expertise and knowledge silos” to become institutional barriers that raise the price of projects in several Smart areas and slow down their efficient management. The Smart Transport initiative described in the current article may be an example of that. An additional, difficult-to-solve problem is the lack of future-minded goals sometimes shown by municipal authorities. As for urban buses, the use of IoT to achieve better citizen integration remains limited, which is remarkable. Elderly people, children, immigrants… they are all population groups that smart cities claim to cater for on a priority basis. Without doubt, already-developed applications and sensors to be used in buses could now be used to inform, entertain, get ready, bring together, brighten up (and so many other things) so many citizens who now feel shipwrecked in their “district islands” belonging to the archipelago of big cities and large metropolitan cities such as Madrid.

Obviously enough, high investments are required to bring IoT closer to citizens and turn it into IoT&C (Internet of Things and Citizens), and working out its profitability or return on investment is no easy matter. Besides, perhaps the politician in charge of such a project will not be able to inaugurate the project. Sensors and mechanisms are expensive, as is its maintenance; the management of Big Data associated to the flow of people and buses in the city is costly and is still being developed. It goes without saying that some of the projects undertaken will be extremely successful, while others may fail, and we do not know yet which project will be successful and which will not.

Even if we are eager to get the most out of smart buses, we should not be hasty: risks involved in inappropriate connectivity among all data flowing between municipal devices are not completely under control yet. It would not be advisable to move too fast and knock down data privacy.

Using open data will undoubtedly facilitate smart transport in the future. By doing so, citizens have real access to data files belonging to the city and may contribute to its development by handing over their innovations, providing cities with higher creativity levels and helping reduce the investments required for the standardization and dissemination of the figures on passenger transport. It also helps entrepreneurs willing to improve the management of their car park places, taxi drivers, delivery people and of course urban designers, who will try to find better city designs to improve mobility.

* In the next article we will provide readers with a set of examples depicting smart integrated buses. This will be a suitable complement to the description provided in the present article (which could not be longer due to space limitations).

 

by María José Álvarez and Jesús Jorge