Multinational engineering consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV has proposed using technology to monitor hotspots and ensure safe commuting, as well as reduce the need to increase the number of public transport vehicles to enable safe transport.
Technology can help to manage supply and demand more effectively; to avoid queues and overcrowding, says Royal HaskoningDHV South Africa strategic transport and planning business development manager Gideon Treurnich.
Using mobile phone WiFi signals, smart cameras and open-source data, city planners and transport managers can assess the level of crowding and, when necessary, re-route pedestrians or vehicles away from these areas, he explains.
With smartphone penetration escalating each year, it is plausible to use this to give transporters the power to anticipate load and manage capacity, while empowering commuters to be certain of their position on a particular mode of transport, reducing time spent in queues and sparing all parties from exposure to the virus through overcrowding.
"This evolution in transport management is part of mobility as a service (Maas) and also gives service providers the security of being able to anticipate their income, while passengers can be confident that they will be able to complete their trip as planned," he says.
Such a platform would be of value to the minibus taxi industry, which would allow vehicle owners to know where their vehicles are and how they are being used, via a dashboard on the mobile device of their choice.
This would help them manage which vehicles were sent to which ranks and to meet specific levels of demand at different times of the day, making it possible to balance drivers’ opportunities to earn with passenger demand and avoid queues during peak hours and crowding at parking areas in down times.
Work has already been completed on a pilot project along these lines, working with a taxi association in Durban. Taxis were fitted with trackers and communication devices as part of an integrated transport plan for the city, helping manage traffic, and demand for vehicles, Treurnich adds.
"Royal HaskoningDHV's human-centric design harnesses data to organise space and processes to adapt to the changing needs of pedestrians and commuters, while complying with the policies set by each city. This allows continued access to public spaces, improved safety, enhanced comfort and better control of populations on the go," he says.
"While other steps and procedures, like personal disinfection, ongoing vehicle cleaning and sterilisation, and open windows to allow the free flow of air will be essential to ensuring safe transport, using technology and harnessing the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the best way to get South Africans moving again – safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively."
Bus or train operators can also optimise their fleets, managing a rotation of vehicles off the grid for sanitising or servicing at any time, without impacting commuters’ ability to get to where they need to be – on time.
"Cities across the world are planning or taking measures to ensure that 1.5 metre distancing guidelines are met so that people can move around in a comfortable and safe way. The key to achieving this in limited public space – like in South Africa’s taxi ranks - lies in the ability to have an ongoing and real-time view of how busy hotspots are so that appropriate steps can be taken when an area gets too busy," he says.
This can be achieved through crowd management systems, which aim to optimise the flows of people and support mobility as a service.
"While State of Disaster regulations stipulate that minibus taxis can only carry 70% of their legal load, and that passengers must sanitise their hands on entering in addition to wearing masks, this lesser load is only plausible while only sections of the workforce have returned to work.
"How will the sector balance safety and profitability once the majority of lockdown conditions are relaxed? The key to an effective approach lies in connecting data infrastructure throughout the passenger journey by creating and embracing data platforms that enable interoperability," concludes Treurnich.