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Solve congestion through technology, not by building more roads

No more excuses. Traffic jams need a solution now. We can’t just keep waiting for a better public transportation system, a new road or a subway line all of which take years and billions to build and until then keep being stuck in traffic. And let me tell you a “secret”: by the time those projects have been delivered the need for mobility will have changed. This will most likely be driven by increasing demand, and those solutions will, almost immediately, be lacking the needed capacity.

Smart mobility technology can be implemented right now to ease traffic, it is readily available and in most cases doesn’t require billions. But it requires the will to act.

If you happen to be in Israel you are experiencing the worst congestion in the history of the country. The most obvious effect of the end of the Covid-19 restrictions meant for most Israelis spending from 8% to 19% more time in traffic than before according to Waze data.

New public transport lanes are being built everywhere, with the promise that by 2025 they will all be operational. The Metropolitan Tel Aviv subway will be inaugurated in 2030. Wonderful news. Those are important projects, requiring billions in investment and many years to be completed. And then, of course, there are delays. Sometimes they are delayed just because they are complex and sometimes they are delayed because something goes wrong (last week they announced that the floor of the new recently delivered electric trains are 20 cm lower than the station platforms…).

On the other hand smart mobility projects, especially the software based ones, can be implemented in almost no time, with little upfront cost and most important: if something is wrong they can be reversed, changed or upgraded.

As for traffic congestion the problem is never going to go away by adding road capacity. As the great Prof. Giambelli taught us in Applied Thermodynamics at Politecnico di Milano, “no engineer who is sane in his mind will ever plan capacity for maximum requirements”. Not an electric grid, not a heating/cooling system and certainly not a road. All systems are calibrated to satisfy demand 95% of the time because upgrading them to 99% will usually cost ten times more.

The last 5% of capacity requirement is where smart mobility has to come in.

The reality is that the current road infrastructure would be enough if it was used smartly. Proof is that nobody does a U-turn and goes back home at rush hour because they can’t get to their office: eventually everybody arrives at their destination. But traffic is causing congestion which is causing a reduction of road capacity and hence delays.

The need to smartly regulate mobility so that the demand for access to the infrastructure matches the offering is obvious.

In the patent we developed with my partner Dr. Samir Varma, we regulate conflict to access roads through an automated system of bids. What came to understand is that granting access to roads up to no more than the capacity limit of those roads is the only way to avoid congestion. This creates new virtual capacity that didn’t exist before and reduces the total time spent on roads. It is a dynamic system that matches demand for road access with road availability.

Any system that can be dynamically adapted to shape demand to match real time availability, for instance bike/moped rentals and the Tel Aviv Bubble service mass hail-rides will have a dramatic impact on congestion. Such systems are technology driven, relatively cheap and quick to implement solutions that are adaptive and can be trusted for future changes both in demand and offering. And they take care of the last 5%.

So while we wait for roadworks, subway lines, public transportation and all the large infrastructure projects to be delivered there clearly is something we can do. Use smart mobility solutions, all the better if based on software and artificial intelligence, to regulate traffic and avoid the congestion we are only too used to.