Smart City Mobility

Smart cities, mobility, and the road in between

How to Build a Smart City Transport System in 3 Phases

What Is Smart City Transport?

Smart city transport can make a big difference in the way passengers commute in dense urban areas and can help municipalities save costs, provide better service to citizens, and better manage safety and security.

Smart city transport uses technologies like electronic devices, wireless, and the internet to provide access to smarter, safer, and faster travel between two points in a large city, and provide richer information and greater control over traffic flows for city authorities. Smart transport infrastructure is often recommended as a first step on the way to becoming a smart city.

Smart city transport systems often take the shape of Intelligent Transportation Network (ITN). An ITN includes:

  • A public transportation management system that helps optimize and automate the flow of public transport vehicles
  • A route information system and electronic timetable that informs consumers of the conditions on their route, and which public transport options are available
  • A safety and vehicle control system that can help prevent accidents by alerting and assisting with dangerous road conditions
  • A single fare card that allows consumers to travel anywhere in the city, using all available public transport options, with one rechargeable fare card

Why Should Your City Implement Smart City Transport?

Important benefits of smart city transport include: 

  • Quality of life: improving the efficiency and accessibility of public transport improves the quality of life and saves expenses for citizens, and makes a city more attractive to tourists. 
  • Reduced pollution: smart transport systems promote the use of public transport, by offering access to multiple transport options using one interface, and providing real-time schedules and delays. This acts to reduce private car usage, and encourages eco-friendly habits like bike-sharing and carpooling
  • Public transport safety and security: improved monitoring and surveillance of public transport can help identify and respond to emergencies, disasters, or terror attacks. In advanced stages of implementation, it can also reduce the accident rate across a city.
  • Mobility marketplace: open data about transportation and movement in the city creates a market for mobile apps, which can help consumers travel and consume transport services across the city. 
  • Smart parking solutions: with the right infrastructure, sensors, security cameras, and Internet connectivity, cities can reduce the problem of parking in busy urban areas. Cities can share data on available parking, and consumers can access this data via mobile apps and web interfaces. 

Three Phases From Zero to Smart City Transport

Fully implementing smart city transport is a complex exercise that can take years. How can cities start small, implementing some smart transport capabilities that will immediately provide value?

We suggest a three-phase model of smart city transport implementation, which starts with transport optimization based on readily available information (without new sensors information systems), continues with the implementation of lightweight infrastructure such as route information management and ends with the heavier infrastructure, such as advanced vehicle tracking.

Phase 1: Information Management and Optimization

In an interesting recent case study, a mid-sized European city turned its bus network into a smart transport system in only four weeks, without deploying new infrastructure.

The city of Belfort, France, followed two principles to quickly revolutionize its transport system:

  1. Relying on existing data sources: and using them in new ways to gain rich insights about transport services. For example, Belfort combined existing data about bus billing, ticketing, and GPS technology already deployed on buses, to get a picture of congestion across the city and passenger flow.
  2. Optimizing on the back end: instead of introducing new consumer-facing technologies, Belfort used the data it collected to optimize public transport routes. For example, canceling a stop or bus route that is rarely used by passengers and redeploying where it is needed most.

Building on these principles, we recommend a lightweight first phase of smart city transport.

First Phase of Smart City Transport
Lightweight Public Transportation Management SystemBuilds on existing data and helps optimize schedules, routes, and vehicle allocations. It can also provide information on new transport initiatives.
Electronic Public Transport TimetableThis can take the form of a website or app maintained by the municipality, or even better, an open data source that can be used by third-party application developers.
Electric/Digital Payment System and Single Fare CardAllows consumers to conveniently purchase and recharge a single card that provides access to all transport options across the city.

Phase 2: Light Infrastructure

In the second phase, we suggest deploying new infrastructure elements that represent “low hanging fruits” as they can have a major impact on the city’s transport flow but can be deployed with low cost and complexity.

Second Phase of Smart City Transport
Route Information ManagementData from the transport management system can be connected to customer-facing interfaces, developed by the municipality or third-party operators, providing information about routes and travel conditions.
Emergency Monitoring and Data SharingPublic transport surveillance and devices installed in civilian vehicles, such as the European eCall system, can be used to raise alerts in municipal centers when an accident or emergency occurs. Data from smart transport systems can be made immediately available to emergency crews, even before they are dispatched.
Smart Traffic Light SystemModern traffic light technology uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to monitor traffic across multiple lanes, road junctions and vehicles, and adapt traffic light signals to traffic conditions.

Phase 3: Heavy Infrastructure

In the final stage of smart transport deployment, we suggest adding infrastructure that is more expensive and complex but can provide a complete smart city transport solution.

Third Phase of Smart City Transport
Safety and Vehicle Control SystemTechnology deployed directly in vehicles, to inform drivers and provide assistance during dangerous conditions, such as poor visibility, near-collisions, and driver error.
Advanced Vehicle Tracking SystemsMost vehicles today have built-in GPS with two-way communication. Vehicle tracking systems leverage vehicle GPS and allow traffic controllers to locate vehicles, identify issues like speeding or other traffic violations, and provide emergency services.
Advanced Automotive SensorsRadio Frequency Identification (RFI) technology can be used to improve driver safety. Road reflectors and inductive loops can assist with traffic control; enhance safe driving, especially at night; provide accurate data about vehicle density, and inform controllers about driver behavior.
Advanced Video Vehicle DetectionVideo footage of busy road segments or central junctions can help traffic operators observe traffic flow, identify congestion, emergency situations or other problems. Automatic license plate detection can provide alerts on problematic vehicles for security purposes.


Smart city transport is considered the first step towards becoming a smart city. We outlined three phases that can help you build a smart transport system: starting from readily available data and identifying easy optimizations, continuing with lighter, public-facing technology that can provide immediate value to consumers, and finally, adding technology solutions that provide advanced monitoring and control over traffic flows and vehicles, to enhance transport efficiency, safety and security.