Middle East's $104bn major public transport initiatives can drive future smart cities

Greg Clark, HSBC’s senior advisor on Future Cities and New Industries, says effective public transport system is key to the long-term prosperity of any city and country

A $104 billion investment by Middle Eastern countries in their respective major public transport systems will go a long way to creating smart cities of the future, according to Greg Clark, HSBC’s senior advisor on Future Cities and New Industries.

The various public transport projects across the region include a $5 billion spend in the UAE, $10.7bn in Qatar, a whopping $71bn in Saudi Arabia, $7bn in Kuwait and $7bn in Jordan.

And Clark told Arabian Business, an effective public transport system was key to the long-term prosperity of any city and country.

He said: “There’s a strong relationship between the productivity performance of a city and its underpinning infrastructure. If you want to have a smart transportation system you have to make firstly a very rapid journey towards having a core public transport system, which you can then augment with the use of the private car if people wish to do that, or with other kinds of mobility, cycling, walking, scooting or whatever else.”

Clark pointed to successful Asian cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, where, as population has grown over time, the public transport systems have been expanded to meet the need. Indeed, in Singapore, the city operates a successful quota system, restricting the number of cars on the road at any one time.

And he said something similar could work in this region.

“The reason Singapore can have a quota of cars and it works is because they have a high capacity public transport system that’s used by people of all income groups. The problem in many cities around the world is that public transport has been seen as the option for poor people and the private car has been seen as the option for middle-income and upper-income people, aspiring professionals see the private car as a symbol of their success,” he said.

What has made public transport a success in the aforementioned Asian cities is that they are high capacity, clean, efficient and run well so they are used by everyone.

Clark added: “If you can do that, you can manage the demand for private cars and road users and you can then have space for taxis, private hire vehicles and shared cars and everything else. You create that opportunity for the multi-modal approach,” he added.

In the UAE, in particular, the daily commute from Sharjah to Dubai can add hours onto the working day, with drivers stuck in morning and evening traffic. But Clark said: “These days people will not put up with the lost productivity and the lost time.”

What will happen, however, according to Clark, once the various transport projects are complete, is the cities will change.

He said: “Over the next period of time you would expect to see the shape of these cities change a bit, they’ll move from having single CBDs to having several centres where businesses can cluster; you’ll see them having larger housing markets where people are able to travel longer distances but in much more efficient transport; and the consequence of that is that this will provide more choice to people about where they live. It will also provide people with more opportunities to locate their businesses in different locations.”

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