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Expo 2020: the future of transportation

Expo 2020: the future of transportation

Expo 2020 can position Dubai as a modern transportation innovator, writes Dr Ulrich Kögler

One of the official sub-themes of Expo 2020 will be mobility, defined in part as efficient logistics and transportation systems. Given this emphasis Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates more broadly, are taking steps to ensure that their own transportation systems function well and serve as a model of what is possible in the new digital era. However, while the country’s existing infrastructure will impress expo attendees, the advanced technology on display at the event holds the potential to dazzle them.

The country already has excellent transportation infrastructure and is making the necessary investments to keep up with population growth. Dubai’s population is projected to reach 3.4 million by 2020. This means the number of daily trips taken will rise by 30 per cent.

An additional 25 million visitors will arrive in the region during the six months of the expo. Many will stay outside of the emirate – some even outside of the UAE. Expo visitors will be far more mobile than residents. Some estimates project up to six trips per visitor per day. These transportation demands could put significant stress on infrastructure but the govern- ment is rolling out measures to meet the additional demand.

Airport infrastructure is already nearly sufficient and only requires the completion of Dubai South to be ready for the event. On the ground, the emirate is developing a more extensive service that can meet the needs of visitors while maintaining good service for citizens. The government has plans to expand the metro, increase standard bus services and offer express buses (known as bus rapid transit). The relatively short time before the event means that longer-distance rail service to other emirates – and potentially to more distant cities abroad such as Muscat – would only be feasible on a highly expedited schedule. If feasible, however, quickly establishing the core of a nationwide passenger railroad net- work would add to formidable legacy of wthe event.

Yet, the expo also provides Dubai and the UAE with a unique opportunity to innovate and experiment with advanced services and technologies. A range of new options – some potentially ready to use by 2020 and others further into the future – are in development. For example, dynamic mobility apps can give drivers real-time information (often generated by other users) in order to avoid congestion or direct them to less-crowded attrac- tions. Smart traffic management systems can do this on an urban scale by measuring vehicle flow and rerouting drivers accordingly.

More advanced transportation technology will include fully or semi- autonomous vehicles such as the Google self-driving car. Personal rapid transit – or ‘pod cars’ that operate on a fixed network – are yet another option. As are futuristic concepts such as flying transportation drones and interactive ‘chauffeur robots’ that operate vehicles according to instructions from passengers. These are already known technologies covered in the business and technology press. But the event will allow attendees to see more even innovative ideas that are currently only on the drawing board.

Such technology may seem far- fetched, although experiments by host countries to test and show off emerging concepts are a critical part of world expos. They are also a key element that draws attendees.

In this way, Expo 2020 is a fantastic opportunity to show off the emirate’s emerging status as a global business and tourism hub. Already planned mobility services will be a central element of the event, showing both visitors and residents the best transportation ideas and infrastructure currently in use. Moreover, the new innovations that debut will enlighten people on the best of what is to come in the future.

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