Hang up your car keys and take the bus (part II)

Last week my piece on transportation endeavoured to call for more efficient public transportation, particularly in the City of Kigali. I went ahead and got ambitious with my dreams by exploring the idea of making this improved public transit system intelligent.
Alline Akintore
Alline Akintore

Last week my piece on transportation endeavoured to call for more efficient public transportation, particularly in the City of Kigali. I went ahead and got ambitious with my dreams by exploring the idea of making this improved public transit system intelligent.

Reader feedback on the article ranged from excitement to concerns about lack of air-conditioning (discouraging the use of public buses), and finally to antipathetic responses to my nerve to think that Rwanda could be “like Korea”.  I realised that beyond drawing from examples in Korea, I did not do a satisfactory job of explaining why we should be adamant about this (I will save the topic of emulating another country, given our limited resources, for another article).

First of all, I am not asking Rwanda to be Korea – the examples last week were merely using Korea as a model for development of transportation systems. With this in mind, we cannot be so myopic as to write off investments in an efficient transportation system, ESPECIALLY, given the nature of our infrastructure today. Migration into Kigali stands at 4.8 per cent and the population of Rwanda is expected to double by 2040; to put this into perspective, global rural urban migration stands at 1.9 per cent and it is estimated that by 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities. If we used rough estimates, it means over 10 million people will be settled in the major city of the time (today there are 11 million people living in Rwanda).

In my opinion, this means that we cannot merely rely on laying tarmac roads; we have to take into account the pressures this will have on our environment, cost of living and work productivity (increased traffic jam). The most clear-cut avenue to meeting these demands is a public transit system and network that meets the populace’s needs, fuels the private sector and reduces pressures associated with densely-populated cities.

That being said, I can now address the points I promised last week – how we can achieve this goal, with the support of the government. One of the keys to achieving any degree of success in achieving the goals of a smart transportation network includes major support and comprehensive understanding on the part of policy makers.

I believe we can agree that we have this point down. Policy makers have tried and tested numerous approaches to re-shape the public transportation networks and systems; each reiteration has been billed as a failure yet, in fact, each one is really a baby step in the right direction – an adaptation point on a learning curve.

As I pointed out last week, beyond the groundwork infrastructure (and structure) of our public transportation system, there needs to be recognition that intelligent transportation can act as a force multiplier for transportation networks, even though it is not as physically tangible.

One of the biggest benefits of such a system is the facilitation in data collection that enables stakeholders to make appropriate business decisions. In addition to exploitation of this data, this information could be disseminated to the public; for example, to manage traffic control to streamline intra-city commutes. By reshaping the transportation system, we can count on the private sector developing value-added services to drive competition. 

And where does the government come in? By laying the foundation that enables not only government entities, but also private players and academia, to work together to make public transit efficient and intelligent.

As the middle player, the onus is on the public sector to forge the kind of public-private partnerships that drive innovation and create jobs, all the while reinventing transportation in the country (above and beyond public transit).

During the process of laying groundwork, there is ample lead time for the regulatory and standards bodies to co-develop standards for intelligent transportation systems. Working on local standards and aligning with international ones, together with the requirements for incorporation of broadband, shall be a necessity for success of a smart system. Aligning transportation and telecommunications regulations will be a win-win given the requirements of spectrum allocation (frequencies) of a smart transit system.

This outline is merely a starting point – I hope we can clearly outline how to achieve the afore-mentioned goal in the shortest time possible.

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