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Fil picture: The Roads and Transport Authority and Careem are working on bringing driverless electric transportation. The “driverless electric modular pods” are electric powered vehicles with no drivers. Image Credit:

In “Around the World in Eighty Days”, Jules Verne, the 19th century French writer, imagined a new global public transport system that utterly transformed long-distance travel. Today, the future in mobility that Verne described has long been a reality ... but we cannot rest.

It is time to push our ambitions even further and ask the same question that preoccupied Verne: What is the next great leap for mobility?

“Future Mobility” also happens to be one of the key focus areas at this year’s Gitex, and for good reason. Transportation meets the basic need for movement of people, goods and services, and it is only natural that we reimagine the future of travel. But this is an even more important debate given that motor vehicles produce approximately 20 per cent of the carbon dioxide released every year, along with 72 per cent of the nitrogen oxide and 52 per cent of reactive hydrocarbons, according to the Environmental Defence Fund.

Surge in demand and pollution

The World Health Organisation says the transport sector is responsible for a large proportion of urban air pollution, with countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East suffering disproportionately from transport-generated pollution. And even if those emissions were removed, we’d still be left with a second problem.

The MENA region’s population is expected to nearly double in the next 50 years, according to the Population Reference Bureau, and cities will bear the brunt of this growth. The GCC is already one of the most highly urbanised parts of the world, with 85 per cent of the population living in urban centres — and a PwC report calculates that this will rise to 90 per cent by 2050.

The World Resources Institute estimates that rapid urbanisation will lead to transport emissions tripling by 2050.

A logjam

It doesn’t take a transport specialist to conclude that our present-day infrastructure will not be able to accommodate this rise in demand. Cities grind to a halt if people cannot move around, and there is an obvious economic price to pay for hours lost in jams, quite apart from frustration. Traffic congestion costs more than one per cent of GDP globally, while congested traffic causes noise and air pollution, with cars in general being one of the biggest sources of pollution on the planet.

However, this problem also presents an opportunity for a much-needed rethink about how we develop an integrated transport network. And we are lucky that our government is laying the foundations for this development. For example, Abu Dhabi established the Integrated Transport Centre, which has launched a serious of initiatives, including ‘Darb’, a platform that provides real-time data on traffic and congestion, while in Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has an Intelligent Traffic Systems Expansion Project that now covers 65 per cent of the networks.

These disruptive technologies provide us with an opportunity to rethink how the overall system will function in the future; particularly in the context of public and private cooperation on such radical solutions. At Bee’ah, we focus a great deal of attention on this subject. As a sustainability pioneer, transport is an obvious focus for our operations.

Waning ownership

Following the rise of ride-hailing solutions, and introduction of companies like Uber and Lyft, there has been a significant decline in vehicle ownership numbers. In their 2017 book “Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030”, Tony Seba, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and James Arbib, a London-based tech investor, shared findings that private car ownership will drop 80 per cent by 2030 in the US.

This thinking, and its implications for the Middle East, led us to partner with Crescent Enterprises, to launch ION, the region’s first commercial sustainable transport company. ION aims to drive a fully green fleet management enterprise in the UAE and the region, through a “zero emission transport system”. The company is deploying electric vehicles through ride-hailing platforms, reducing emissions and air pollution in Sharjah and the UAE.

More avenues

As part of a wider strategy to create a sustainable and digitised transport network, we also recently developed a revolutionary digital platform to run our waste management process. As part of this end-to-end solution, collection points are Wi-Fi enabled and RF tagged, allowing waste to be tracked from disposal all the way through to the waste sorting facilities.

The resulting data will optimise collection times, removing vehicles from the road, reducing vehicle and fuel usage, emissions and man hours. It will enable to fully monitor logistics across all stages of the waste management cycle, ultimately allowing for enhanced waste diversion rates that will reduce our carbon footprint.

Khaled Al Huraimel is Group CEO at Bee’ah.