With the rising environmental concerns and urban congestion, the need for sustainable transport has never been more pronounced – especially in the GCC, where populations are rising fast. Often these solutions require huge infrastructure spending and government-led planning – think of Dubai’s metro system.
But these big-ticket projects shouldn’t discount the role that entrepreneurs and startups can play in reinventing urban transportation. We all need to travel from place to place and thus the market size is vast.
There is a valuable space available for entrepreneurs to create solutions that are affordable, efficient, and environment-friendly, all without the need for massive infrastructural overhaul.
Filling the gaps
One area that has seen remarkable innovation is ‘last-mile transport’, the final step of a person or product’s journey. This has often been the most complex and inefficient part of the process, and new solutions are addressing this problem with great success.
Companies such as Careem and Lime have shown that with the right infrastructure and policies, micro-mobility services such as e-bikes and e-scooters can be a significant part of the urban transportation mix.
They are not the only players in this space. Launching with a fleet of e-scooters, Fenix is a Dubai-based micro-mobility provider that leverages technology to great effect, widening choice and availability to end users.
Egyptian startup Swvl has led the way in on-demand public transportation. Now present in multiple countries, it uses advanced software for on-demand mobility, multimodal routing, and mobility analytics.
Several UAE companies, including Ekar and Udrive offer short-term car-share services, pointing to a future where cars are a flexible on-demand service open to a large market. Car rental provider Urent offers platform-based peer-to-peer vehicle sharing, while Arcab helps fleet operators fill idle hours and empty vehicle seats by connecting them to companies looking for employee transport solutions. Solva helps businesses jumpstart their deliveries by connecting them with third-party delivery partners in a click.
This is all part of the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) concept, which unites all means of transport into a single accessible service. The integration of various modes of transport services – public, private, and shared –into a single platform offers a seamless, flexible, and efficient solution for urban commuters.
The integration of data analytics in the transportation sector is a big step forward, and the UAE-based startup Derq is another early leader in this field. It uses AI and machine learning algorithms to predict traffic situations, preventing accidents and optimizing traffic flows.
By making transportation more appealing, efficient, and convenient, MaaS could significantly contribute to the reduction of private car ownership and usage, leading to lesser congestion and lower emissions.
Then there is the emergent world of autonomous vehicles (AVs). On a mass scale, this still requires large funding and huge technological investment. The UAE electric vehicle market is currently in its early stages, but even now, the country has one of the world’s biggest charging stations-to-vehicle-ratios.
Add to this the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy, which aims to transform 25 percent of total transportation in the emirate autonomous mode by 2030, and the UAE ramps up efforts to meet its Net Zero 2050 strategic initiative as COP28 approaches, and the stage is set for entrepreneurs to thrive in helping meet these targets.
While the road to sustainable urban transport is long and complex, these homegrown startups are proof that with innovation and determination, a sustainable urban future is within our reach. It’s this spirit of innovation - underpinned by a deep commitment to sustainability - that we need to foster and support.