South Africa is already building the foundations of smart mobility

South Africa is already building the foundations of smart mobility

The move towards smart mobility, globally, is driven by growing populations and a broad consensus to put sustainability front and centre of our shared future

Not many South Africans stuck in a bottleneck on a major highway entering or leaving a business node in our cities will believe the country is anywhere near the dream of smart mobility and smart cities. Who can blame them? Load shedding makes navigating most intersections a gamble, while the design of our roads, public transport and traffic control is a nod to the past and a chaotic present. 

South Africa’s Smart Mobility 2030 plan is anchored on infrastructure, operations and institutions. The move towards smart mobility, globally, is driven by growing populations and a broad consensus to put sustainability front and centre of our shared future. Any success requires collaboration between the private and public sectors. 

In 2022, one would be forgiven for thinking we are nowhere near the dream. However, smart mobility is not a destination. It’s not a massive, once-off investment that radically overhauls everything to do with how we move in and out, and through, our cities and towns. It is the culmination of a series of technology investments designed to support the principles of smart mobility and living. Perhaps the most important of these is building an interface between our current physical spaces and our current modes of transport. 

A smart parking management solution, for example, underpinned by an IoT network and real-time information sharing platform does just this - it integrates physical spaces with the previously disordered and unaccounted for mass of vehicles. Before we unpack why this is a crucial stepping stone to a smart mobility reality, let’s consider what the general smart mobility vision broadly looks like.

First, there is a wide range of transportation options. There won’t be a wholesale abandonment of internal combustion engines, especially in a country such as ours, and so the question then becomes: how do we optimise the use of these modes of transport to reduce the burden on the environment and oil supply chain? 

Beyond internal combustion vehicles, there will be an uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) and bikes. Again, South Africans cynically remark that the country can’t keep the lights on as it is, how could it charge a fleet of millions of battery-powered vehicles. We must think of the bigger picture and not be hamstrung by our current crisis.

Sharing the roads with EVs and other vehicles, will be autonomous vehicles. Again, I implore you, in the context of reimagining the travel infrastructure from a South African perspective, not to project our current diabolical safety record onto the vision of a smart, integrated network that supports autonomous vehicles. 

Ride sharing will become even more important than it is today, and the technology that supports it will continue to evolve. In a leap beyond the current “cycle lanes” or “bus lanes”, an augmented reality, in real time, will designate various routes and spaces for different modes of transport depending on the demand and situation. Logistics and fleets, already using some degree of sensors and IoT, will be seamlessly “plugged into” a smart city network, driving efficiencies previously unimaginable. Of course, there is far more, but this provides a small taste of the future we are racing towards - yes, even in South Africa.

When considering the concept of a smart city or smart mobility, one can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. However, as the cliché proudly proclaims: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. What do some of these small, foundational steps look like?

The most obvious observation is that none of this will be possible without technology and the availability of real-time data. This, in turn, requires a fast, reliable connectivity network. Access to information, and the ability to do something with it, underpins almost everything.

The ability to transfer information easily between different roleplayers and markets unlocks the first, very important step towards integrating mobility with physical infrastructure and ridding ourselves of inefficiencies. 

Parket does just this. The premise was simple: parking is a nightmare; there are thousands of unused spaces that could serve as parking for the public or customers, and there are thousands of drivers idling up and down city streets looking for somewhere to park. This is diametrically opposed to the concept of smart mobility. 

Just think of the inefficiencies: needlessly idling vehicles sending toxic fumes into the environment, leading to time delays that have a knock-on effect on every task those drivers need to partake in, and so on. On the other side of the equation, landlords sit with physical buildings but the inability to talk to those drivers in real-time and fill their spaces, thus deriving little or no income from their physical assets. Tenants waste inordinate amounts of time and money on paper-based ticketing systems that do nothing to alleviate the problem.

By developing a platform underpinned by IoT - such as our smart licence plate sensors - and that connects landlords, tenants, the physical spaces and drivers, and shares information in real-time, we’ve been able to take one very important step towards smart mobility and the concept of a smart city. 

Our smart parking solution is world-leading, yet fundamentally changing parking and the revenue-generating potential of landlords, right here in South Africa. Drivers can find and book parkings in real time through mobile devices, tenants can manage and designate parkings, and sell on excess parkings in real time, and landlords can derive revenue from their physical assets. 

That’s parking. The same concept holds true for fleet management, augmented reality and traffic management, among much more. These foundational blocks are being designed, built and rolled out as you read this. These are foundational steps. The leap will occur when all stakeholders learn how to compliantly share information, integrating various elements into a broader smart mobility ecosystem. That’s when the ecosystem comes to life. Of course, widespread smart mobility depends on the private sector, public sector and regulators all singing from the same hymn sheet. That doesn’t mean we all sit and wait until that happens. 

It’s not a case of “should we” be thinking like this. If we are not thinking like this we are doing ourselves and our children a massive disservice. Of course our country has serious developmental challenges, but it also exists in a world hurtling through the fourth industrial revolution at breakneck speed. 

It is our duty to ensure our beautiful country is not left behind, and it starts with foundational technology such as smart parking management that connects various stakeholders, their assets and their vehicles in real time. The more the concept is proven, in different nodes of the broader mobility network, the closer we get to everyone singing in unison.


Joshua Raphael Parket

Joshua Raphael, Founder and CTO of Parket

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