In 1950, the number of urban dwellers in Asia was around 250 million. By 2030, it is projected to be over ten times that at 2.5 billion.

And yet, Asia’s urbanisation is just beginning, the World Bank reports. With rapidly increasing urban rates, Asian cities have started to experience growing pains – traffic-congested roads; jam-packed and unreliable public transport; as well as increased air and noise pollution.

Governments have risen to the challenge, employing innovative ways to develop, improve and revolutionise public transport. GovInsider shares four approaches from around the region that stand out.

1. Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence

Jakarta has been collecting data from a new transport payment system, the Jakarta One card, to track the number of passengers in a particular area and their respective destinations. This could help public transport officials plan new routes in the future.

Across the strait, the Singapore government has also launched the Beeline app, which mines data collected from the transport payment system to suggest new routes for small private buses. It also crowdsources for possible new routes.

Singapore’s buses are also installed with sensors that predict bus arrival times and passenger counts, updating in real-time to an open data platform. App developers can input and develop their own algorithms to improve the reliability of the data.

The country is also using data to help predict transport fleet maintenance. Drones are helping to inspect track and tunnel conditions. Meanwhile, sensors on trains and buses to collect data on equipment wear-and-tear to help predict the next equipment failure using AI.

China plans to create an intelligent transport system by 2030. The country hopes to build smart roads that will not only be able to charge electric cars as they drive but also monitor temperature, traffic flow and weight load using AI.

The prototype of the road is already in place on an expressway outside of Jinan, providing higher quality traffic updates as well as more accurate mapping.

2. Behavioural science

Behavioural science is another useful item in the government transport toolkit. Transport agencies are increasingly using nudges and incentive-based schemes to motivate commuters to take more public transport.

Jakarta, Melaka and Singapore have adopted car-free days to reduce the number of cars in the city centre, and to encourage walking. This has an added benefit of reducing the need for more stations and stops if commuters are happy to walk the distance in the long-term.

Singapore has strengthened WiFi signals in train stations, especially towards the centre of the platform, to decrease congestion near platform entrances and escalators. The MRT also offers a discounted journey fare for travel before peak hours on most of its rail networks.

Simultaneously, Electronic Road Pricing rates go up during peak hours to encourage public transport usage.

Estonia has thrown a curveball at public transport policy. Tallinn, the country’s capital, has offered free public transport for five years now, and the policy is soon to be implemented across the country. Residents of Tallinn can access free transport with a €2 (US$2.34) transport card.

The city now benefits from fewer cars on the road and better air quality, as more and more residents leave their cars behind.

3. Ridesharing

Ridesharing apps have transformed the transport system, especially across countries with rapidly-growing commuter needs.

Grab in Myanmar has grown at an “incredible pace”, according to the company’s CEO, becoming one of the fastest growing markets in the span of a short time. The country’s fledgling public transport system is fast being substituted by Grab’s cost efficient and reliable services. The company is currently expanding services and operations to full scale, and looking to operate in more cities in Myanmar with an investment of US$100 million.

The Indonesian unicorn Go-Jek is sharing data with the Ministry of Transportation to create a digital dashboard that monitors the number of online taxis in real time. The company has also recently opened a data science centre to mine the extensive data it has collected. These data could help the company understand how it can improve services, and identify areas in Indonesia that lack a key service, such as restaurants.

However, ridesharing apps also heavily disrupt transport industries and are often controversial. Taiwan has asked riders and drivers what rules ridesharing apps like Uber should adhere to. Using an AI-powered online engagement platform, the Government of Taiwan introduced several regulations to be imposed upon Uber with the goal of minimising disruption to taxi drivers.

4. Electric and driverless vehicles

Governments have been heavily investing in electric and self-driving vehicles. There are several benefits: lower air and noise pollution in the city, a safer transport network, and increased opportunities to build a new industry.

China has been a frontrunner in the adoption of electric buses. The government subsidises battery production, which is usually the highest proportion of cost in electric car production. The move has been paired with simultaneously subsidising the price of electric buses to equal that of the traditional ones.

Kuala Lumpur has been operating a fully electric bus fleet for its second year, and Melaka has followed suit. In India, eleven cities have been chosen to pilot electric bus programmes.

Meanwhile, Singapore has been a driving force in adopting automated public transport in Asia. The government is looking at implementing self-driving public buses on scheduled routes. This allows operators to interact dynamically with the system, easily increasing the supply of buses once there is a surge in demand.

Singapore is also looking into deploying driverless pods for special-needs citizens, which they can book through smartphones.

There is no doubt that Asia has an uphill struggle ahead in public transport. Public officials must operate a reliable and functional public transport whilst catering to an increasingly large user base. But the time is ripe to leverage innovation, technology and creativity to revolutionise transport.

Images by SgTransportCC BY 2.0; JonRussellCC BY 2.0; hans-johnsonCC BY-ND 2.0