Drones, design and nudges to drive public transport

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

These tools could be powerful ways for cities to boost efficiency and serve growing populations.

Image: jmvCC BY 2.0

A drone buzzes lazily by, buffeted by the breeze, on its way to deliver precious cargo: a stack of piping hot pizzas for a house party twenty floors up.

Could this be the answer to traffic congestion in dense, fast-growing cities? Indeed, first- and last-mile delivery is one factor responsible for clogging up already busy roads, according to Paul Priestman, Designer and Chairman of PriestmanGoode, a transportation design company.

“We’ve got to move away from having objects delivered by small vans driving around,” he explained at the GREAT Festival of Innovation held in Hong Kong on 21-24 March 2018. “With this concept, you can deliver at height, not just at ground level.”

The future of transport in Asia

Public transport was first and foremost on everyone’s minds - “mass transit has to be the future”, as Priestman put it. There is an opportunity for governments to design mass transit systems to be more efficient in unconventional ways - for instance, by employing behavioural science techniques.

By nudging commuters to walk longer distances to metro or bus stations, “that means you don’t have to build as many stations” and the trains and buses don’t have to start and stop so often, he pointed out. But this comes with the added benefit of improved health and mobility for citizens, he said.

Changing behaviour

There can be various incentives to encourage people to adopt this behaviour: they could receive free journeys if they achieve certain goals, for example, he continued.

Car-Free days make it more attractive to walk in city centres rather than drive, and are becoming increasingly common in the region, with cities such as Singapore, Jakarta and Melaka coming on board.

To ease the strain on public transport at crucial times of the day, countries are also encouraging commuters to travel during off-peak hours. Singapore offered free pre-peak hour travel before 7.45am on most of its MRT train network in 2013 and 2015.

Some 65,000 commuters have made use of this scheme, reported The Straits Times, and it has resulted in a sustained 7% drop in peak-hour rail commutes - welcome news for a public transport system that has been plagued by high-profile breakdowns in recent years.

How to boost car sharing

The ultimate aim of any growing city is to get people out of their cars and free up its roads. Just imagine Bangkok or Jakarta’s rush-hour traffic to understand the impact that traffic congestion can have on a city’s liveability.

Design is key, and it is where private sector could play an important role. Car companies have historically designed and marketed cars as private vehicles - but this is not particularly conducive to car sharing.
“The reason people don't like sharing cars at the moment is because it's like sitting on the sofa with a stranger.”
“The reason people don't like sharing cars at the moment is because it's like sitting on the sofa with a stranger,” said Priestman. Instead, cars could be designed specifically for sharing: “you'd design it like you'd design the interior of an aircraft - privacy and space.”

The UN predicts that Asia’s population will swell to 4.9 billion by 2030. That’s a lot of people, and public transport systems of today will need to cope. These tools could be useful for the region’s governments to encourage healthy behaviours, reduce the numbers of cars on the roads, and ultimately, make the most of existing transport infrastructure.