India to get its first smart mobility city; states invited

by Nilesh Wadhwa 22 Nov 2017

File photo of Mcity, the full-scale simulated real-world urban environment at the University of Michigan.
File photo of Mcity, the full-scale simulated real-world urban environment at the University of Michigan.

Government think-tank NITI Aayog and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which with NITI Aayog had first published the all-electric mobility draft for India in May 2017, have announced plans to set up India's first 'smart mobility solution city' called ‘Lighthouse City’.

They have invited Indian states to be part of this Urban Mobility Lab, a program that will help project teams (stakeholders) generate solutions to complex mobility problems and test their solutions as pilots in the Lighthouse City. The nomination, which began today, will go on for four weeks and the shortlisted city will be announced by end-December 2017.

The Lighthouse City, according to NITI Aayog and RMI, will be a living laboratory for conceiving, financing and testing of mobility solutions that will align with the Central government's vision of a shared, electric and connected mobility future. 

What is  the Urban Mobility Lab?

- A multi-day workshop that rapidly advances teams’ solutions with the support of expert advisors.

- An ongoing platform to support financing, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of pilots.

- A methodology for integrating multiple pilots that address parts of the mobility transition into a whole system strategy in one location.

- Support in disseminating lessons learned to other communities in India and beyond.

The Urban Mobility Lab project is set to be launched in early 2018 with organisational support from NITI Aayog and RMI. In terms of financing compentencies of the states, a facility has been set up that will allow the selected state to opt for receiving support from private banks and multilateral lending agency under direct or impact investment models.

Speaking to Autocar Professional, Clay Stranger, principal, Rocky Mountain Institute, said: “The thought behind this program is to achieve the ambitious vision of the Indian government for a shared, electric and connected mobility future. The Lighthouse City will have multiple teams working on different projects at the same time and the idea is to see a integrated development of the same. For instance, one team might be working on a world-class pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and another team on charging infrastructure. The idea is to see how everything can be tuned out in real-world application. I am hopeful under this to see the largest fleet of e-taxis to come up in India.”

This ambitious project and the mobility solutions that it tests will demonstrate ways to upgrade mobility services to meet the needs of rapidly growing cities while bringing operational efficiency and reducing pollution, congestion and petroleum demand.

Opportunity and need
The report states that India has the potential to be a global leader in advanced passenger mobility using new technologies, business models, and urban design. India can realise this vision by leapfrogging the traditional mobility paradigm of privately owned, underutilised, fossil-fuel-burning vehicles. This potential leapfrog could enhance access, reduce congestion, and improve urban air quality, while saving India 876 million metric tons of oil equivalent, worth Rs 21 lakh crore, and one gigaton of CO2 emissions by 2030.

How the Lighthouse City & Urban Mobility Lab are to be set up

Host city selection: The first step is selecting the Lighthouse City, which will host the Urban Mobility Lab by December 2017 or early 2018. The key selection criteria include strong local government support, demonstrated progress on shared and electric mobility, and ongoing plans for smart urban development. The selected city should have a population greater than 1 million and a population density that warrants diverse modes of transportation. An advisory board from NITI Aayog and RMI will select the host state by drawing on these criteria.

Recruitment of teams: Once the host state and the Lighthouse City have been identified, the state government, NITI Aayog, and RMI will recruit four to six mission-driven teams that will include private players, state government, central government, experts, among others working on economically viable projects that address high-priority challenges in India’s passenger-mobility system, to participate in the workshop.

These teams will have projects with high scaling potential, leveraging shared infrastructure and investments. A strong interest already exists from teams working on swappable batteries for electric scooters and rickshaws; fast chargers for electric vehicle fleets; high-mileage electric service vehicles for commuter routes; and data platforms for integrated planning, booking, and payment of multimodal trips.

Development of a common knowledge base: NITI Aayog and RMI will co-author a set of research papers on key mobility topics to establish a knowledge base for project teams.

Workshop for pilot design and implementation: Facilitators and technical experts will provide customised content, training, and feedback for each team’s unique project before, during, and after the event. The workshop will provide participants with structured working sessions to make progress on project design, tools and training to overcome technical barriers, access to private and multilateral investment capital, and a unique environment conducive to creativity and breakthrough ideas.

Implementation support and progress monitoring: As demonstration projects deploy, NITI Aayog and RMI will track each team’s progress and publish relevant insights. The teams will learn from new iterations and use this feedback to improve the solutions in order to increase their effectiveness as they scale nationally.

According to Autocar Professional’s guesstimate, Nagpur stands a good chance to become the first ‘Lighthouse City’, meeting the criteria for the proposed pilot project – population above 2 million, strong local government and central government support, demonstrated progress on shared and electric mobility (the city already has more than 200 EVs plying with more to be added soon), more than 20 EV charging infrastructure. All this makes the city one of the top contenders to become the first city under the program.


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