Siemens, the name known to everyone for decades, operates in a multitude of technological fields, including transport. And when we talk of transport today, we are obviously thinking about the major challenge of smart mobility. A meeting with Jean-Pierre Deknop from Siemens Mobility and Emanuel Marreel, 'Mr smart city' at Siemens Belgium.
High-speed trains for Eurostar, new trains for the Belgian regional railway networks, modernisation of the Antwerp Premetro, automation of Belgian Rail (SNCB) workshops, improvement in the traction systems of the Belgian coastal tram line ... here are some examples of the projects carried out by Siemens Mobility. But this branch of the Siemens Group, which covers everything to do with transport, also deals with mobility used in the broadest sense and especially everything concerning smart traffic management systems.
Jean-Pierre Deknop, business development manager at Siemens Mobility: "For quite some time, digitalisation has been on the agenda in industry, in the energy or building sector. Nowadays, digital technologies also make it possible to manage mobility, more particularly by influencing traffic."
ITS* consists of using digital technologies - IoT, big data, secure connectivity, sensors, etc. – to plan, design, operate, maintain and manage our transport systems. It involves analysing traffic, making forecasts and then managing real traffic better. Smart traffic lights, warning panels, connected cars, traffic detection systems, visualisation tools, digital platforms, etc. are so many technologies in which Siemens is involved and through which the company proposes smart traffic management solutions to public operators.
"People increasingly talk of C-ITS," explains Jean-Pierre Deknop. The "C" comes from Cooperative and puts the emphasis on the cooperation of transport system stakeholders (operators, infrastructures, vehicles, their drivers and other road users) with the aim of offering the safest, most reliable and most comfortable travel.
This cooperative aspect in which Europe is implementing many pilot projects is very promising. It is an opportunity to develop dynamic, smart solutions on the basis of real collaboration and therefore a sharing of information among all the stakeholders interconnected from now on. One well-known example is Waze, an app that very many of us use. Waze is a private community-based navigation tool (owned by Google). It uses real-time information provided by the community to better guide and dispatch traffic. "The concern is that this type of tool belongs to private players and not to highway managers. For example, it is not concerned about sending traffic to a residential district. If a real smart mobility policy is to be developed, it is important to rely on tools subject to greater control by public services and road operators."
No smart mobility without smart infrastructures
What applies to smart cities in general, also applies to smart mobility: without basic major infrastructures making it possible to harmonise information systems and flows, we cannot become smarter. "People talk a lot about smart mobility, they carry out many pilot projects, they launch apps, quick wins ... that is already a very good thing since it raises awareness and broadens people's outlooks," Jean-Pierre Deknop assures us. "But only truly major projects can radically change things."
Jean-Pierre Deknop: "If you really wish to improve the fluidity of traffic and public transport in a built-up area, you have to start by installing the smart infrastructure that is going to enable you to integrate all the technologies and data."
"Integrated major projects such as the Oosterweel link, intended to complete the Antwerp Ring Road, require extensive harmonisation between several digital systems such as lighting, communication, traffic control, fire detection and protection, and air flow. These investments need to be the subject of a long-term vision and clear political decision-making." (Pol Caby, CEO Siemens Mobility)
A smart vision is a cross-sectional vision
Seeing the big picture is essential if we are to avoid the silo mentality. That is where Emanuel Marreel comes in, business development & innovation manager digitalisation at Siemens. Emanuel Marreel occupies a cross-cutting role within Siemens Belgium. "There are many smart cities projects that involve the different sectors of the company. I am therefore in contact with politicians to raise their awareness about this, and to show them that we have the means to solve their problems in their many dimensions. Take the example of energy. It is useless to have smart meters in every house if the electricity transmission network is not adapted."
Emanuel Marreel: "Siemens Mobility has the technological solutions and skills to implement infrastructures and major smart traffic management projects."
Influence users' behaviours to manage traffic
Siemens has a substantial market share in Belgium in the area of traffic lights. "They represent an excellent tool to impact on traffic," Jean-Pierre Deknop assures us. "When you are approaching a road with many traffic lights, you can, for example, send a message to the vehicles – connected vehicles, of course – to inform them of the ideal speed to adopt so as to surf on a green wave where all the lights will change to green as you approach. You do a favour to users and, at the same time, you fluidify traffic." Other examples: the city of Antwerp is in the process of installing systems at crossroads which give priority to public transport by using the new European C-ITS standards. In Halle too, near Colruyt's logistics centre where many heavy goods vehicles exit, there is a similar C-ITS project prioritising lorries on a regularly saturated section.
"Apart from its financial objective, the smart kilometre charge as recommended by Europe is also an extraordinary means of influencing mobility." Today, in Belgium, every lorry of over 3.5T travelling on the motorways and on some major highways must pay this charge. Every vehicle must be equipped with an on board unit. Implementing a similar system for private persons proves more complicated. On the one hand, because that concerns a much higher number of vehicles. On the other hand, because the subject is a sensitive one. "Once again, it means changing attitudes," concludes Jean-Pierre Deknop.
And yet Flanders has decided to launch a feasibility study on the kilometre charge. The next Flemish government will have a detailed report available to it, setting out the possibilities of installing the smart kilometre charge for all vehicles. Jean-Pierre Deknop assures us, "such a tool makes it possible to do a lot of things because it is digital and dynamic, so allowing a variation in amounts according to the place and time. Let us suppose that there are congestion problems in a specific area at a certain time, it could be dealt with by simply increasing the charge rate in that area at that time and notifying people of it via their smartphones. From a technological point of view, that means that each vehicle continuously transmits all its data. That obviously requires settling confidentiality and data protection issues. There is also the matter of equipment: how do you install the equipment in all the vehicles, particularly those that are only passing through the territory?" Technological answers to all these questions exist, but they require a real political willingness from our leaders.
Emanuel Marreel: "The reduction of CO2 emissions is another major issue for which Siemens is developing innovative solutions. A recent pilot project showed that traffic management with an individual level of granularity can reduce pollution hotspots. Smart mobility also means cleaner mobility, factoring in the comfort of all citizens. By having an influence on traffic, we can also have an impact on the environment."
From electrical engineering to mobility as a service (MaaS)
Previously, means of transport and mobility were mainly a matter of electrical engineering. Today, the omnipresence of digital technology means that mobility is changing fast. Jean-Pierre Deknop: "Tomorrow's mobility is mobility as a service. It is, for example, an app downloaded on your smartphone providing you with real-time information about the best way to get from point A to point B. The app tells you which are the best means of transport to get there and how to combine them. That already exists you may say, but it is relatively fragmented because there is a wealth of different initiatives, if only between the different Regions and the different public transport operators. Not to mention the many car sharing, electric scooter and all the other similar apps. There is an urgent need to integrate the different tools to achieve effective multimodality with a unified and simplified payment system."
The first obstacle is the budget ...
Did you know that when there is a traffic jam, you often only need to reduce traffic by 10% to clear the jam? But how do we do this? In Holland, the authorities have already installed systems that use smart cameras and big data to reward people who change their behaviour and avoid some places during rush hours. Holland uses the term "spitsmijden" (peak avoidance), France refers to "reverse tolling". In this kind of project, the stumbling block is obviously not technology but rather mentalities.
And anyway, money is still the crux of the matter. "The Netherlands have chosen to devote much higher budgets than ours to smart mobility," Jean-Pierre Deknop assures us. That country is leading the way in smart mobility. They have chosen a direction and added the resources to go with it, and today they are gathering the fruit of their investments. It is a strong political choice."
Is smart mobility an area for quick wins nonetheless?
Jean-Pierre Deknop deplores this, "for the time being in Belgium, we often confine ourselves to quick wins or pilot projects. There are not enough big strategic projects and our regionalisation does not simplify things. The outlook is improving, mentalities are changing, in particular among the youngest people, teleworking is also developing ... but it is not going fast enough."
*ITS comes from "Intelligent Transportation System". This concept aimed at using information and communication technologies (ICT) better to improve transport service and traffic in general is the subject of a Directive by the European Commission.
In Belgium, ITS Belgium is an association of private and public players whose aim is to promote the development of Intelligent Transportation Systems in Belgium.
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