To drive or not to drive? It’s a question many of us ask ourselves each time we travel from home.
What is the shortest and quickest route? What crossroads and junctions should I avoid? Will I find a place to park? Maybe I should take a bus—but will that make me late? Maybe it’s time I tried out the city’s bicycles for hire—that would be better for me and for the environment, it’s true, but where do I find them?
And so on through all our options… until, more often than not, many of us give up and take the car and head off straight into the nearest traffic jam, adding to the city’s dangerously high level of CO2 emissions.
In a month from now, however, all of us traveling in Skopje will be able to count on some assistance in making smarter decisions about our trips. The answers to all these transport questions—and more—will be available on a mobile app called Skopje Green Routes.
Based on a Google Maps platform and developed by the Social Innovation Hub with UNDP assistance, the Skopje Green Routes planner will enable us to:
- Plan our trips in the capital by informing us about the quickest, greenest and cheapest routes to all destinations in Skopje
- Get real-time information on traffic congestion
- Find real-time levels of air pollution (CO2 emissions)
- Get information about all bicycle rental points, available infrastructure, parking places, bus lines and time tables
The app has been designed to analyse and convey real-time data about traffic flows, congestion and air pollution from the following sources:
- From sensors currently being installed by the city’s local authorities at the main road junctions to measure traffic flows.
- From CO2 sensors installed at the most congested traffic routes in the central area of the city. The levels of emissions recorded by these sensors will be publicly displayed.
- From real time information supplied by a local taxi company on congestion and accidents in the city streets —an arrangement that represents an innovative non-traditional partnership with the private sector.
The new app and accompanying website will also ensure interactivity through a public forum for reporting incidents and traffic offences, making suggestions for improvements and identifying priority routes in need of repairs.
Implemented in partnership with the City of Skopje and in cooperation with all relevant public enterprises in the city, the project is part of wider activities under initiatives to mitigate climate change.
So, why are we doing this?
Latest data shows that the transport sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is rising at an alarming rate. In the period 1990–2002, transport accounted for eight percent of total national GHG emissions. By 2009, this had risen to 10 percent. (See: Reducing transport emissions in fYR Macedonia for more on the findings)
The number of cars in the capital is growing every week. This means the capital is becoming more and more congested, with regular traffic jams, delays and accidents and with extremely high air pollution, especially in the winter period.
Alternative means of transport are available but have not yet been adopted by the public on a sufficient scale to make a difference to pollution and congestion. For example, while the number of bicycles is growing rapidly, most people use bicycles for recreational purposes rather than for commuting.
Similarly, while there is fairly well-developed network of buses, many of which have recently been renewed, buses are not a popular option due to overcrowding, poor information about routes and times, and a generally negative image of public transport that has yet to be revised.
The city authorities in Skopje have identified these problems and are working on improving the transport infrastructure, renovating key roads and streets and building more cycling trails. And work is currently underway on the establishment of a Centre for Control and Management of the City Traffic. This Centre will monitor and manage the traffic on 90 of the capital’s 115 junctions to provide a smoother traffic flow and a more efficient city transport network.
These improvements are highly appreciated. But they are also very expensive—and so far they have still not made a really significant impact on transport. The public are still dissatisfied with the situation.
What is needed in addition to these investments is a deeper change—a change in our traffic behaviour. And as a recent study (pdf) has concluded, this means using greener forms of transport. One of the ways to make smarter and more environmentally-friendly choices is to make use of the latest mobile technologies.
And that’s where the new Skopje Green Routes app comes in.
Cost-effective and highly interactive, the app fills a vital need for the public to be better informed when choosing how to travel. Moreover, the app can easily be scaled up in the future for cities and towns throughout the country.
Yes, it is smart citizens that make smart cities.
Have you developed something similar? We’d love to hear about your experience and what you learned.