Smart Technologies for Urban Mobility in Brazil

In order to avoid mobility issues in major Brazilian cities, several technologies and applications are being developed to help the population with their daily routine.

In order to avoid mobility issues in major Brazilian cities, several technologies and applications are being developed to help the population with their daily routine. In this article, we will provide an overview of how the smart city concept is being used for improving mobility in Brazilian cities.

In concept, a smart city is defined as a municipality based on smart growth and development, using information and communication technologies, the ICTs, in order to improve the geographical occupation transforming the life and work of its inhabitants, socially and economically. Another definition also includes the humanisation of public space and sustainable solutions.

In Brazil, the idea of smart cities is slowly growing as companies and municipalities partner between each other to deploy new technologies in major cities in the country. Only 20% of the cities in Brazil with more than 200 thousand inhabitants use technologies for traffic management, according to FGV. These technologies include smart traffic lights, electronic signs, surveillance cameras and systems to manage public transportation. Among these cities are São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which are the largest in the country.

The research agency Urban System published a list of the cities which invest the most in smart solutions in several fields, the top 5 are as follows:

  1. Rio de Janeiro (RJ)
  2. São Paulo (SP)
  3. Belo Horizonte (MG)
  4. Brasília (DF)
  5. Curitiba (PR)

The Brazilian Policy of Urban Mobility, or Política Nacional de Mobilidade Urbana, also known as PNMU, was published in 2012 by the federal government. PNMU states that every municipality with more than 20 thousand inhabitants must have a mobility plan until 2015, focusing on public transportation. However almost none of the cities have developed a plan.

The federal government launched in 2014 the Programa Nacional de Plataformas do Conhecimento, the National Programme for Knowledge Platforms. The programme is focused on improving science and technology research in the country covering several products, including smart cities. The programme is expected to last at least 10 years with BRL 20 billion in investments.

Mobility in the Largest City in Brazil

Even with evident issues, the city of São Paulo is the top rated city when it comes to smart urban mobility. The strategic plan for the city was recently updated, focusing on the balance between housing, mobility and employment. São Paulo received 509 new car plates per day in 2014, a growth of 3.4% compared to the previous year, even with programmes to encourage the use of public transportation. São Paulo currently has 8 million vehicles. The number of bus passengers also decreased 0.3% in the capital, according to SPTrans, the company which manages the public bus service in the city.

The city of São Paulo already has systems to improve the use of buses by the population, such as GPS integrated in a large share of its bus fleet and systems at bus stops for identifying the bus arrival time. SPTrans even makes available the source code with information about the services for app developers. The company’s official system, Olho Vivo, offers data about bus routes, times, bus location and travel planning.

Trains and subways only have apps providing information about the map of the lines and its operation status.

Mobile Applications for Urban Mobility

Mobile applications focused on improving the mobility of users in cities have become more popular in Brazil through the years, especially since these apps have already created localised content for Brazilian cities.

Waze is one of the most popular applications, used especially for avoiding traffic jams in large cities for those who depend on car travel. Brazil has the second largest country in the user base number for the app, with a total of 3 million. Aware of this demand, Waze developers have already added modifications to the software to adapt to Brazilian traffic system such as information about driving in restricted regions, applied to some cities in the country. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the cities with the largest number of users in Brazil, standing as the fourth and fifth largest in Latin America. Waze also works in collaboration with companies and city halls.

In second are taxi applications such as 99Taxis and Easy Taxi, corresponding to 95% of all taxi calls from the app market.

And with the popularisation of bikes as means of transportation in major cities, new applications are also being developed to supply this rising demand. Among these applications are Pedala SP, Biker App and Itinere. Google Maps also have a new feature that includes bike paths in specific cities in Brazil in the search options.

It is also possible to find alternative applications to search for parking, car lifts, bike rentals, bus schedules, and many others. These applications include Onde Parar, Vai de Bike, Moovit and Olho Vivo. Most of these applications are developed by startups or small companies, which guarantees more tailored content and services to a specific public.

According to research, the average movement time between home and work in the city of São Paulo is around 43 minutes. The major problem in several metropolitan regions in Brazil is the fact that the population, which mainly live in satellites cities, must go downtown to work or use services with better quality. Mobility applications come as an alternative for people to manage the way they move through the city with more efficiency, both timely and economically.

Sharing Economy

One of the trends among these new applications is the sharing economy, a concept that is rising in cities to better allocate resources through the sharing of services. This could include renting a room to tourists in your apartment to giving a lift to a person who is heading in the same direction as yours. The sharing economy is a recent concept, and it is being considered as a simple way to create more humane cities.

In Brazil, the sharing economy has just arrived and is facing some limitations, such as the application Uber, which is at the center of several controversies surrounding taxation and the regulamentation of the service. But there are other successful examples for car sharing such as Blablacar, Zazcar and Tripda.

The deployment of alternative technologies is being largely adopted since it is a faster way to go around the problem. The municipalities can rarely keep up with their exponential expansion, not offering adequate infrastructure and services. Besides this, many of these cities do not have room to allow for the necessary modifications.

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