Smart last-mile transport is need of the hour

20 Nov 2018


With the cycle rickshaw a thing of the past, auto-rickshaws too polluting and e-rickshaws yet to gain momentum, what India needs for its burgeoning cities is smart last-mile transportation, says Anuj Prasad, founder & CEO of industrial design studio Desmania

Once there were the good old cycle-rickshaw days, where a rickshaw could be hailed almost from one’s doorstep and would drop one back at the doorstep. This would mostly happen in the small towns or in less developed cities. Then came the auto-rickshaws and then e-rickshaws. Mostly we can’t hail them from our doorstep and many a time they don’t drop you at the door step.
With the cities expanding and aspirations of our young population on the rise, few would like to drive the auto / e-rickshaws. They demand more respectable jobs. Also with smartness being introduced in the cities, the chaos created by these modes of transport may have to be dispensed with.
Also rising is the population of seniors. Children are becoming more mobile for activities like sports and tuition, and our differently-abled people aspire for inclusive public systems.
What we need is an ably managed last mile transport that is caring, smart, does not pollute, that works on renewable energy, and so on. Our cities are crowded so we do not need high- speed last mile transport. What we need is a no frills, small footprint electric / solar transport that moves around slowly in a defined ‘cell’. 
Definition of a cell could be a locality which is connected by metro and public buses. This locality is bounded or defined by a name. It has its own nervous system (read by lanes and labyrinths) and the last mile transport needs to cover each of these by-lanes. 
An example of a cell & a visualisation of last mile transport
A very thoughtful user-centric design needs to be created which caters to the types and behavioural pattern of our target audience (mainly seniors, children and differently abled). It should move in a designated narrow path and should be constantly on the move. Ideally it should be an electric vehicle with solar charging and should be able to accommodate at least 8-10 adults. It should be an app-based connected vehicle with several well-articulated smart features.
Last mile transportation will also mitigate several problems related to chaos on roads, crowded parking spaces and pollution. We cannot blindly follow the methods of other countries. 
Indian demography and behavioural patterns are unique, with very complex population dynamics. With the development of smart cities gaining momentum, it is an opportune time to develop our own last mile system that works consistently. We have to create a no-frills, frugal design that enhances our roadscape and is kind to our environment and people.
It is suggested that a template is created for a dry run. During the dry run, we should refine the design while plugging all gaps. After perfecting the system, it could be replicated across the city. To cater for the unique requirements of regions, small/big cities, one can follow the 80/20 principle, where 80 per cent of the design is fixed and 20 per cent is open for customisation.
In a recent survey, a majority of people have rated transport as a top issue for smart cities. Great transport system is the real identifier of smart cities. Last mile will show the empathy of the government towards people’s needs and solve many problems.

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