Getting beyond gridlock in cities

With more than half the world’s population living in cities, congestion and pollution are worsening. Technology may hold the solution—but only if city governments and companies collaborate

In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, Simon London speaks with McKinsey senior partner Stefan Knupfer and associate partner Swarna Ramanathan about what seamless mobility in cities really means, what it will take to get there, and the massive benefit it could bring to people, government, and business alike.

Simon London: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the McKinsey Podcast with me, Simon London. If you listen to this podcast, you probably live or work in a city. And if you live or work in a city, you know that getting from A to B is often difficult and time consuming. Extra point if you’re listening to this episode while stuck in traffic. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As we’ll hear, a number of technologies are converging in a way that could make getting around in cities a whole lot easier. Autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, ridesharing, smart traffic systems, predictive maintenance. Each of these is interesting in its own right, but put them all together in the right way and we could end up with cities that are a lot cleaner, more efficient, and more livable. To discuss the issues, I spoke with McKinsey senior partner Stefan Knupfer and associate partner Swarna Ramanathan. You can read more about their research in the article, “The road to seamless urban mobility.” Stefan and Swarna, welcome to the podcast.

Stefan Knupfer: Simon, delighted to be here.

Swarna Ramanathan: Thank you, very happy to be here, Simon.

Simon London: Stefan, we’re going to be talking about urban mobility, moving around in cities. At the risk of a terrible pun, that, in some ways, sounds like a very pedestrian topic. Why should we be talking about this now? Why does this matter as a topic?

Stefan Knupfer: Because cities have more than 50 percent of the population worldwide, and that figure will grow to 60 percent by 2030. Cities are seeing a significant increase in congestion, so it’s more and more difficult for people to move around in cities. For example, we have increased congestion in London, Paris, New York, and if you think about New York and LA, I think the congestion increased over the past six years by approximately 30 percent. This is significant.

Then cities need to be healthier, however it will get more congested, it will get more polluted, and I think that’s a significant issue. So far, we have not found a solution. It just takes you longer to get around, it’s getting more expensive, and it’s more unhealthy to live in cities.

Simon London: So things are getting worse, not better? More people are living in cities, there’s more congestion, more pollution, and yet, we think there is hope in sight. Swarna, why should we be optimistic and hopeful?

Swarna Ramanathan: We can be optimistic and hopeful because there are lots of technologies in place. If we think about autonomous vehicles, it’s not just self-driving cars, but also self-driving trains, buses, shuttles (Exhibit 1). For example, in December 2018, Waymo announced the launch of a commercial autonomous-vehicle taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona.

Please click here to view the full press release and listen to the podcast.

SOURCE: McKinsey & Company