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17 June 2019updated 08 Sep 2021 4:03pm

A step up to real smart cities

For genuine, practical smart cities, the technology is already here, says the founder and CEO of Grid Smarter Cities

By Neil Herron

What do you see as the future for smart cities?

For all the talk of “smart cities” and their future the conversation is often based on technologies more associated with science-fiction, rather than being grounded in practical steps that can be taken here, today.

Grid Smarter Cities believes it’s important to focus on the here and now and to implement common sense solutions to everyday problems. We’ve got backing from Innovate UK, which promotes business-led innovation, and the technologies we’re developing can be used in any city across the world.

How do these new technologies fit into the drive towards smart cities?

At Grid Smarter Cities we’ve developed an application called, appropriately, Kerb, which allows freight vehicles and commercial operators to book slots on previously restricted kerb space for unloading their goods, rather than circling their destination, competing for kerb space and causing unnecessary congestion and emissions.

Kerb space holds the key to huge amounts of commercial activity in any city. It is the first port of call for many a business, from small market traders to multinational giants, and yet it is a hugely undervalued piece of real estate, and is used incredibly inefficiently. Kerbs are where taxis pick up and drop off, where cars park, where we find cycle hire schemes, where buses stop, deliveries are made and commercial vehicles load and unload.

Many larger cities are struggling with crowding, traffic problems and air pollution, with some imposing congestion charges in city centres to try and stem the tide. But a lot of these problems could be addressed with more effective management of kerbsides.

How would kerbside management work and what benefits would it have for local authorities and for businesses?

At the moment, in London, there are £130 fines for parking on red routes, but many delivery companies see that just as a cost of doing business. Large commercial freight operators are collectively picking up fines running into millions every year.

The Kerb app would allow a better regulated system that uses pricing to “nudge” vehicles into using limited kerb space at off peak times, or limit commercial vehicle use in low-emission zones through differential charging. Planes would never be allowed to land without a slot, so councils should look at ways to move away from a chaotic free-for-all system to a managed approach that offers permissions and incentives for commercial activities at times that have the least impact on the traffic network.

We’ve also developed an app, Dash, Delivery as Service for High Streets, which has the potential to revitalise small business activity in cities by connecting market traders digitally to consumers, adding them to a virtual marketplace as well as a physical one. The app allows small businesses to operate online on the same terms as multinationals. It’s been piloted and tested in Sunderland, and could play a key part in giving high streets a much-needed boost.

Simple, clear solutions to common problems like congestion and business improvement – that’s what is needed if we want smart cities to become a reality. Technologies such as Kerb and Dash have the potential to do just that.

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