Venturing into a new decade, a crucial and pertinent question in urban planning revolves around how to make our cities smarter. A pivotal aspect of more intelligent city living is public transport, ensuring residents can navigate their daily lives efficiently, reliably, and increasingly more sustainably.
MTR Corporation Ltd operates Hong Kong’s railway services ), and is also a key property developer and manager in the city. It additionally invests in bringing rail services to eight other cities globally: Beijing, Hangzhou, Macao, Shenzhen, Melbourne, Sydney, Stockholm and London.
In Hong Kong, the railway is the backbone of the city’s transport. Public transit is the most used mode of transport: 90% of citizens use public transport in their daily lives. Train travel is the most efficient way of moving large amounts of people through the compact city, and MTR Corporation has made social and environmental friendliness a priority.
Digitalisation is at the heart of MTR Corporation’s drive to enhance public transport for the masses, says CEO Dr Jacob Kam. Utilising smart technology facilitates enhanced customer service, improved asset management, and a more efficient and reliable service. MTR Corporation’s trains already run at an on-time performance of 99.94%, but customers want better. Through its ongoing digital transformation, MTR Corporation aims to enhance the reliability, efficiency and integration of their services, not only in Hong Kong but in its other global cities of operation.
“We believe that the only way to push beyond the current high performance is through better digital technology,” says Kam, and utilising this technology in asset management is an important step. “One aspect is discovering how best to predict failure, so that we can act on that failure before it happens. This predictive maintenance relies on image and data analytics supported by artificial intelligence and helps us to regularly inspect our equipment and detect any problem early and consistently,” Kam explains.
AI is also used to assist with planned construction and maintenance on MTR Corporation’s railways. Using AI to optimise planning, it is possible to maximise the usage of the line when it is not in service to minimise the disruption when unavoidable planned construction or system upgrades are necessary, and ensure that ongoing works do not disrupt the functional rail lines.
AI-enhanced driving is a tool which goes hand-in-hand with more reliable operations. MTR Corporation’s trains already have automatic operation, but sometimes the fail-safe principle will slow operations. By introducing artificial intelligence into the driving of trains, MTR Corporation will be able to mitigate this risk when every second counts in train operations.
At the heart of these applications of technology is the drive to improve the customer experience. Advanced data analytics are being used by MTR Corporation to predict customer movements and demands to better plan its service – in due course, the same technology will be used even to respond in real-time to meet a customer demand. Furthermore, MTR Corporation is providing real-time service information to their customers, such as when the next train is due to arrive, and plans to expand its offerings to include how crowded trains will be and which carriages have space available.
This real-time information is even available for very frequent services, Kam explains. “On many of our lines, our train service frequency is already at two-minute intervals. However, our customers still want to know when the next train is coming,” he says. This use of data not only allows MTR Corporation to help its customers plan their journeys, but also allows the operator to assess demand and improve availability, frequency and reliability in the long term.
Reliability and maximum convenience are two of the core values of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), an industry-wide initiative which aims to integrate various modes of transport into a single mobility service, accessible on demand. By investing its assets into the concept of MaaS, MTR Corporation is subscribing to the cohesive concept of a door-to-door transport system, aiming to provide a “total solution” to its customers’ transport needs, Kam says.
In practice, this would mean that when customers need to use a variety of modes of transport - for example riding a rented bicycle to a train station, taking an MTR train, then taking a bus to their final destination - MTR Corporation can have a hand in arranging every aspect of this service to make it as consistent as possible. Its analysts will gain access to enhanced user and demand data, leading to new opportunities to serve unmet demand.
MTR Corporation is able to take this concept a step further, as its ventures include a property business run under the same umbrella as its railway. MTR properties, which incorporate not only railway stations but residential and commercial buildings as well as luxury, regional and neighbourhood shopping malls, “creates a better, more integrated living and travelling environment for our customers,” Kam says.
“Theoretically, customers could travel from their home - a property managed by us, to an MTR railway, to their office block which is managed by us, have lunch or meet friends in a shopping mall managed by us,” he expands. This synergy not only retains custom and builds trust within the market, but creates an integrated society where loosely-related aspects of daily life are connected to run seamlessly together. Consolidating the supply chain of multiple industries, and thinking macroscopically about society as a whole gives MTR Corporation an edge in building customer trust and retaining loyalty across different markets.
Naturally, the various innovations and initiatives are supported by a range of partnerships. MTR Corporation works closely with Kone, Rotec, Beijing Traffic Control Technology, Hyundai Rotem, Siemens, OTIS, Thales and Arup to deliver its services efficiently and sustainably by employing pioneering technology.
MTR Corporation actively encourages the use of public transport by making the process streamlined, efficient and high-functioning: an essential stance not only as the world’s cities become more populated, but also as a defence against unsustainable, environmentally-hazardous travel habits. Using electric trains and energy-saving schemes, reducing waste and employing data analytics to push efficiency to a new level, MTR Corporation fulfills its mission to “Keep Cities Moving” with a sustainable financial model, upgraded assets, and an intelligent approach to public transport.