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Why Asian cities have the edge on revamping transportation

People cycle before the city skyline on a hazy day in Singapore in September.
People cycle before the city skyline on a hazy day in Singapore in September. Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images.

A handful of cities in Asia are ahead when it comes to preparing for and implementing the next-generation of mobility — ranging from autonomous vehicles, electrification, shared car fleets and multimodal platforms.

Why it matters: People are cramming into cities around the globe, leading to congestion and denser development. That means personal vehicles are getting pushed aside for more efficient and sustainable modes of transportation.

  • Five cities — Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul — ranked in the top 10 of the Urban Mobility Readiness Index compiled by Oliver Wyman Forum and the University of California, Berkeley.
  • European cities — Amsterdam, London, Helsinki and Berlin — are also showing progress, per the report.

Singapore gets high marks in terms of innovation by collaborating with academia and businesses, nurturing a "tech hub" attracting mobility startups and supporting smart-city experiments in autonomous vehicles and traffic management.

Hong Kong ranked first in terms of social impact — thanks to its high utilization of mass transit, which accounts for 88% of the city's transportation.

Beijing got the top spot in terms of "market attractiveness," due to the sizable government investments in public transportation, new energy and logistics industries — and developing its ride-hailing and vehicle-sharing through well-funded startups.

Seoul, while not the top scorer in any category, ranked in the top 10 in four out of five categories — the highest being infrastructure, such as walkability and density of public transit stations.

Tokyo ranks high in efficiency, meaning its public transportation system is highly reliable, well-run and affordable while the city prioritizes modes other than cars by providing bicycle and bus lanes.

"Cities score high not just because their subways run on time, but because they have established a pattern of policymaking and investing in mass transit that ensures incorporation of innovations over time."
— Oliver Wyman Forum's Urban Mobility Readiness Index

The bottom line: Chinese cities have benefited from the country's aggressive encouragement of electric car use and other centralized infrastructure policies.

Go deeper: How the future of mobility could impact the environment