Hungary Facing Major Change in Transport – Towns Are Getting Ready

When it comes to “smart cities”, large cities in Hungary usually focus on transport development and energy management Projects are organised in this area with significant budgets, yet...

When it comes to “smart cities”, large cities in Hungary usually focus on transport development and energy management. Projects are organised in this area with significant budgets, yet many towns with a large population have no such programmes at all – or they did not inform us about them. This article focuses on transport related projects.

A few months ago, online daily contacted all of Hungary’s county seat cities to ask them what smart city projects they were working on. Answers were fairly diverse, though, finally, only 9 municipal governments took the trouble to answer. Several municipal governments, after repeated information requests, did not send us even a letter of answer refusal, thus we do not know if they simply have no such projects or just did not wish to respond.

Of course, there are as many definitions of the term ‘smart city’ as experts: there is no full agreement even on what is covered by the term – which shows in the answers received from cities. Mr József Pálinkás, former leader of the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, said at a conference organised by last year that the Hungarian term is a translation of the original English expression, even though not an exact one as in Hungarian the word is more like “clever”, which is definitely not the same as “smart” – in other words, the English expression “has a different taste to it”. According to Mr Pálinkás, a smart city, as used colloquially, means a city or town that uses digital solutions, though the goal would be for such projects to increase the well-being (which is not necessarily meant in the financial sense) of the citizens of the given town or city.

In summary, as Mr Pálinkás put it, the key point is for municipal governments to develop the services that are important to the population – whether they be power supply, water supply, medical services, security (online and other), waste collection, education, public transport or culture. “Each town and city must decide itself what order of priorities it sets for these” – said Mr Pálinkás at the conference.

Transport above all

The summary of the answers received clearly shows that although municipal governments are trying to support development in many areas, large cities in Hungary usually focus on transport development and energy management when it comes to “smart cities”. This article focuses on the former – the rest will be presented in a different material.

As transport development may include many areas, there are significant differences between municipal governments’ plans. However, there are overlap areas between nearly all these, namely free wifi for public transport users, building e-charging stations, introducing hybrid or fully electric buses in community transport and setting up intelligent traffic monitoring and passenger information systems. Municipal governments that answered our survey questions build their projects around these areas: projects in totally different fields are rare. But let us take a look at the actual projects.

The city of Békéscsaba is building smart stops, which all have a real-time passenger information system with a LED display, and 25 of them have so-called e-ink boards instead of paper-based timetables. The city has promised to introduce a passenger information system and a travel route planner, available online and via a mobile app in the future. In addition, the municipal government plans to build a so-called e-garage, which would be used to serve and service its 8 new electric buses. The buying of e-buses could prevent the emission of exhaust gases from the burning of 200 thousand litres of diesel a year in the city.

In its answer, the city of Debrecen emphasised that they were the first in Hungary to build a smart pedestrian crossing. Its operation is really simple: sensors detect if pedestrians willing to cross the street arrive, and LED lights, embedded in the asphalt, start flashing to warn drivers of them. Besides, the city’s municipal government works together with Waze: it provides all the required data and, in return, gets anonymous data on traffic habits. According to the municipal government, this is a win-win scenario as while “traffic participants have been given a tool which, if used, will help avoid surprises on roads”, the municipal government uses the anonymous data received to develop transportation. Examples include the coordination of the working of traffic lights, the assessment of the impacts of the modification of traffic routing, making city-centre streets one-way, the assessment of the impacts of public events on transport, the order of priorities of pothole repairing and the examination of correlations between road accidents and traffic/weather conditions.

This city also takes public transport seriously: the municipal government has made available to the public a navigation system connected to Google Maps and introduced e-tickets and e-season tickets, which are connected to people’s new type of ID card. For the sake of tourists, public transport ticket machines not only communicate in 8 languages but also accept bank cards for payment. Future development projects include the extension of the smart pedestrian crossing network, the introduction of smart parking in the city and the building of smart bike tracks, which would work similarly to the new pedestrian crossings.

In the city of Dunaújváros, electro-mobility is the focus area: under a cooperation scheme, the municipal government, the local university and the Hungarian Electro-Mobility Association work together “to introduce and develop system-level e-mobility solutions that can be implemented in the city and the surrounding region”. There is a completed project, under which 3 electric charging stations have been installed (another two to come in the future), but, according to the city’s answer, courses will be organised to train competent experts and the medium and high voltage power distribution networks will be surveyed, while the city’s management will also try to find ways to integrate the novel technological solutions of electric vehicles into the city’s electro-mobility development projects. As one can see, there is no final solution yet, it is expected to be worked out by the end of 2018 – but it is almost certain that this city will also buy 6 e-buses.

Dunaújváros also classified the construction of a pedestrian underpass as one of the smart city projects – according to the explanation, because “plans will take into account the findings of the ‘Smart City – The intelligent city: an intelligent sample city’ concept”. According to the answer submitted by the city’s municipal government, this passenger traffic node would integrate local, regional and intercity bus services, the construction of p+r and e+r parking areas, as well as the connecting bike tracks and sidewalks. The project would also interface the modernisation of the Kelenföld – Százhalombatta – Pusztaszabolcs railway line, which is soon to be launched.

In Kecskemét, besides an intelligent (and a connected mobile) passenger information and an environment-based intelligent traffic control system, there are plans for a smart parking system (the sensor detects if there are any free parking lots in public areas), the purchasing of 25 hybrid buses, the installation of e-charging stations and a traffic measurement system. In addition, the city’s inhabitants can expect the elaboration of the fundamentals of the so-called Kecskemét community cycling system.

In the area of transport development, Miskolc emphasised that community transport between the city’s eastern and western ends had been developed and, connected to that, a new passenger information system had been installed, which provides real-time information about actual services. The modernisation of the bus pool has started: the city has purchased 75 CNG buses, owing to which the city’s air has become significantly cleaner. Naturally, wifi is available not only on these buses but, since 2014, also on trams. The city of Miskolc also has cooperation schemes with four EU member states (Italy, Romania, Spain and Sweden) under the so-called TRAM Project. The core aims of the project, which will run until 2021, are to support, among others, sustainable and intelligent transport development and to improve the efficiency of transport related regulations.

The city’s future development plans include the installation of further e-charging stations, that of an adaptive traffic control system by 2020 (development of a smart traffic light system) and the establishment of a traffic control centre with an eye to reducing the number of traffic jams in the city centre and giving priority to public transport. Like in Budapest, the introduction of e-tickets is among the city’s plans, similarly to arranging exchangeability of payments by passengers between transportation means and companies – the end of this project is also scheduled for the end of this decade by the municipal government.

The city of Szeged pointed out that as the powers of municipalities have been significantly reduced recently, the city could arrange a truly complex project only in mobility. Szeged was the first city in Hungary to offer free wifi on its entire public transport fleet. This programme is planned to be further developed in the future and, for this purpose, the municipal government has applied to the Prime Minister’s Office for HUF 500 million, which amount would be used to finance the installation of a system that would offer free wifi in 100 public transport stops. The said amount, however, would also be used for other purposes: “the systematic collection and consolidation of sensor data (including wifi), which are already available but have so far not been used, in a database that would serve as the foundation of a city mobility model, the development of an environmental sensor system (to be added to an existing weather sensor system), data consolidation, the compilation of analyses and short and long term forecasts using these databases (in cooperation with experts from the local university) and the presentation of the resulting data to a large audience” are all parts of the planned project. The municipal government has been granted EUR 3 million, under the Urban Innovative Actions Programme, for its so-called SASMob project, under which efforts are made to turn mobility habits towards sustainability, using the assistance of Szeged-based companies.

Szeged has launched a programme to turn itself into a ‘cash-free city’, which has an impact on transport: as an example, parking payment machines were installed in the city in the summer of 2017 which also accept contactless cards. The programme has been extended to mass transportation: contactless cards can now be used on the entire vehicle pool, first in the whole country. The city’s fully owned company, Szegedi Közlekedési Társaság (Szeged Transportation Company), is testing the extension of the driving range of battery-run buses under an international project – according to expectations, this may be an alternative solution to the charging problems of “traditional” electric buses in the future.

Győr, a city famous for its car industry, e-charging stations are handled as a key priority: many have been installed throughout the streets, and more will be installed in the parking garages to be built in the future. As their answer puts it, “an important aspect for the location of quick charging stations is easy access, i.e. that cars can be charged while the owner runs errands or does the shopping”. The installation of the electric traffic control and passenger information system was part of the city’s transport development programme, under which over a hundred local buses have been equipped with a variety of devices, with the help of which passengers receive visual and sound information about the next stop and transfer options. Besides, so-called totem poles have been installed in 24 stops, which display the service number, the destination and the expected time of arrival of the next service. Győr’s transport-related smart city projects also include a bicycle rental system called GyőrBike (similar to Budapest’s “Bubi” system).

Veszprém plans to develop intelligent transport: using passenger traffic data, the city would like to optimise existing mass transportation services, besides purchasing new, environmentally friendly buses. The city’s plans also include the construction of a transport node near the railway station, which “could make community transport more attractive to the inhabitants and has the potential to eliminate the problems that are rooted in the current arrangement”. This project is necessary also because, according to the municipal government, “the city has a very high passenger car penetration”, and people could be made to use public transport. Veszprém also plans to introduce an intelligent passenger information system and develop the bicycle track network and the parking system. According to forecasts, if all these prove successful, the revenues of the municipal government could increase by one third by 2025, at half of the current cost level.

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The project is based on the initiative of Urban Innovative Actions, funded by the European Regional Development Fund.