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Green transport in smart cities: the path ahead and how to get there

We spoke to Adam Wears, Senior Content Specialist at Juniper Research.  

When questioned about the purpose of smart cities, there was a resounding response: they help to mitigate human impact by addressing environmental issues. But how do they achieve this? There are two clearly identified routes in the transport sector; through the collection of key data and analytics, or by reducing our carbon footprints.

In line with this, sustainability will also sit at the heart of most smart city plans, whether this comes in the form of transport, energy use or environmental monitoring. And while there are some fundamental infrastructure challenges to overcome, the potential of green transport in smart cities is undeniable.

Follow the green brick road

Autonomous vehicles steal all the headlines when it comes to the future of transport, whether it’s driverless buses in China or Apple entering the driverless car market. But that really is just the tip of the iceberg. Adam Wears, Research Analyst at Juniper Research believes: “It really comes down to mass transport and smart traffic management. They are aligned to the same goal, which is to reduce congestion and reduce emissions, but they do this in two similar, but distinct ways.

He continues, “In terms of mass transport it's about making cities’ transport networks work more efficiently. This not only reduces the number of commuters in cars, but links transport up so that you don't need to drive. It gets people moving on more sustainable environmentally friendly forms of public transport. It's about making these transports methods synchronise in such a way that cars are required less.

“Traffic management systems work in a different way. They cause traffic signals to respond to real-time conditions to enable a smoother flow. A benefit of this is reducing the number of times cars stop during a journey. You don't want a car idling for minutes at a time: this produces massive amounts of carbon emissions unnecessarily.”

Of course, to understand demand, you need data, huge amounts of data.

Wears continues: “Systems such as mass smart traffic management rely on data to educate us on things like supply and demand, traffic times and peak times. They need all this data to function. We find that the cities that are best at tackling this challenge are the cities that have implemented open data.”

But to carry these extensive levels of data, cities need robust, low-latency networks, running throughout them. That’s where network providers come in. Over the last few years, they’ve been investing heavily in fibre builds in cities across the UK to be able to support this move to a more digital future.

Planning for a new era in transport

If people are to use new modes of transport – or at least fewer cars – in smart cities, it follows that transport planning on the ground will also to change.

Wears outlines some of the possibilities: “If you deploy mass transport successfully and you reduce the number of cars operating in cities, eventually you’re going to end up with a surplus of car parking facilities. The bigger question therefore would be, how can we better use those spaces to aid things like public transport?”

“It's the same with street furniture. When you're walking down the street, you might see more e-scooter and e-bike stands. These are everywhere in London. The hope is that eventually, as these initiatives roll out, you're going to see more street furniture that is designed to support a sustainable future.”

There is also constant innovation happening around roads themselves. In the future, roads will be able to charge vehicles or do the opposite and generate energy from cars moving over them. Other possibilities include roads which warn of accidents, weigh goods vehicles and automatically issue speeding fines when they detect offences.

Of course, all these innovations are underpinned by the transmission of data, likely supported by 5G networks requiring stable core connectivity. Investing in solid digital infrastructure can pave the way for some truly fascinating smart city applications in transport.

The roadblocks

Of course, upgrading something as fundamental as a whole city’s core connectivity requires significant investment. But as Wears points out, there are all kinds of reasons why cities have to do this, going far beyond transport.

“It's not just about focusing on mobility, but bringing in all the diverse areas of the smart city, from things like smart grid, to smart lighting, to smart mobility and smart traffic management. It’s a real holistic process that must be built from the bottom up, with core connectivity infrastructure as the foundations of any smart city.

Changing minds

However, before any ground is broken on digital infrastructure investments, both stakeholders and citizens will need to be convinced of the way forward for transport.

Wears says: “It's going to require a complete mindset change. Even at the city level, it's going to be about how we get these agreements in place. How do we get transport operators on board with these initiatives? Because these systems need to work for every stakeholder in the process.”

“Eventually, we will have to conclude that any inconvenience is worth it, that it’s a price we have to pay to improve the planet, to improve our cities, to improve the direct health consequences of congestion and emissions on people.”

Neos Networks has helped a number of cities to become truly smart, supporting local authorities across the nation including Oxfordshire, Aberdeenshire and Perth and Kinross councils.

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Green technology in freight: is it moving forwards?

This report was created by UK dedicated internet access provider and transport and logistics telecoms specialists, Neos Networks. If using data or other material from the report, please do so with the appropriate credit with a link to this report page.

According to the Department of Transport, the freight and logistics sector is ‘critical to our economic wellbeing, ensuring the flow of goods along our supply chains is reliable and efficient’. In 2019 alone, 154 billion tonne-kilometres (tkm) of UK domestic freight goods were transported by road, compared with just 25 billion tkm by ship, and 17 billion tkm by train.

There is, however, a downside to this. In 2020, HGVs and light vans were responsible for 19% (18.6 Mt CO2e) of the UK’s total domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions (98.8 Mt CO2e). Transport (including passenger transport) causes more emissions than any other: it’s responsible for 24% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. So it’s not surprising that at last year’s COP26, the logistics industry was a key focus for decarbonisation targets.

In July 2021, the UK government released the Decarbonising Transport plan. Setting out aims for delivering a zero-emission freight and logistics sector, it states:

“Decarbonising the last mile will create cleaner, more liveable places and there is scope for greater use of artificial intelligence and data tools in the freight sector. This could improve efficiency and cut emissions, particularly for the many small operators in a fragmented industry. "

In June 2022, the government’s Future of freight report outlined the role of technology and data-enabled opportunities in improving the efficiency, reliability, resilience and environmental sustainability of the sector.

In the wake of these two important reports – and to better understand the green tech freight landscape – we asked UK transport and logistics (T&L) operators:

  • Whether they’re implementing the decarbonisation targets into current operations
  • What barriers they experience in meeting decarbonisation targets
  • What they need to reach these targets
  • What role real-time data could play in achieving decarbonisation targets in the near future

Key findings:

  • Industry action — More than two-thirds (68%) of T&L companies have taken steps towards green tech since the Decarbonising Transport report
  • Going green — Over half (55%) of UK T&L firms will take measures to decarbonise fleets by 2024
  • Data is key — 55% of UK T&L firms say greenhouse gas and carbon data tracking is a core part of decarbonisation plans, over the next two years
  • Capacity is a challenge — A third (35%) who can’t use data to reduce carbon don’t have the core connectivity to share large amounts of primary supply chain data
  • Long-term goals in question — 45% of T&L companies don’t believe they’ll hit the ‘net-zero by 2050’ pledge
  • Convincing needed — 45% of companies don’t see battery electric vehicles (BEVs) as currently commercially viable, while 68% feel the same way about AI and data learning
  • Investment squeeze — three in five operators (61%) say the high cost of investment is the biggest barrier to achieving targets

One year on: how many companies have taken steps in a greener direction?

A year after the government released the Decarbonising Transport plan, what steps has the industry taken to lessen its impact on the environment?

More than two-thirds (68%) of transport & logistics companies have adopted emission-reducing technologies, prepared steps towards taking green measures, or held consultations around putting plans in place.

By contrast, almost a third (32%) of T&L firms haven’t made any moves at all towards emission reductions.

There’s an urban/rural gap, which surprisingly reveals urban firms are less likely to be making efforts to cut emissions. Some 36% of companies in towns and cities have made no attempts to make operations greener.

Outside of urban areas, only one in five (20%) T&L firms haven’t taken action, meaning that 80% of companies are trying to reduce emissions, or heading in that direction.

Levels of green activity also differ according to company size. Enterprise-level organisations are most likely to be environmentally friendly, with 77% of them on the path towards becoming greener. Two-thirds (67%) of SMEs are also on that path, while large companies are slightly less likely (60%) to be making emission-cutting moves.

Is sustainability on the short-term agenda?

With an uncertain economic climate in the UK, how much are T&L companies looking towards the future? And if they are, where does their focus lie?

It’s clear that many T&L firms are prioritising green/decarbonisation initiatives over the next two years. If all goes to plan, by 2024 we should see significantly reduced carbon emissions from the sector, with more than half (55%) of UK T&L operators actively seeking to decarbonise their service/fleet. While 52% of companies are making preparations to do the same.

Using data can greatly speed up the process, and 55% of UK companies are including greenhouse gas and carbon data tracking in their immediate plans. In addition, 45% of companies plan to adopt smart tech, data learning, AI or other technologies for greater operational efficiency.

A drive for efficiency is proving more popular among T&L operators than expansion plans. Almost 50% more operators are seeking to reduce emissions or decarbonise than those looking to expand in the UK. When it comes to expanding outside of the UK, green initiatives are over three times (240%) more common as a short-term goal.

For all the attention devoted to becoming more efficient, however, only a quarter (26%) of firms are planning to recruit tech experts to optimise their business. This implies that there will be a surge in demand for outsourced data analysis and tech troubleshooting.

What approach does the industry favour for reducing carbon-emissions?

For decarbonisation technologies and policies to achieve widespread uptake, the industry must believe in their commercial viability. However, our research highlights a lack of consensus on the best way forward, which makes it more difficult to implement change.

94% of T&L companies plan to adopt one or more solutions for reducing carbon emissions, in line with the UK government’s Decarbonising Transport plan, taking steps to improve fleet efficiency in the next five years or so.

For most of these companies, the most commercially viable solution involves a combination of alternative fuels – notably battery electric vehicles (BEVs) – and digital systems such as smart tech, AI and data learning. Twice as many firms believe BEVs are commercially viable as believe alternative fuels can represent a solution.

Those companies hoping to use smart tech and real-time data to become greener will need to invest in core connectivity, which government incentives can encourage. Technology development for proof of concept return on investment can also drive greater adoption of green initiatives.

How important is core connectivity to decarbonisation success?

By investing in core connectivity, companies will acquire the capacity to collect and process the real-time data needed for smart technology and the integrated tech of the future. Both smart tech and findings from data will contribute to increased efficiency and decarbonisation.

As reported in the Neos Networks ‘Core connectivity: The key enabler of digital transformation’ ebook, under-resourcing connectivity and networking is linked with less successful digital transformation projects. Conversely, organisations which budget for connectivity properly are much more likely to deliver highly successful digital transformation programmes.

The research shows that where more than 20% of the budget for digital transformation projects is allocated to connectivity and networking, 38% of companies rated the outcome of the project ‘highly successful’. By contrast, projects with 10% or less dedicated to connectivity and networking were unsuccessful in 62% of cases.

Does the size of the company influence the green solution?

Our research shows that the use of AI and data learning is universally favoured as a solution for decarbonisation by firms of all sizes. When it comes to other options, however, companies of different sizes have differing opinions.


Smaller businesses are nearly twice as likely (42%) to see industry-wide sharing of real-time data (throughout the supply chain) as a feasible way to reduce emissions. This shows, perhaps, their eagerness to embrace a cost-effective method.

When it comes to alternative fuel types, BEVs are most popular among SMEs, with 58% seeing them as a real way forward. SMEs are also more likely than other businesses to back alternative fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG), bioLNG and biodiesel.

Enterprise-size companies:

In contrast to SMEs and enterprise-size firms don’t see liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG), bioLNG and biodiesel as a realistic option: just 8% state they’re a commercially viable solution. Enterprise-level companies support BEVs as the most viable solution (38%), followed closely by fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

What does the industry think of meeting net-zero targets by 2050?

To meet the net-zero by 2050 target, it’s clear that the transport and logistics industry will need more technology, greater industry buy-in and assistance in the form of government policy.

Given the efforts required, how many companies are confident that the target is realistic?

The industry is split on this question, indicating that more work is needed to galvanise operators. Just over half of the UK’s T&L companies think they can meet government decarbonisation targets by 2050.

Companies with greater resources are more confident: 64% of enterprise-level companies believe they can meet the target, compared to 45% of SMEs.

What obstacles to this are operators experiencing?

Before motivated organisations can get anywhere close to reaching net-zero targets, they must first identify the factors preventing them from adopting a greener way of operating.

  • Three in five operators (61%) say high investment costs are seen as the most common barrier to achieving targets.
  • Almost twice as many firms cited cost as a barrier than the next factor on the list (with 35%): a lack of industry tech knowledge or shippers favouring low costs over green operations.
  • A quarter (26%) stated a lack of national fuelling and service infrastructure was an issue, which obviously needs government intervention.

Which sectors are supporting green changes in freight?

With a third (35%) of T&L companies being deterred from decarbonisation by shippers who pressure them to run cheap operations, it’s clearly a common issue. Even if firms are eager to become greener, they must strike a balance between remaining commercially competitive and investing in emission reduction.

T&L customers obviously influence companies’ policies, yet nearly a quarter (23%) of companies can’t identify a single industry in their supply chain that’s pushing for greener practices.

The data divide: Where smart systems, data and connectivity meet net-zero emission targets

Our report shows that T&L companies recognise that collecting and acting on real-time data can reap great sustainability benefits, helping them take steps towards net-zero targets. The data can be used to aid smart tech, AI and, of course, data learning.

Although more than half (52%) of the industry can access the necessary data, there’s some way to go before we see a totally data-connected industry. As it stands, almost half of the companies in T&L are not utilising greenhouse gas / carbon emissions data to clean their operations up.

There’s even further to go in rural areas, where 6 in 10 companies can’t use such data. Even if companies like this are trying to go greener, they might be doing it in an ineffective way. They need greater investment to level-up their data-collecting and reporting capabilities.

How many transport and logistics companies use real time data to its full potential?

Over half of T&L companies have the ability to collect and report on real-time data on greenhouse gas and/or carbon emissions. Yet how many can use this data to actively reduce their carbon emissions?

Even among the 52% of companies who can access accurate and up-to-the-minute data, just 71% of them feel confident using the data to improve operations. Just under a half (42%) use it to become more efficient, while 29% employ it to boost customer service levels.

As we’ve mentioned, core connectivity has a great bearing on data-gathering capabilities. Of those firms unable to use data to make practices greener, one in three (35%) say inadequate capacity or core connectivity is stopping them from sharing large amounts of data. Around a fifth (19%) can’t share more significant amounts of data and don’t plan on remedying that situation in the next year. This is clearly an issue when it comes to implementing smart tech, which is a key strategy for decarbonisation.

Smaller numbers of companies say they either don’t see the value in sharing data or have security concerns, but the vast majority are willing to embrace the concept – some just need a helping hand.

Other companies are trying to embrace data use and smart tech, but are finding roadblocks in the way. So what are the most serious barriers they’re coming up against?

What challenges do companies have to overcome in adopting smart data?

Whether or not companies can collect data that can be used to reduce carbon emissions, what do they see as the main challenges for using real-time data in green initiatives?

With over a third (39%) of firms citing a lack of government support, the message to government is loud and clear: more investment is required to move towards net-zero in 2050. Around a quarter (23%) also say their own funding is insufficient.

Over a quarter (26%) point to a lack of tech-skilled employees, which would mean that even if they can process the data from a technical viewpoint, they couldn’t achieve it without extra personnel on board.

Almost that number (23%) of companies simply feel that the type of data produced doesn’t meet the needs of the T&L industry, which could be something that awareness campaigns might remedy.

Do views change with company size?


Understandably, SMEs identify a lack of tech-skilled employees as an issue. Not all companies have the kind of resources needed, with 36% of SMEs saying they don’t have the required people on board.

Funding is another significant barrier for SMEs, with 18% stating they have insufficient funds for investing in smart tech and data – and more than a quarter (27%) wanted more help from government.

Large / enterprise companies:

Even with larger companies, insufficient government funding was an issue: 39% said more was needed if they were to adopt efficiency-enhancing tech. Of course, another factor for the government to consider is that larger organisations will obviously require more funding than SMEs.

The amount of data for processing is also more of an issue for larger companies – and one in five (21%) say they don’t have the tech and core connectivity to handle the data.


Many T&L companies are willing to invest in decarbonisation and have already acted since the government's Decarbonising Transport plan was released in 2021.

In the medium term, however, a large proportion of companies remain sceptical about the commercial viability of the technologies currently available. For example, 68% feel that AI and data learning aren’t commercially viable green solutions. The industry is also split on whether the net-zero goal by 2050 is achievable. Overall, there is more work needed to convince the market.

As well as government placing more emphasis on the tech – and more funding behind it – stakeholders such as consumers and T&L customers can exert more pressure to accelerate decarbonisation.

However, before the industry races towards a tech-led green revolution, companies must consider the role of data. To implement smart technology and benefit from real-time data, they need systems that can handle the amount of data. This is where core connectivity infrastructure comes in, laying the foundations upon which decarbonisation can progress.

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What role does data play in the roll-out of smart cities?

We spoke to Daniel Clarke, Strategy Partnerships Manager at Connecting Cambridgeshire. Daniel developed the Smart Cambridge programme which included the development of a city data platform and deployment of sensors.

Smart cities promise to bring some truly remarkable opportunities to citizens across the UK. But to make a city truly smart, data must play a prevalent part. Sensors collect it, insights are gained from it and, ultimately, improvements to everyday lives come from it.

As AI comes of age and begins to make decision making and routine smart city management more efficient, data will become even more crucial.

But what part does data play in today’s smart cities and how can we make this easier access to information enrich our day-to-day (and business) lives?

The status quo

At this relatively early stage of smart city implementation in our societies, data is enabling local authorities to better understand the capabilities and applications of smart technology.

“Our primary role has been looking at how we can collect better, more granular data across the city.” says Daniel Clarke. “We’ve been examining how we can understand people's movements, whether that's transport movement, pedestrian movement or cycle movements. We’ve also been striving to gain a better understanding of energy usage and how power grids are performing.

“There's a whole range of data that we collect.” Clarke continues. “We're looking at things like real-time bus and train data. We also benefit from electric scooters and electric bikes, so we’re collecting that data too. We utilise all of this data to  to further develop our city, while enhancing the lives of its residents.”

In addition to the areas outlined above, Cambridgeshire are also now benefitting from live bus tracking for passengers, using sensors in bins to prompt waste collection and reducing congestion through traffic flow sensors – all of which are driving data-led improvements in the area.

Clarke elaborates on the benefits: “We’ve been using real-time transport data to build tools that make it easier for people to make sustainable travel choices around the city. For example, we built Motion Map to give residents better visibility of our transport system. It's about giving our people greater access to better information”.

Clarke continues: “We're beginning to look more and more at air quality data and how we can disseminate air quality data. We've also worked with a company called AppyParking, where we put parking data into their app to make sure that people can find parking whenever and wherever they need it.”

With innovations like these, it’s not just the amounts of data channelled that necessitate carrier-grade networks. The use of real-time data also dictates that low latency connections are a must.

Data that’s open for business

When we consider the prospects of smart cities in the UK, one greatly encouraging factor is that many local authorities and smart city organisations are committed to the concept of open data. Currently cities including London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol and Nottingham are leading the way.

From making citizens feel consulted, to accumulating greater quantities of data, and the potentially global sharing of ideas, this approach has many advantages for smart cities. It’s not difficult to see why Connecting Cambridge is employing a policy of open data.

Clarke outlines their set-up: “We make our data open through Cambridgeshire Insights, which is a data platform. It basically means that citizens are welcome to come and use our data, which they’re certainly taking advantage of. We also began to put that data into dashboards through tools like Power BI. This enables us to better visualise how data is used as a communication method.”

Making sense of the data noise

Collecting such vast quantities of data can potentially lead to a surplus of information, which could actually make interpretation and useful application more difficult. Connecting Cambridgeshire has recognised this as an issue and found a prestigious partner to help overcome it.

Clarke explains: “We've worked with the University of Cambridge to look at how we can better process and structure travel data, and how we can output that travel data into different digital tools. We’ve then worked with businesses in the area to understand what’s possible, where the commercial sector is going and how we can take our early stage pilots and trials and turn them into something more commercial.”

It’s absolutely vital that local authorities and smart city planners devise ways to package data to make it accessible to all and actionable. Clarke goes on to say: “The data gatekeepers must always have commercial value in their thoughts. Without any intrinsic commercial worth, a dataset becomes a fruitless endeavour”.

Another difficulty is the variety of systems used to collect information. To achieve a satisfactory degree of efficiency, solutions to this problem must be found.

Clarke continues: “One of the issues that we've come across is that it’s still quite a fragmented market. For example, if we put in a sensor to measure traffic movement, that sensor will come with a data platform and an air quality sensor will come with a separate data platform. This means that we end up with lots of sensors and lots of platforms. What we need is a centralised system to combine and analyse information more easily”.

“Over the last few years, we've started to move towards this ambition, building a data platform with the University of Cambridge at smartcambridge.org. This has allowed us to move data away from legacy systems, instead compiling it in one place.”

Levelling infrastructure up to deliver data

Many smart city technologies – particularly Internet of Things-powered innovations require 5G networks, which is one of the reasons more emphasis is being placed on smart cities, as 5G connectivity becomes a reality. However, in turn, 5G networks need far-reaching, reliable, high-speed fibre infrastructure to be able to power them.

Clarke spells this out: “I think fibre is the foundation on which smart cities are built. It is critical to their success. Simply, it supports everything from mobile connectivity to business processes”.

“As with everything in the smart cities domain, in order for our dreams to become a reality, we need to be much more collaborative in our approach both to planning fibre and ensuring that this fibre is going to the right places. Over the years, we’ve built a very collaborative relationship with fibre providers. As cities, we can enable the fibre footprint by doing things like putting ducting into all of our infrastructure schemes. To help increase fibre footprints, we support things like wayleaves, permits and licensing, to try and remove some of the barriers that fibre providers face when they come into a city.”

For local authorities to deliver on their smart cities promises, providing seamless, behind-the-scenes solutions to everyday living, they will need to ease the way for fibre providers, just as Cambridge has done.

One thing is for certain, data will continue to play a pivotal role in the development of smart cities. Operations will only become seamless when the underlying core connectivity is in place that will enable high-speed connections, capable of transmitting these previously outlined large volumes of data. A crucial first step to ensure ambitious smart cities plans succeed, is to ensure high-performance infrastructure is in place to handle massive – and constantly growing – quantities of data.

Neos Networks has helped a number of cities to become truly smart, supporting local authorities across the nation including Oxfordshire, Aberdeenshire and Perth and Kinross councils.

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