Proposals for a local smart city initiative in Riyadh


Section 1

An Overview of Riyadh City

Riyadh is the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The city, located in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula (Map1), began in 1902 with an initial geographical footprint of 2.2 km2 and a population of 8000 people. In 1960, Riyadh began to develop and progressively propagated into a modern city. By the year 2008, the city had expanded to more than 2700 km2 with a population of close to 5 Million people (Ibrahim, 2010; Compare Pic1 and Pic2). Riyadh’s most prominent stage of development is evident between the early 1900s and early 2000s. Before the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the Al Rashid family conquered Riyadh. However, when King Abdulaziz rose to power, with his values of peace and strong credence in Islam rules, he managed to unite the people against the Al Rashid. King Abdulaziz advocated principles that helped in the development of Saudi into a modernist state. The coming together of Saudis to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, subsequently contributed to the growth of Riyadh City (USA International Business, 2005).

Riyadh is exceptionally hot and arid, owing to its proximity to the Arabian Gulf. Daytime temperatures can soar as high as 550C in summer and 250C in winter (Oxford Business Group, 2014). However, regardless of the hot climate, Riyadh is one of Saudi’s natural fertile areas on account of its good supply of underground water (History of Riyadh, 2008). As a result, the city is well-equipped with everything needed for development.

Key Sustainability and Environmental Management Challenges Facing Riyadh

Like many other developing cities, Riyadh has its share of challenges hampering progress towards sustainable development. According to Alturki (2015), the overheads of development should not have adverse effects on future generations. With Riyadh being Saudi’s main administrative, financial and commercial center, the city is actively involved in the economic development of the kingdom. The city boasts an abundance of cement, food, and oil-refining industries (Bowen, 2015).

These overheads of development result in some negative eventualities. For instance, in the environment sector, sustainable development faces challenges such as organic waste, pollution, and urban development (Arab News, 2016). Choguill (2008) further asserts that Riyadh’s population has an inclination toward excessive consumption. As a result, the city has an extravagant global ecological footprint, which coupled with the human impact on Riyadh, threatens the city’s environmental sustainability. Also, Riyadh suffers a limitation in water resources, a situation that also prevails in electricity. Provision of these facilities to the population of Riyadh is quite expensive. The massive subsidies for services further exacerbate the problem and give rise to uncertainty as regards Riyadh’s economic stability. Since social sustainability arises from all other elements being in equilibrium, without economic and environmental sustainability, Riyadh is at risk of social non-sustainability (Choguill, 2008).

Riyadh’s Level of Engagement with Smart City Projects and Initiatives

Riyadh is well on its way toward becoming a smart city so as to achieve sustainable economic development and high quality of life for its residents. In a bid to change Saudi’s economic base and venture into other areas besides oil, the king used oil revenues to invest in other sectors’ development. In the period between 2003 and 2013, about $450 billion of public capital investment was deployed in programs to improve education, health, social welfare, infrastructure, and transport” (Al-Kibsi et al., 2015, p.2). Investment in non-oil industries is a smart move. According to Al Omran and Stancati (2016), “Riyadh expects non-oil revenue to more than triple by 2020 to 530 billion Saudi riyals ($141.33 billion).” Investment in other industries not only helps increase the kingdom’s revenue but also helps alleviate the problem of environmental degradation.

Most of Riyadh’s development initiatives are aimed at sustainable development. Some heavily invest in technology which further helps towards making Riyadh a smart city. For instance, the King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport has projects such as the Riyadh Metro Project and The Riyadh Bus Project. The projects aim to establish pedestrian walkways and green residential quarters which reduce the number of private cars on the road and contribute to the reduction of air pollution. Riyadh city also has environmental protection laws that regulate air pollution, wastewater management, and the transport and disposal of chemicals. As a result, companies are being more careful about managing emissions by producing equipment that is in line with emission standards.

Importance of Enhancing Smart City Initiatives in Riyadh City

Like most developing cities, Riyadh faces changes in population which make the provision of services weaker. It is, therefore, important for Riyadh to invest in smart city initiatives for some reasons. Smart cities have significant economic advantages. According to Gutierrez (2015), cities that invest in intelligent transport systems will be able to save up to $800 billion every year from 2030 onwards. Emergency responders, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and traffic control workers will also find it easier to offer better services.

Smart mobility also ensures better transportation and consequently increased productivity since people spend less time in traffic. According to Krishnan (2014), Smart infrastructure is profitable in the long run. More specifically, cities that capitalize on smart-grid technology and infrastructure experience increased GDP growth, lower unemployment rates, and higher office occupancy rates (Krishnan, 2014).

As published in The Economic Times (2015), enhancing smart initiatives results in better planning and development, more efficient service delivery, lower operating expenses, and improved productivity. Smart city initiatives can lead to better waste management through recycling and reduction of waste. The use of smart meters results in water use monitoring which results in the most efficient use of water resources. It is also possible to ensure better use of energy for instance, through the use of renewable sources and smart metering. Smart initiatives also provide smart mobility.

Smart City Strategies and Initiatives in Other Cities as Regards Smart Mobility

Smart mobility initiatives have been successful in many cities. Cities such as New York, Dublin, and Chicago have relied on information technology to support the integration of data from existing stand-alone systems or feeds from sensors such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) (Krishnan, 2015). In New York, for instance, 19 agencies have come together and combined data that helps to build inspectors improve the prediction of fire safety features. In Dublin, there is the integration of GPS data from public transit vehicles with existing timetables. This process provides residents with a real-time transit schedule. Citizens can, therefore, reduce the time wasted in traffic. The city of Chicago, on the other hand, uses GPS to locate snowplows, thus assisting inhabitants in citywide transportation. In Quebec, Canada there exists an online transport control system.

New Town, Kolkata has a Smart City app that provides citizens and tourists with information about all the places of interest, and relevant details of these locations (Roy, 2016). This app enables users to locate addresses, view bus schedules, and also buy books from the digital library.

San Francisco’s I-80 Smart Corridor project encompasses a network of cameras, sensors, and high-tech road signs to ease traffic congestion in the city. According to Goodrich (2016), the project also helps to reduce secondary accidents (collisions that result from prolonged backups after an initial crash).

Environmental and Sustainability Challenges That Can Be More Effectively Managed Using Smart Mobility

Smart mobility can help ease many of Riyadh’s sustainability challenges including traffic accidents, and environmental issues such as air pollution, and also improve economic problems resulting from hours spent in traffic.

Road traffic accidents exhaust human and financial resources, particularly on intercity highways that have not been maintained (Al-Shayea, 2015). According to Mansuri et al. (2015), road accidents are the leading cause of trauma admissions in hospitals all over the world. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), has experienced an increase in road fatalities from 17.4-to 24 per 100,000 people in the last decade. Al-Shayea (2015) recently put the number at 49 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Road traffic deaths now account for 4.7% of all mortalities. Riyadh city is among KSA’s top regions as regards the occurrence of road traffic accidents (Mansuri et al., 2015). In line with this argument, Al-Shayea (2015) terms road traffic accidents as the biggest security danger facing Saudis nowadays. Poor road infrastructure also leads to losses such as the rotting of fruit and vegetables during transportation.

Smart mobility initiatives can also help to reduce the usage of oil as fuel which not only reduces carbon dioxide emission and improves air quality, but also contributes to conserving Saudi’s oil reserves. The effects of pollution also take an economic toll on Saudi cities. Environmental degradation hinders economic development. Pollution can result in disease and disability and thus, block economic development since growth requires a healthy population. The financial burden as a result of pollution-related illness also results in slow economic development. According to Alturki (2015), the cost of repairing the health, property, and environmental damage done by pollution outweighs the expenses of anti-pollution technology. It would, therefore, be more convenient to invest in smart mobility rather than deal with the eventualities of conventional transit methods.

Economic non-sustainability poses a threat to sustainable development in that cities spend lots of resources on unstable systems and projects. Smart mobility helps assuage economic non-sustainability as well as environmental non-sustainability. As a result, social sustainability gets improved.

Section 2

Outline Plan for Smart Mobility Initiatives to Effectively Manage Environmental Challenges in Riyadh

The evolution of smarter cities begins with the development of focused, progressive economic visions targeting sustainable productivity, inclusivism, and pliability (Krishnan, 2014). When cities come up with technological solutions to their political and economic problems, then technology becomes a way to improve the lives of the inhabitants. Such technology can also get integrated into municipal services and other business processes to help further in improving the lives of people. In Riyadh, the increased population, as well as the availability of cheap fuel and cheap cars, leads to an increase in private vehicles on the roads. As a result, there is an exhaustion of city roads and motorway capacity. The most obvious solution might be to build more roads. However, building more roads would only further promote congestion in a triple convergence phenomenon where more roads only encourage more drivers to use private cars (Miller, 2015) More cars bring about air pollution and concerns about road safety all of which, challenge sustainable development.

As previously discussed, investing in smart mobility initiatives helps curb such sustainability challenges in Riyadh city. Moreover, sustainable transport systems support the economy, the environment, efficiency, and energy. The city has already begun implementing smart mobility initiatives. For instance, Riyadh recently implemented the Bombardier Innovia Monorail system to help ease transportation throughout the financial district (Mullich, 2016). Riyadh also has a new metro and more highways

Speed drives: To effectively manage environmental challenges in Riyadh, one smart mobility initiative that would work is the implementation of speed drives in all road equipment. According to Plant Engineering Staff (2010), speed drives ensure controlled starting current, controlled acceleration, controlled stopping, and adjustable operating speeds among a myriad of other advantages. As a result, there is a reduction in the horsepower required to run the machinery. In the long term, energy savings contribute to increased return on investments.

Electric Vehicles and Smart Metering: Riyadh city could also invest in smart metering and electric vehicles. According to Motavalli (2009), access to smart meters reduces consumer electricity use by between 5 to 15 percent. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, enable the use of cleaner carbon-friendlier power. For further energy saving, the city could use intensity and color-controlled LED lighting for street lighting (Krishnan, 2014). Krishnan further adds that money that gets saved from efficient energy consumption will generate surpluses and consequentially increase discretionary spending.

Smart Parking: According to AMCO (2016), a driver spends an extra 24% of the time trying to find a parking space. Further research also concludes that people who are trying to find parking spaces account for 30% of all traffic in the average city center. Smart parking allows residents to pay for street parking in advance. As a result, people spend less time looking for places to park (Hessel, 2015). Smart parking systems provide timely and accurate information as regards the availability of parking spaces (AMCO, 2016). An intelligent parking system consists of features such as wireless sensors to check the availability of parking spaces, pay and display machines, repeaters, gateways, and payment back-office software, among other features.

Intelligent Traffic Management: Riyadh should also invest in the availability of real-time traffic information to motorists. Such projects employ the use of CCTV cameras. Such systems also provide regular updates to travelers, to ensure smooth transfer between the different modes of transport

Integrated Multi-modal Transportation: According to Mullich (2016), improvement of transit infrastructure should encompass multi-modal transport systems such as high-speed rail, commuter trains, electric buses, monorails, and street trams. These systems could also include environmentally sensitive aircraft, which have reduced carbon emissions. According to Hessel (2015), multi-modal transport systems enable residents to transition from one mode of transport to another with ease. Citizens could be encouraged to use vanpooling, transit, walking, bicycling, or any other alternatives to driving. Fewer cars on roads mean less traffic for the smart city initiatives to handle and consequently, less pollution hence better air quality and subsequently, sustainable mobility.

Smart payment systems: These systems enable people to pay later for the total expense incurred throughout the day using personal gadgets such as phones or credit cards.

Installation of Energy-efficient Internet of Things (IoT) systems: For instance, the connection of GPS systems, traffic light coordination, and cameras could greatly help in alleviating the traffic problem. Inhabitants would have access to real-time traffic information which would save them time spent in traffic.

Transportation Improvement and Reinvention: In addition to the use of technology, smart mobility also features plans such as bike loan programs and apps for end-users to maximize green transportation. The program can also include mobile phone apps to aid in the use of public transit and cleaner, more efficient public transit (For example, driverless vehicles) (West, 2016). In Riyadh, driverless cars could help

Stakeholder Map

Smart mobility initiatives require multiple stakeholders to be successful since sustainability problems are diverse. Some of the involved stakeholders include data scientists,

Data scientists: Data scientists will need to analyze data generated by Riyadh city annually. From the analytics, the city’s management can then put in place measures that help to improve transport, reduce crime, and enhance public service delivery among other things. Since Riyadh already has current smart mobility initiatives, data collected will enhance these systems.

Recommended Timeline for Implementation and Indicators to Monitor Effectiveness

Some of the recommended projects might take a long time to implement especially those that require significant infrastructural investments. For instance, the installation of speed drives might be difficult for already working vehicles. However, manufacturers can improve their designs for new models to incorporate such changes. Initiatives that can be implemented or improved within the year through proper planning and cooperation include the use of Intelligent Traffic Management, and encouraging Integrated Multi-modal transport. The Installation of Energy-efficient Internet of Things (IoT) systems and Transportation Improvement and Reinvention may take longer but since Riyadh’s economy is stable, it allows for development and changes could be in effect within the next decade.

It is important to monitor the performance of smart mobility initiatives for them to succeed. Performance measurement demonstrates the success or failure of past investments in achieving desired outcomes. They also act as a guideline for future programs (Charles, 2015). According to Kaparias and Bell (n.d), the data needed for effective evaluation of smart mobility initiatives may be expensive to acquire owing to the vast areas covered and the required precision. However, it may be important to consider the amortization costs since the collected data is usable for other planning and assessment functions.

The key performance indicators include (Kaparias & Bell (n.d) :

  • Indices for traffic efficiency such as:
    • mobility index
    • reliability index
    • operational efficiency index
    • system conditions and performance index
  • Indices for traffic safety
    • Traffic accident index
    • Index for application with a direct security impact
    • Index for applications with an indirect safety impact in urban environments
    • and motorways
    • Index for car-to-infrastructure-communication-related applications
    • Total index of traffic safety
  • Indices for pollution reduction
    • Index for emissions from motor vehicles
    • Index for emissions from electric vehicles
    • Total index of pollution reduction
  • Indices for social inclusion and land use
    • Index for accessibility
    • Index for social mobility of special groups
    • Index for public transport usage of special groups
    • Index for land use

Possible Benefits, Challenges, and Barriers to Implementation

Smart mobility has many advantages should it be correctly implemented. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Centre (2016), electric vehicles offer energy security, better fuel economy, and emissions benefits and also reduce the amount of money spent on fuel costs.

Saudi women experience restrictions on mobility (women do not drive in Saudi), a factor that could have tremendous economic effects (Tavares, 2016). Driverless cars can transport anyone regardless of their gender. As a result, women’s mobility will significantly improve which in turn helps improve Riyadh’s economy.

However, the implementation process may also lead to some drawbacks. Whereas smart city initiatives have a great potential to enact progress and development, they also have the potential for causing indescribable mayhem. For instance, increased use of technology increases the city systems’ vulnerability to cyber-attacks. Krishnan (2014) brings to light the fact that tech-reliant cities can fall prey to intruders and hackers which may be catastrophic. For instance, should a city’s electric grid gets compromised, city services may end up being shut down. Access to a police surveillance system, on the other hand, could result in the release of personal information.

Additionally, although electric vehicles spend less on fuel, they are more expensive compared to conventional vehicles. It may also cost the city lots of money to build public charging stations.


As Krishnan (2014) postulates, smart cities can only reach their full potential if society starts looking at technology as a tool to achieve sustainable development rather than a panacea to every possible problem. Riyadh faces various challenges to sustainable development. Such challenges include limited water resources, deteriorating air quality, wastage of resources, traffic accidents, massive ecological footprint, and industrial pollution, among others. Some of these challenges can get assuaged through the implementation of smart city initiatives. In particular, smart mobility can help in addressing the example of smart mobility can assist in dealing with issues such as deteriorating air quality, traffic accidents, and to some extent industrial pollution.

Examples of smart city initiatives that Riyadh could implement include the use of speed drives on vehicles, smart parking systems, encouraging the use of multi-modal transport, and intelligent traffic management, among others. Such initiatives can help Riyadh reduce the number of traffic accidents and reduce air pollution and consequentially improve the air quality. The use of electric driverless cars might even assist in easing restrictions on the mobility of women. Women in Riyadh are not allowed to drive. Such restrictions would not bind driverless cars.

It might take some time to implement smart mobility initiatives. However, with proper monitoring and if people know what to do to look out for efficiency, then Riyadh can begin benefitting from its smart mobility initiatives as soon as possible.


The Geographical Location of Riyadh (The Geographical Location, 2016)

Map 1: The Geographical Location of Riyadh (The Geographical Location, 2016)

Riyadh in the 18th Century (History of Riyadh, 2008)

Pic.1. Riyadh in the 18th Century (History of Riyadh, 2008)

Riyadh in the 21st Century (Riyadh in the 21st Century, 2016)

Pic.2. Riyadh in the 21st Century (Riyadh in the 21st Century, 2016)

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