If you have followed my previous blogs, I am on a smart city tour through Europe. The next few blogs will cover developments in Russia. With the World Cup taking place (where we are barracking for the Australian team) the city, under the charismatic mayoral leadership of Sergey Sobyanin, used the occasion to spend $500 million in smart city projects in the run-up to the event. The atmosphere around the World Cup is fantastic, global friendship, how different from global politics.
The last time I was in Russia was in 1972, when the country was still locked behind the Iron Curtain. State control was all-pervasive at that time. We noticed this even more as we were travelling by car. Crossing the border from Poland into Russia took two hours, and during that time we were the only car at the crossing (apart from one Polish car, which crossed the border within a few minutes). Our car was half taken apart and every bit of luggage was checked. Our Dutch version of Women’s Weekly was confiscated as forbidden literature.
On the way to Moscow we had to stay in dedicated hotels in Minsk and Smolensk where we had compulsory tourist guides to show us around (and keep an eye on us). The same was the case at the numerous watch towers along the freeway, monitoring this foreign car.
All of this has now changed, and despite the 150,000 24/7 street cameras the feeling is the same as in any other big western city. What however, is still lingering on are the remnants of the Soviet style bureaucracy, stamps, registers and forms are still widely used.
Traffic in Moscow in 1972 was already horrific, but it was nothing in comparison with today’s chaos – this despite the massive smart transport investments over the last decade (see below).
In the rest of the country the population has declined by 1.5% in the last decade, but Moscow saw growth of over 10%. Average wage growth in the city has been double that of the rest of the country over that period. And, while challenged by Saint Petersburg (see next blog), Moscow has taken smart city leadership in the country.
The downside of all of this has been, as already mentioned, massive transport congestion and also a disastrous housing situation. There are thousands of so-called ‘Khrushchyovka’, five-storey temporary apartment blocks erected under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the 1960s. While the mayor wants to gradually demolish and replace them, there is fierce opposition from occupants who are paying little rent for these old flats.
But on a more positive side Muscovites use the advantages of some of the smart city improvements in their everyday lives. They connect to the internet on a train or in the streets, arrange medical visits via the Unified Medical Information Analysis System (UMIAS), pay utility bills online, and can attend an online school.
The city describes its smart city strategy as a system of city service resources that are used as efficiently as possible to provide maximum convenience for its residents. This requires close connection between smart city projects (street CCTV cameras, public services, smart transport systems and others) in this megalopolis.
Over 99% of Muscovites already have access to a minimum of 20Mb/s fixed broadband as well as access to 4G. While fixed broadband penetration in Russia stands around 76%, Moscow scores 87%. Furthermore there are many points with free Wi-Fi access in Moscow streets, parks and pedestrian areas, including over 2,000 located inside the Garden Ring and in Moscow parks.
Internet can also be accessed from the public transport. The network covers the metro, the MCC, the Aeroexpress trains to the airports, as well as buses, trams and trolleys. Connection between these different modes of access is seamless.
Mobile internet costs are among the lowest in Europe and smartphones are as prolific as they are elsewhere in the world.
Moscow certainly is trying to address its massive transport problem. Alongside very large investment in road and public transport, the intelligent traffic control system is another important element. This system includes more than 2,000 traffic lights, 3,500 traffic detectors and 2,000 CCTV cameras. Data from these devices are transferred to the Traffic Management Centre’s situation room, where they are analysed online, which helps control traffic. In the future, this information will make it possible for the Traffic Management Centre to forecast traffic patterns due to street closures, the introduction of one-way traffic, or a new designated bus lane.
Moscow was the first Russian region to launch a website where the public can pay various fees, attain city services, and which moves permits and documents to the cloud, allowing users to receive several services in one package.
Muscovites can check on, and pay, traffic tickets and utility bills, arrange a doctor’s visit, top up a Troika card, sign up children for a club and do many other things in only minutes. There are now 222 services in total on mos.ru.
Facts and numbers
- 4 million Muscovites use online public services
- 222 services are available online, including socially important ones
- Over 165 million applications were filed online during one period in 2017
Visit a doctor online
The Unified Medical Information Analysis System (UMIAS) was launched in Moscow in 2011. It can be used to find the closest medical centre, arrange a doctor’s visit or get sick leave papers. UMIAS has reduced the waiting time in clinics by 2.5 since it was launched.
UMIAS works at 678 medical centres, unites 21,500 doctors and 9.5 million patients as well as 359 million processes and provides for over 500,000 transactions every day. About 700,000 people use UMIAS to arrange to see a doctor every week.
UMIAS can be used to arrange an appointment at a medical centre online, through a mobile app or a terminal at a clinic. The system can also give online prescriptions or papers [for the traffic police]?? and keep digital medical records.
The next priority is to introduce UMIAS at inpatient facilities and integrate it with ambulance services and Moscow schools.
Our City and Active Citizen
Muscovites can directly interact with the Moscow government and influence the city’s life. Our City is a feedback channel where residents can comment on officials and utility services issues.
Muscovites can report on the lack of a rubbish basket in a park, a broken staircase or pavement tile as well as rubbish on the street, poor landscaping care or a pothole. Over a million users are registered on the website. Almost 1.8 million problems have been resolved with this website so far.
The Active Citizen online referendum system allows citizens to give their opinion on various issues, starting from additional bus routes and lawnmowing to the name of the new metro ring. ‘Active Citizens’ save up bonus points to get brand souvenirs or tickets to theatres or museums. Today over 1.9 million participants are registered in the system, with 2,600 voting sessions held and over 81 million opinions taken into account.
The Moscow Electronic School project started in September 2016. The main elements include digital school records and online registering, as well as an electronic library with textbooks and lesson scenarios. The scenarios have replaced lesson plans and look more like a presentation with materials and tasks. Teachers all around the city can find the necessary scenario at the library, add something new to the existing one, or create a new one and share it with others.
This system allows teachers to exchange opinions; and it creates healthy competition between teachers because scenarios can be rated and the number of downloads is recorded. As of today, teachers have created almost 50,000 lesson electronic scenarios. Interactive blackboards – 84 inch touch screens – can be used to make lessons more interesting. School students can draw on it, move elements from one place to another, paint various areas and so on with a stylus or their fingers. Today’s children are used to electronic devices, so they like working that way. For example, in history lessons students use the blackboard to enjoy drawing trade routes, or they can circle areas where certain tribes lived. Some subjects, such as geometry, actually look better with 3D images. Thanks to internet access teachers can quickly pull up information about laws, articles, videos and many other things on the interactive blackboard.
Moscow schools also use online school performance and attendance records as well as the ‘Attendance and Food’ system, in which parents can see children’s marks and their education in general: what topics were covered and what homework is due. And the system allows parents to monitor their child’s arrival at and departure from school, and what they had for lunch.
In short there is a lot happening in Russia, and most certainly in Moscow. The city has changed enormously since I visited it 40 years ago and it is set to grow and expand further, faster than most of the other European mega-cities.
Those involved in smart cities should keep an eye on the developments in Moscow, as they will be, in many aspects, on the leading edge.