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Transport is essential for global economic and social development, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. However, its rapid expansion in the region has posed challenges, due to continued urbanization and motorization which increase negative externalities such as congestion, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and road accidents. In response to transport challenges and other wider global issues, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, comprising 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was adopted by the United Nations in 2015 focusing on achieving global sustainable development. Although transport issues are not directly allocated to a specific SDG, it plays a vital role in sustainable development by contributing to other SDGs such as improved health, energy efficiency, infrastructure development, economic growth, and liveable communities.  In furthering this agenda, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) prioritized the creation of a regional road map to support regional cooperation for the wider deployment of sustainable and resilient smart transport systems in Asia and the Pacific. 

Smart transport systems have been recognized as an essential enabler for sustainable transport goals, in that they digitize the transport ecosystem and enhancing transport efficiency, safety, and connectivity by reducing congestion and environmental impacts in accordance with the requirements of SDGs 7, 9, 11 and 13 amongst others. However, their wider deployment remains challenging as it requires robust policies, strategies and region-wide planning and architectures. Implementing these measures is crucial to support the region’s progress towards sustainable and resilient smart transport systems and sustainable development. 

Smart transport systems are an advanced integration of diverse technologies that enhance transport sustainability and are bolstered by expanding mobile services and internet connectivity across the region. ESCAP have categorised them specifically as Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS), Advanced Traveller Information Systems (ATIS), Advanced Public Transport Systems (APTS), Commercial Vehicle Operations (CVO) and they include new emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, cooperative-ITS, connected vehicles, smart mobility, and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). These technologies have promoted a paradigm shift from “transport” to “mobility” which focusses on individual travel needs while concurrently minimizing environmental impacts. This shift has been driven by interconnected digital technologies that offer seamless and user-oriented mobility services which are supported by significant improvements in automation and AI, the continued expansion of Big Data, and 5G and IoT wireless networks. In supporting this shift, ESCAP Transport Division is well positioned as an intergovernmental platform in the Asia-Pacific region. It works towards achieving regional cooperation and collaboration with various stakeholders for smart transport systems, and has many past achievements and on-going activities relating to regional policy frameworks, intergovernmental agreements, resolutions, and initiatives. 

Well-directed policies and regional cooperation are crucial to achieve regional and global agendas on transport issues. ESCAP Transport Division’s regional road map aims to promote wider deployment of smart transport systems, ensure sustainable transport in Asia and the Pacific, and contribute to the region’s resilience and response to climate change. The regional roadmap has evolved over a period of time and valuable points from previous smart transport-related projects have also been used in its development. Despite the ambitious vision for wider smart transport deployment, several roadblocks impede their development. Following research into the smart transport status, needs and priorities of Member States, fourteen issues were identified. In addressing these issues and needs, ESCAP Transport Division has offered to facilitate the implementation of five critically relevant strategies. Under each strategy, several priority policy plans (a total of twelve) aligned with achieving the SDGs and the Paris Agreement are identified. They serve as a unified pathway for the wider adoption of smart transport while supporting the development of national policies and strategies. 

In furthering these strategies, ESCAP Transport Division can play a vital role in supporting sustainable smart transport systems through enhancing technical expertise and capacity, fostering intergovernmental cooperation and collaboration, providing localize smart transport systems, and keeping current with evolving technical trends in smart transport systems and producing related knowledge products.

As a way forward, proactive actions are presented using previously determined goals, strategies, and implementable policy plans applicable for the short and long-term. Short term goals focus on connectivity, integration, inclusiveness, and affordability strategies, with plans to establish dedicated cooperation mechanisms, foster international dialogues, facilitate technical compatibility, and promote capacity building, funding initiatives and upscaling analytical work. Long term goals have a shift towards integration, inclusiveness and resilience strategies, with greater integration of different transport modes, deeper institutional and regulatory foundations, increase tailored policy supports for vulnerable groups and areas, resilient and environmentally friendly mobility services, data security and utilization of Big Data, and preparedness for unexpected disruptions.

It is expected that this regional road map optimizes the use of digital technologies, with a focus on harmonizing policies and strategies, promoting regional cooperation, addressing challenges for wider deployment, while remaining flexibility to the status, needs and challenges of Member States. It also aims to foster connectivity, integration, inclusiveness, affordability, and resiliency in the transport sector, guided by good governance and institutional effectiveness, to ultimately contribute to the region's sustainable development goals.