How smart cities and electric vehicles can revolutionise urban living
Smart cities are leading the way towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly urban future. Discover how our partnership with Citroën is helping to pave the way.
by: Sean Guthrie
6 Mar 2023
Illustration: Ollie Hirst
Smart cities are rapidly advancing through the innovative use of digital technology and urban development to create a more sustainable, efficient, and livable environment for citizens. From electric vehicles and EV charging to renewable energy production and intelligent lighting, smart cities leverage IoT, big data, and connected devices to enhance energy efficiency, waste management, and urban mobility.
If you’ve got an iOS or Android device, or an app-controlled thermostat at home, then you’re using smart technology. On a grander scale, smart cities harness this type of technology to reduce pollution and energy consumption, the ultimate goal being a greener, cleaner environment for citizens to live and work in.
At the heart of smart cities lies innovation – charging points for electric vehicles (EVs), for example, or the development of streetlamps that adjust accordingly to levels of environmental light and traffic levels.
Leaders in smart cities
Since the creation of the world’s first smart city – Songdo, 20 miles south-west of Seoul in South Korea – the principle has gathered pace. Singapore is arguably the leader, offering contactless payments for its 7.5 million users of public transport.
Closer to home, Helsinki has an enviable reputation for tech-driven sustainability. The district of Kalsatama has a smart waste collection system, on-site renewable energy production and an extensive EV charging network.
With a population of 8.5 million and counting, New York is addressing its vast energy and water consumption through widespread LED retrofitting and an automated water monitoring system, while solar-powered rubbish and recycling bins have greatly improved efficiency.
Smart cities in the UK
In the UK many urban areas are embracing smart city philosophies to make them easier to move around more cleanly and efficiently.
Hull city council uses smart technology to monitor infrastructure like traffic, parking and street lighting in real time, with similar projects in Edinburgh and Glasgow – which introduces its low emission zone (LEZ) in June – Belfast, Peterborough, Manchester, Birmingham and Milton Keynes.
London’s clampdown on the most polluting vehicles, beginning with the congestion charge in 2003, continues in August when the ultra-low emission zone, or ULEZ, is extended to cover all of Greater London.
Transition to Electric Vans
As UK cities move towards greater sustainability, so does Big Issue Group. In our fight to end homelessness we must operate in a cleaner, greener way. This led to our partnership with Citroën UK, who are supplying us with electric vans to replace our existing diesel fleet.
In the first phase of going electric, a combination of ë-Berlingo Van and ë-Dispatch models are rolling out in the South-West, Dorset, East Anglia, Leicester, London and the North-east, with more being added in coming years.
Holly O’Connor, Big Issue Midlands Regional Manager, says the first tranche of electric vans have already made a difference in terms of the care staff can give vendors. They really are supporting our partnership’s mission of Driving Change for Good.
“It’s a special thing to many of the vendors, because we’re going directly to them,” she says. “They show us their commitment to being part of the organisation by selling the magazine and in return, we’re making it as easy as possible for them to get magazines and support. The electric vans make that so much easier.”
Laurentiu, who sells the magazine in Bristol, says: “It’s good that the company is starting to go greener for the planet. My customers like it when the magazine covers political issues – so I think they will be happy that we are starting to use electric vehicles.”
Our fleet covers around 350,000 miles every year, delivering more than two million magazines to distribution offices and directly to vendors. But with most vans fuelled by diesel that mileage equates to approximately 106 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
Supporting a greener future
For each diesel van replaced with an electric van there is a 66 per cent reduction in associated CO2 emissions. At the end of our first year of five new electric vans being on the road it is expected Big Issue Group’s fleet CO2 emissions could be reduced from 106 tonnes to 84 tonnes per year.
O’Connor is impressed both by the connectivity of Citroën EVs, helping to avoid congested routes, and how enjoyable they are to drive. “These vans are the best we have ever had,” she says. “They’re reliable and the tech is really good – now we can connect our phones to the vans and have a screen with a sat-nav on. That’s a game changer.
I’ve met vendors halfway between our offices and their pitch, so they can get magazines straight away. Without the vans, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Holly O’Connor, Big Issue Midlands Regional Manager
“It makes a huge difference, they’re so comfortable and smooth to drive. I’ve met vendors halfway between our offices and their pitch, so they can get magazines straight away. Without the vans, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
“We’re delighted to have Big Issue Group as a Citroën partner,” says Greg Taylor, Citroën UK Managing Director. “Both organisations share the vision of a world that works better for everyone, creating a more inclusive society for the benefit of all.
“Citroën is a brand committed to innovation, sustainable mobility, and truly accessible electric vehicle adoption in the UK. We care about the well-being of people inside our vehicles, and those outside them too. So we’re pleased to support Big Issue Group’s transition to electric vans, reducing the carbon footprint and emissions of the BIG vehicle fleet. It’s great to see electric Citroën vans out on the road supporting the Big Issue workforce and Driving Change For Good.”
As smart cities grow and multiply, so our van fleet is growing in the right direction – helping achieve a cleaner, greener world while providing a lifeline service to our vendors.