Saudi Arabian cities rank poorly on mobility readiness index

15 November 2021 3 min. read

Saudi Arabia’s two largest cities have featured toward the bottom of Oliver Wyman’s latest mobility readiness rankings, but new technologies may soon see Gulf cities make a leap.

Saudi Arabian cities Jeddah and Riyadh have been assessed as among the bottom ten of sixty capitals worldwide for future mobility, according to the latest urban mobility readiness index released by global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman. The overall list was topped by Stockholm ahead of San Francisco and Singapore, while regionally Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha all featured in the bottom half of the rankings.

Launched at the firm’s Global Mobility Executive Forum event held at Expo 2020 Dubai, Oliver Wyman Forum head John Romeo said of the index: “The cities coming out on top have made significant investments in new, sustainable infrastructure and technologies that will only become more important in the future as we grapple with evolving challenges of the pandemic and climate change. Stockholm is a bright example of what can be achieved.”

Urban Mobility Readyness Index - Riyadh

Produced in partnership with the University of California, the index looks into investment and planning measures to assess the capacity of cities to meet future mobility challenges around five key dimensions – infrastructure, social impact, market attractiveness, system efficiency, and innovation – which are further broken down into almost 60 metrics. This year, the researchers also examined sustainability, along with cycling infrastructure.

A new entry in the annual study, Jeddah, the tenth largest city in the Middle East, finished in 58th spot for mobility readiness, ahead of only African capitals Nairobi and Lagos and behind Quito and the sprawling mess of Manila. In an ironic note following the recent Future Investment Initiative conference, the Saudi port city performed particularly poorly for market attractiveness, which considers how well a city does to engage private sector investment.

Riyadh meanwhile fared little better in landing at 54th on the index, with its scores slipping across every dimension on the 2020 report, including a 13-place drop in social impact, which considers factors such as road safety, air quality, and the affordability and efficiency of public transport. Both Jeddah and Riyadh also sat in the bottom-three for sustainability, a combination of metrics such as walkability, cycling uptake, and EV adoption and charging infrastructure.

Urban Mobility Readyness Index - Jeddah

While Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha also lost ground on the index (with each ranking in the 30s), the impact of the global pandemic was roundly acknowledged. Whereas some cities benefitted on the rankings from the disruption – such as San Francisco rising from 11th to 2nd thanks to its decongested road networks and a civilian switch to cycling and walking – the Middle Eastern environment naturally delimits the uptake of these alternative transport modalities.

And the analysts also foresee a future jump in the regional rankings, with new technologies potentially enabling lower-ranking but rapidly developing economies to leapfrog straight to next-generation mobility. “With little in the way of legacy systems to hold them back, Gulf cities are investing aggressively in mobility innovation, including self-driving taxis in Dubai and the soon-to-be-launched driverless metro in Riyadh,” conclude the authors.