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Varanasi Launches Dollar9M Challenge for Global Crowd Flow Innovators

Bengaluru, India 28 June 2024 – As part of the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s $9m Sustainable Cities Challenge, Varanasi has launched a global call for innovators to find data-driven solutions to make the city safer for the millions of people who visit every year for pilgrimage. The Varanasi Challenge is looking for solutions that will allow the city to better manage the growing influx of annual visitors, while making the city more accessible for tourists and local residents, particularly older people and people with disabilities.

Launch Event_Varanasi Sustainable Cities Challenge

Located on the banks of the Ganges River in northern India, Varanasi is widely known as the “spiritual capital” of the nation. The old city of Kashi within Varanasi is one of India’s most important pilgrimage sites, with millions of people visiting every year for religious and cultural reasons. The inflow of tourists, however, when coupled with the city’s narrow, winding lanes and dense urban fabric, raises potential questions around safety and overcrowding. Previous reports have suggested that Varanasi attracted around 70 million visitors, which reiterates the need to enhance the city’s safety and accessibility, especially as most tourists are middle-aged and elderly people.

As part of the Sustainable Cities Challenge, Varanasi is inviting innovators from around the world to develop innovative crowd management solutions that make it easier to accommodate its visitors and make the city safer and more accessible for both residents and visitors alike.

Leveraging technology, data analytics, urban design, behavioral psychology, and crowd science, can provide insights into crowd dynamics and flow, enabling better crowd management and reduced congestion.

In addition to a share of $3 million of implementation grant funding, participants in the challenge will gain exclusive insights into the workings of this historic city and a real-world understanding of user-centered design.

Shri. Akshat Verma IAS, Municipal Commissioner, Varanasi Municipal Corporation, said:

“We are very excited to be involved in the Sustainable Cities Challenge. Millions of people visit Varanasi every year for religious, spiritual and touristic activities alike. Our leadership is committed to make Kashi safer and more accessible for all. We look forward to working with emerging innovators from around the world and hope that this challenge will help us identify technologies and the solutions that will benefit citizens, pilgrims and tourists of Varanasi. Kashi, one of the oldest surviving cities in the world, has various opportunities for it to be at the forefront of innovation in participatory and holistic development.”

Pras Ganesh, Executive Program Director, Toyota Mobility Foundation, said:

“We are truly looking forward to working with Varanasi on their City Challenge and seeing how innovators from around the world can deliver mobility solutions in this historic and holy city. As Toyota Mobility Foundation, we work under the three principles of innovation, partnership and leaving a sustainable legacy, and believe that this project has the potential to develop innovative but human centric crowd management solutions that can also be applied to other cities facing similar issues.”

Kathy Nothstine, Director of Cities and Societies at Challenge Works, said:

“As an important site of pilgrimage, the population of Varanasi grows exponentially throughout the year as people come to visit. This presents challenges for the city. The Sustainable Cities Challenge is a global call for innovative solutions and means that visionaries from across the world can work to develop solutions to these challenges.”

Pawan Mulukutla, Executive Director of Integrated Transport, Clean Air & Hydrogen, Sustainable Cities and Transport, WRI India said:

“In 2022, Varanasi’s floating population was estimated to be 35 times of its local population. By strategic interventions and effective crowd management measures, the thriving heritage city of Varanasi can become a torchbearer of sustainable mobility for other tourist destinations globally. The Sustainable Cities Challenge fosters technology-driven innovative solutions aimed at transforming the public spaces and streets of the city. The Challenge seeks innovative mobility solutions that can be tested, adapted and scaled to suit local contexts, while advancing low-carbon mobility across geographies.”

Mr Vikram Gulati, Country Head and Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Governance, Toyota Kirloskar Motor, said:

“Towards the realization of our mission of generating “Mass happiness”, we at Toyota are constantly working towards creating Mobility for All by adopting sustainable, practical, and innovative solutions. The Varanasi Innovating Crowd Flow Challenge exemplifies this commitment that aspires to the creation of a city that is more accessible, safe, and inclusive in-line with the real local mobility needs. We are truly excited about this project, as it promises to scientifically and systematically streamline the unique mobility needs of the magnificent city of Varanasi.”

Varanasi is one of three cities to host challenges, alongside Detroit, USA and Venice, Italy. Over 150 cities from 46 countries around the world entered the challenge after the call to cities was first launched in June 2023.

Applications for the Varanasi Challenge are open from today until the 5th of September. Up to ten semi-finalists will be selected in November 2024 and receive a grant of $50,000 each. Companies will have the opportunity to directly engage with city leaders, end users, and beneficiaries to customize their solutions and demonstrate them on-ground in the city.

In May 2025, up to five finalists will be granted $130,000 each to test their solutions in a larger area of the city over an extended period to assess their impact and further customize their solutions. In March 2026, up to three winners will be selected to share final implementation funding of $1.5 million to further scale their solutions in the city.

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