At the start of 2020, Immense Head of Commercial Development, Luke Rust, spent time meeting businesses and councils across Australia to discuss their mobility prospects and challenges. In this second part of a two-part blog series, Luke explains the positive developments in mobility down under.
It is time for Australia to step up to be a global leader in mobility. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting local and state councils, major and small businesses that are pushing to accelerate the mobility transition. Whilst there are clearly some major spatial and societal barriers restricting sector growth (as detailed in Part 1), there are clear signals that the mobility industry in Australia is ready to take off.
Here are my observations on the progress so far:
‘Transport Coordination’ appears to be one of the buzz terms that has gained popularity across state and local councils. There is a drive towards integrated planning and operation of traffic management and public transport to better manage congestion (makes sense, right?). The challenge lies in ‘de-siloing’ areas of transport operation and integrating data from disparate sources maintained by separate departments. The flagship project exists in Sydney, with Transport for NSW investing $123 million in a world-leading multi-modal transport management system to enable faster, more informed decisions. Watch this space as it’s due for completion in 2020.
Anticipating Autonomous Vehicles
Australia has commenced a wide range of connected and automated vehicle trials. Transport ministers agreed to the ‘Guidelines for Trials of Automated Vehicles in Australia’ back in 2017, providing a clear and consistent approach that balances safety and innovation. This laid the foundation for successful trials and development across the country, with Perth was one of the first cities in the world to trial driverless on-demand car. Other key trials include:
- South Australia testing automated electric shuttles at Adelaide Airport, Flinders University and Tonsley Park; and
- Queensland delivering the Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative (CAVI) that is focussed on the largest on-road testing trial in Australia.
Demand Responsive Transport is bridging the gap between flexible private vehicle use and the fixed operations of public transport. These are typically minibus-style vehicles that can support areas of low passenger demand where a regular bus service is not considered to be financially viable – perfect for Australia’s sprawling regions. Most Australian state governments have trialled DRT services now, with the next phases expected to bring wider rollout. New technology platforms have launched in the Australian market including Via and Liftango, who make the deployment and scale-up of on-demand services easy and in collaboration with existing service providers. This is an exciting space that is expected to grow significantly over the next 5 years.
As with many areas around the world, Australian federal and state regulation has struggled to keep up with micro-mobility technology. Effective solutions to solve the first and last-mile problem depend on having effective bicycle networks and efficient public transport services – not necessarily the case in Australia. Commercial adoption and legislation have therefore been slow in every state except Queensland. It’s fair to say that authorities are catching up; they are leading local trials and developing laws that should enable micro-mobility to be a part of future multimodal systems.
Resurrecting Light Rail
A relative ‘old-timer’ in the age of technology-led mobility services, light rail (or trams) have undergone a resurgence in Australia over recent years. In the mid-20th century, most of Australia’s tram lines were closed or severely cut back, in part due to World War II and increasing private car ownership – but they are back! Tramway networks have recently been reconstructed in Sydney and Newcastle, extended in Adelaide and new systems developed on the Gold Coast and Canberra. Future versions in discussions are ‘trackless trams’ that have the speed, capacity and ride quality of light rail, coupled with the noise and emission benefit of electric buses. Is this the attractive public transport that Australia needs?
The Moment for MaaS?
With an increasing number of transport modes, enhanced coordination and rising congestion, the time for Mobility-as-a-Service may be well be approaching. Planning, paying and executing a trip from A to B through a single app and several modes promises to make travelling easy, enjoyable, and efficient for customers. Shared data will also bring efficiencies and custom for providers. A reduction in private car use should also see traffic congestion and related emissions reduce – a high priority for governments across Australia. Although there have been several attempts at a partial MaaS platform, its full deployment remains a future vision. Governments do have a desire for it, and given the convergence of previously mentioned developments, the timing may be perfect.
The AIMES Testbed – the Mobility System of the Future?
The Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES) is a ‘living lab’ across 100km of Melbourne roads that have a network of data gathering smart sensors that will be used to integrate and optimise connected vehicles, connected public transport, connected pedestrians and cyclists, intersections and smart public transport stations to enable seamless mobility. The testbed – run by the University of Melbourne, in conjunction with Cubic Transportation Systems, and 37 business and government partners – promises to provide a glimpse of future city mobility systems.
The Future is Complex, but Optimism Remains
Overall, I remain positive that Australia can ‘get mobility right’. Governments are ambitious. Innovators are everywhere. And the people want it. It’s an exciting time to be working in Australia’s mobility industry and I am excited to be a part of it!