Driving policy decisions for a world without drivers

Service NSW is the NSW government’s one stop shop site for government services. A quick scan of the current homepage of the website shows that of the 15 most popular services that they feature on the homepage, 11 are related to vehicle ownership, licensing and driving.
This small fact illustrates what will be an interesting and increasingly pressing dilemma for governments in Australia and globally. In a future where the widespread adoption of driverless car technology, and shared ownership models seems to be both inevitable and happening quickly, the implications for the public sector are deep and wide-ranging.

Almost every aspect will be affected; how revenue is raised, what public servants spend their time on, how transport and infrastructure is planned and delivered.

Revenue: In a model where the majority of cars are driverless, part of fleets rather than owned individually, and programmed not to exceed speed limits or commit any other traffic violations, then public sector revenues from registrations, licencing fees, sales taxes, traffic or speeding violations, road tolls and motorway advertising are dramatically impacted.

Resources: On the flip side of this, with road accidents hugely reduced or even eliminated, and no need to police motorists for speed or other traffic violations, resources in healthcare (the road toll, currently costs Australian society A$27 billion per year) and law enforcement are freed up.

Policy and planning: In an era where the cost of transport (with the human drivers removed) will decrease substantially (this report estimates that costs of commuting in the US could drop 70%), and the ease of a trip to work without the stress of driving could be achieved by anyone with access to mobility on demand, what does a publicly funded transport network look like? And what is government’s role in providing it?

When the most crucial infrastructure to support seamless systems is information sharing, access to data and a digital infrastructure to support this, do we have governments with the right skills and resources to provide this? With a flurry of emerging and exponential technologies appearing and being rapidly adopted by customers in the transport system, are the existing policy and regulation frameworks agile enough to respond? It will be critical for government set clear outcomes for the transport system whilst remaining flexible enough to leverage new and innovative mechanisms to achieve these.

A dual role

So the public sector is a critical part of the wider ecosystem that will be disrupted by the arrival of driverless cars and the shift in traditional mobility models. But it is also an entity expected to facilitate and respond to these changes as rapidly as they are occurring.

The public sector will have to figure out how to offset anticipated declines in the annually generated from fuel taxes, public-transportation fees, tolls, vehicle sales taxes, municipal parking, and registration and licensing fees. All these revenues are tied to today’s reality of individually owned and operated vehicles—for instance, the need for parking diminishes with the rise of autonomous-drive shared mobility. Agencies may need to evaluate alternatives—e.g., taxing “movement” versus ownership. Monetisation for road usage in the future could transition to a much more dynamic model based on time of day, market demand, routes travelled, distance, and vehicle form, aligning the use of public assets more directly to usage than today’s system.

On the other hand, as vehicle volumes decline, municipalities might experience reduced wear and tear on infrastructure and have the opportunity to reallocate parking and other space to more value-adding purposes. Government costs could decline significantly and potentially offset some of the public-sector revenue decline. Source.

Vision remains vital

Even with all of these seismic changes to deal with, and especially as the funding models may struggle to keep up with the technology, there is still a need for government to be visionary. There will be a ‘Badgery’s Creek’ moment for government in the future – where the infrastructure will be crucial to provide, but not profitable for a considerable period. And there will be moments when decisions will have to be made on traditional services. For example, in a world where transport in rural areas becomes cost effective and accessible to all through driverless technology, is there still a role for government in operating loss making public transport routes?

These changes are happening fast, but there is time and opportunity for government to consider how best to respond to them. The way forward is uncertain for everyone, but having the right conversations is the first important step toward taking action to best position Australia for the future of mobility.

Read more about the future of mobility

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