Planning for the future of mobility – Lessons from the 2018 AFR infrastructure summit

Growing congestion, an increasingly urbanised population, ageing transport infrastructure and converging social and technological trends are reshaping the way people move from Point A to Point B.

At the AFR Infrastructure Summit last month, attendees heard from a range of industry leaders about infrastructure’s role in supporting future mobility outcomes. Interestingly, the general consensus was that the core objectives of Australia’s transport system will largely remain the same. Despite the genuine impact of disruptive mobility trends, governments are still being challenged to retain (and ideally improve) the safety, efficiency, reliability, sustainability and accessibility of customer journeys across an integrated transport system.

These objectives have been relatively stable over time and are unlikely to be any less relevant in the future. What is rapidly changing, however, is the environment in which governments are striving to maintain them. Every week, new mobility start-ups are being launched. Suddenly drones are widely accessible for private and commercial use, digital apps can directly connect ridesharing supply (drivers) to customer demand without government intervention, non-transport organisations own the most granular ‘big data’ on system performance, and Blockchain opens up a whole world of opportunity around integrated, dynamic pricing solutions for personal mobility.

In response to this changing environment, Deloitte launched a paper at the Summit – Harnessing the future of mobility. It identifies how government can enable and support disruption across the mobility ecosystem in a way that is consistent with their broader transport system objectives by re-orientating how decisions are made – and the capabilities needed to support them.

At the Summit, we heard many stories about governments being quick to address disruption at the point of impact, mostly driven out of the need to placate those whose livelihoods are affected. However, this is far too late. Rather than focusing squarely on the disruptor itself, governments must consider how these innovations can exist in a future mobility ecosystem that continues to deliver the core transport system objectives – just in new ways.

Take autonomous vehicles. There has been significant focus on ‘when can we expect to see autonomous vehicles on our transport networks, and what the impact will be?’ However, we think the more valuable question is ‘what else needs to be in place to deliver a transport system that includes autonomous vehicles and is still safe, efficient, reliable, accessible and sustainable?’ If we accept that autonomous vehicles will inevitably be part of the future transport system, we can quickly turn our thoughts to all the things that are required to ensure these holistic outcomes are still achieved.

From this starting point, governments can continue to work backwards and create a clearer picture of what needs to be addressed today to have the best chance of delivering on transport system goals whilst embracing new technologies and addressing disruptive forces. These elements will require multidimensional responses from policy and regulation, through to infrastructure and technology, governance and process perspectives. It also highlights the various roles government will need to play in shaping, enabling, regulating or operating the transport system to best deliver on these objectives.

This represents a fundamental shift in the way transport agencies plan for the future. Currently, long term infrastructure planning is undertaken over a 20-30 year period, reflecting a projected view of future travel needs based on existing patterns of behaviour – and this does have its benefits.

However, it doesn’t consider the unknowable ways society will respond to mobility disruptors like autonomous vehicles that are predicted to be introduced over the next five years – let alone technologies for the next 20 years. So shorter planning horizons will become increasingly useful for supporting the longer term realisation of transport system goals in the face of this disruption, minimising any redundancy in investment by refreshing the supporting planning frequently enough to reflect the changing ecosystem.

Government strategies that direct investment and decision-making across the mobility ecosystem aren’t created from scratch. They should define the policies and strategies that will drive the transformative change agenda needed in a constantly shifting mobility ecosystem and be developed with a core focus on customer needs – the community and industry should co-design any vision with government recognising shared interests in the transport system of the future.

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