The road less travelled – driverless cars and mobility on demand

Can you remember the worst day you’ve had commuting to work? Car didn’t start, parking was full, you forgot your Opal or Myki card, bus ran late, train stopped on the track for 20 minutes with the vaguest of all explanations – ‘track work’. Stress incurred, temper frayed, time lost, carefully planned schedules out the window for the day.

Now, take a deep breath, let go of that stress and picture this: A world where your car not starting is never your problem, because it’s not your car. A fully serviced functioning car arrives to pick you up and take you to your destination on demand. The endless search for parking in the CBD is over, your car can take itself off and park itself, or simply go to pick up its next passenger. The groceries that you ordered while on your driverless car trip to the station are waiting for you to collect at the platform. You never exchange cash or purchase tickets for any aspect of your travel – your journey is detected by sensors and the value simply deducted at source.

Now zoom out a bit further. The prospect of driverless cars and mobility as a service (the integration of various forms of transport services into a single mobility service accessible on demand) will change our own lives fundamentally, in an exciting way. But it will also cause far-reaching changes to society; touching all aspects of who we are and how we function. The implications for the transport ecosystem as we know it, and the wider ecosystem that relies on that, are significant.

As set out in this piece by Deloitte University Press, this potential scenario is not far away. In a world of driverless cars when it’s impossible to speed and accidents no longer happen, will we still need traffic police? In a world where you can sleep in your vehicle while it conveys you to your destination, will roadside motels and all the services that exist around them be redundant?

Consider the increased productivity and better use of resources. What does your day look like if those hours spent commuting are suddenly returned to you as working or leisure time? Where our cars that at present we use for less than 1% of the day are constantly utilised in a pool.

And, consider what infrastructure we need today and in the future to create and support this world:

  • If most vehicles become electric, what are the consequences for our energy supply?
  • If we need to develop an integrated seamless platform for any and all forms of transport and movement, what is the digital infrastructure we need to have in place for this? The information sharing systems?
  • If everyone can travel by car without needing to know how to drive, but we are all car sharing, what does this mean for our roads? Should we be building more or less?
  • Who should own these assets? Is government still the majority operator of public transport options?
  • What does it mean for domestic air travel if we can all drive for limitless and continuous amounts of time?

Lots of questions here! And many that we don’t have the answers to just yet. In my view, at the stage we’re at, having the right conversation is as important as finding the solutions. And particularly for us in Australia, the conversation is not where it needs to be yet.

If this change happens as rapidly as some are predicting, Australia needs to catch up with the global conversation. There are opportunities here for us: solving logistical delivery issues, transport to remote areas, using our geography to prototype and test, our proximity to Asia. And there are challenges: our relatively low innovation rates, our lack of density, political planning decisions, public sentiment and job losses.

I’ve often heard events and conferences described dismissively as talking shops. Happily in this instance, a forum for talking is exactly what we need! Events like the upcoming AFR Infrastructure Summit provide a rare opportunity to get the right people together to share ideas and drive the conversation about where Australia should be headed to prepare for this future.

When so much remains unknown, the chance to connect and discuss is the first step towards defining what the future of mobility can mean for Australia and for Australian infrastructure.

See more resources and information about the Future of Mobility and our Infrastructure services

The AFR Infrastructure Summit takes place on 28-29 June in Sydney in association with Deloitte.

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