Federal inquiry launched into automated mass transit

BIC Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Automated mass transit CSIRO

Peak bodies from industry, government and academia are appearing in a blitz of public hearings as part of the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities’ inquiry into automated mass transit.

On 27-28 February 2019, the Committee will hear from a range of witnesses on the way forward to a cleaner, greener, safer, more efficient transport system using automation and new energy sources.

Committee Chair, John Alexander, says the Committee is keen to learn about the potential for automation and new energy sources to improve economic, social and environmental outcomes.

“The integration of different transport modes into a single seamless transport system should be the goal of governments and industry, and we need to fully investigate the role that automation can have in facilitating this,” Mr Alexander said.

“We have the technology. We need the policies and plans to effectively implement automated transport and new generation fuels. Cooperation across jurisdictions and coordination between government and industry is essential.”

In its submission, Infrastructure Victoria highlighted the potential benefits of automation, noting that on-demand public transport and mobility as a service (MaaS) “could make significant improvements to how we travel’ and, alongside integrated planning and payment for multi-modal trips, could ‘supplement existing public transport services and pave the way for introducing ondemand automated vehicles’. They ‘recommended incorporating on-demand and Maas into the public transport mix in preparation for automation”.

Leading infrastructure provider, Transurban, emphasised the need for policy coordination, stating that “it will be critical for new policies and regulations to be consistent across states and territories, and structured in such a way as to encourage innovation while ensuring public safety”.

Public hearings held on 15 February 2019 in Parliament House, Canberra, saw organisations including ANCAP, Siemens Mobility SAS, CSIRO, Engineers Australia and the Bus Industry Confederation (BIC) present on issues related to both automation and alternative fuels.

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Mr Alexander said that transport automation presented both real opportunities and real challenges to government and the community.

“The automation of mass transit is not just about driverless buses and trains—it’s also about how mass transit will fit into an automated transport future and how we will manage questions of mobility more generally,” he said.

Mr Alexander suggested that “ideally, automated transport would be incorporated into the master-planning of the urban and regional environment in a way that maximises connectivity while promoting compact and accessible urban forms”.

In its submission to the inquiry, the BIC stated that “the introduction of driverless vehicles should be seen as an opportunity to review mobility in general, reflecting on the whole mobility system, the purpose and value of mobility and how it can be accomplished better in social, environmental and economic terms, recognising the potential benefits and challenges associated with driverless vehicles”.

BIC expressed concern that automated private vehicles may lead to increased car usage, higher congestion, greater urban sprawl, and declining public transport use as people were attracted to the convenience of automation and the personal time-cost of travel became less relevant.

The alternative was a transport future based on shared-mobility, with flexible services branching off strong trunk routes, guaranteeing access, avoiding congestion and preventing urban sprawl.

The BIC held the view that “the move to autonomy will and needs to be led by mass transit bus services operating on bus priority infrastructure and dedicated bus rapid transit infrastructure such as the Brisbane Busways”.

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