While electric vehicle (EV) uptake in Australia has been comparatively slow, the number of EVs on the road has been increasing each year, with sales more than tripling between 2018 and 2019. Increased sales mean state and local government road operators must consider the ways EVs will impact road operations. Austroads has released a report outlining actions road operators will need to implement to support the transition to EVs.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of 2019, there were 19.5 million registered vehicles on Australian roads, with an average age of 10.2 years.

Each year an average of one million vehicles are sold, of which no more than one per cent are Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) such as EVs.

The low uptake rate in Australia to date can be attributed to factors such as vehicle price, model availability, access to charging infrastructure, charging time, incentives, service support and education.

However, sales of ZEVs are increasing. The Electric Vehicle Council reported 6,718 EVs – including hybrid plug-ins – were sold nationwide in 2019, up from 2,216 in 2018.

This trend is expected to continue with a 2018 report from Energia predicting that by 2030 between 20 and 60 per cent of Australian vehicles sold will be EVs, depending on the levels of supporting policy.

Getting road operators involved

Dickson Leow, Chief Technology Leader and National Leader, Future Transport Systems at Australian Road Research Board (ARRB), said, “By supporting the transition to EVs and ZEVs, road operators can help shape how charging infrastructure is modelled – as opposed to random third party install – what incentives could be considered to generate greater uptake, and how road design, planning, maintenance, build and implementation could be influenced.”

Other benefits for road operators supporting this transition include:

  •  Safety: newer digital and electronically-advanced vehicles are equipped with better life-saving technology and are able to adapt to connected communicative technologies, and contribute more to ‘Towards Zero’
  • Health: harmful pollutants found in internal combustion engine vehicles are reduced or eliminated
  • Environment: EVs and ZEVs have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fuel-powered vehicles, and reduce energy consumption by returning energy to the grid
  • Economic and social: EVs and ZEVs reduce dependence on the importation of fossil fuel, could increase GDP and could create tens of thousands of jobs

Changing the way assets are managed

John Wall, Austroads Program Manager Future Vehicles and Technology, said, “Increased sales of Low and Zero Emission Vehicles are likely to affect every aspect of transport agency business, from managing the increased weight of freight vehicles to providing incident response and management services.

“Local government road owners will probably have a role in managing roadside charging facilities, especially when there is minimal off-street parking for residents in dense urban communities.” Mr Leow said road asset considerations will include:

  • If a road operator reviews and amends the mass limits and license restrictions applied to heavy vehicles, in order to accommodate the additional mass of EVs over an equivalent ICE due to the battery mass, they should do this with consideration to the road wear and tear, and road safety impacts as a result of any amendments. Consideration should also be given to whether an alteration to the road material used for road design and maintenance can be made in order to accommodate the additional mass
  • As EV use increases and accounts for over 50 per cent of the fleet, including large commercial vehicles, it may impact on infrastructure design, including tunnel design, and on safety-related matters such as first responder procedures
  • Access to stranded EVs, where a tow truck needs access rather than a ‘RAC vehicle’ with 5L of fuel
  • A road charging tax, if fuel tax is no longer viable –this will need to be in balance with incentives to keep increasing uptake

Helping to guide the transition

Currently, the role of road operators regarding EVs varies across jurisdictions, ranging from a ‘hands-off’ free market approach to establishing incentives to support the transition to EVs.

As road operators manage a variety of services including registration and licensing, road access, road design and maintenance, road operations, road corridor planning, road signage and road operator standards, and work with other agencies and stakeholders to manage impacts on road operations, the uptake of EVs could impact on these functions and create new ones.

To date, some operators have been more proactive in providing incentives for the uptake of EVs than others, such as the Queensland Government rolling out EV chargers to form the world’s longest electric superhighway in one state.

However, overall Australian road operators have not been as proactive as their counterparts in countries such as New Zealand, Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea.

As a result, the functions presented in Austroads’ report, Assessment of Key Road Operator Actions to Support Electric Vehicles, have been divided into core actions which all road operators are recommended to adopt, and non-core actions which can be adopted as needed by road operators depending on how they see their role in supporting, or not constraining, the rollout of EVs in their jurisdictions.

The report helps clarify the role of road operators and other government departments in the areas that affect EV deployment including policy, infrastructure, regulation and incentives.

Recommended core function actions

The report identifies 25 road operator core function actions dealing with eleven key issues including data, public education, consistency and leadership.

Mr Wall said the collection, storage and analysis of data associated with EVs will be a key action for government transport agencies as the transition to a lower emissions future can only be tracked and managed through robust data management systems.

Other benefits of efficient data collection include transport agencies better understanding the rate of energy used, its frequency of usage, loading of energy during vehicle charging, the physical location of the charging, duration of charging and the amount of energy consumed.

“This information would enable prediction modelling to better plan support, not only across the jurisdictions, but also in terms of collaboration between road operators,” Mr Leow said.

According to Mr Leow, another benefit of data sharing is that origin and destination information could be collected to better plan road network loading and peak periods of charging.

“Charging of EVs has an indirect impact on the operational requirements of the electricity company as the load may trip a blackout scenario. The information will allow for better optimisation of energy required and production.”

However, Mr Leow also noted the current challenge is that there are different datasets collected by each jurisdiction, which results in gaps in collected data – an issue addressed recently by the Federal Government when considering freight data.

“Road or EV related data needs to be uniform to be considered effective, otherwise it is difficult to plan, roadmap and execute a nationally consistent policy,” Mr Leow said.

According to Mr Leow, as there are many myths surrounding the usage and operational requirements of EVs, largely due to inadequate information or misinformation, public education is another core area that needs to be addressed.

Mr Wall identified leadership as a key area of focus, and said, “Initially governments will need to identify a lead agency to manage the transition from internal combustion engine-based transport to greener low emissions vehicles. Once the transition is established, road operators will need to decide what role they will play in supporting it.”

Other actions the report encourages road operators to implement are:

  • Working with other stakeholders to develop an EV charging systems guideline to encourage safe and efficient charging operations that reduce roadside safety hazards
  • Developing universal standard signage for EV charging stations
  • Conducting trials relating to new charging technologies, including plug-less systems

Keeping it consistent

Consistency will be crucial in ensuring any actions taken will support a smooth transition to EVs. “It is crucial that road operators between jurisdictions are collaborating and sharing consistent information and data.

A recent ARRB study undertaken for a jurisdiction on technologies in Australian vehicles found that there was a lack of consistency in the collection of crash data.

The criteria were not consistently captured and the process to capture was not always followed,” Mr Leow said.

“Consistency allows for benchmarking and understanding the problem, followed by in-depth analysis for a root cause rather than a band-aid solution.”

Mr Leow said one benefit of consistency could be the reduction of ‘range anxiety’, one of the key barriers to EV uptake in Australia.

“Road operators across Australia, through national consistency, could roadmap a plan on the commercial model for charging stations, as well as demystifying range and other myths.

A national and consistent state approach on the rollout of charging infrastructure builds confidence for the public and enables manufacturers to introduce variants,” Mr Leow said.

Developing a national strategy

While road operators are encouraged to implement the core and non-core actions identified in the report, it will be important for them to coordinate these with the Australian Government’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy (NEV), which is currently being developed.

The NEV will complement the work of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) and Low and Zero Emission Vehicle (LZEV) working group.

As an active member of the LZEV, Austroads is keen to be involved in the development of the NEV, as will ARRB due to the data it has access to.

“Factors such as safety, renewable and sustainable materials for roads, the suitability of technology and its regulations, best practice with learnings from affiliation internationally and direct collaboration with industry stakeholders are available to ARRB,” Mr Leow said.

According to Mr Leow, such information will be key in developing the NEV. “From a holistic standpoint, the strategy must not just focus on the consistency of chargers,regulations or environment, but on other factors such as education, consistent data capture and safe operation.”

Austroads’ report, Assessment of Key Road Operator Actions to Support Electric Vehicles, and a recorded webinar dealing with challenges and opportunities, can be accessed at austroads.com.au.

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